Do you like amber glass?
Do you like amber glass beads - with a little bit of history thrown in?
Here's a little morsel to tempt you with.
For as long as I can remember these beads have been around. When I was a child they were kept in a box with mum's 'best' jewellery. I knew that they were special but never really knew their exact history. Many years ago I borrowed them, for whatever reason, and have (accidentally) never managed to hand them back! Since then they have adorned my various dressing table mirrors where there translucent richness has reflected back on itself tenfold.
This is Harriet.
She was my great grandmother. I always knew her as Nanny, and to mum she was 'Nan'.
My actual grandmother was Irene.
Sadly Irene succumbed to a bout of tuberculosis, age 22, following the birth of her third child. Mum was thirteen months old at the time. Nanny had ten other children yet, at the same time as grieving for her daughter, took mum in and raised her as her own. Great Grandad earned a modest wage as a printer but with so many mouths to feed there was never a lot of money to go around. But Harriet was generous to a fault. Whatever little they had there was always enough to share. The house was always full and there was always food on the table. The step got scrubbed and the stove was 'blacked'. She was a proud, down to earth woman who would stand no nonsense!
Here she is on the left with Auntie Blod (yes, really) and an adorable pup!
Mum was evacuated to the nearby Cheshire countryside when she was three years old. Her life then became one of collecting eggs and acres of grass and fresh air - a vast difference to the inner city Liverpool she had left behind. By the end of the war she was to return to Nanny who, by then, seemed like a stranger. Nanny knew that mum might struggle to adapt back to city life but was determined to be the best mother she could.
Mum at the bottom right with a proud Nan behind - V.E. Day 1945
Mum remembers Nanny as having two outfits for 'best'. According to the occasion it would either 1) a brown woollen pin stripe skirt suit or 2) a black taffeta dress ( top photo). There was never any dallying over what to wear - it was one or the other! Similarly she had her jewellery - short glass beads or long amber beads. Sadly I can find no photo of her wearing the amber beads but here they are
As a child I remember going to visit Nanny on a Saturday. The house was large and packed with dark furniture. We never went in the parlour at the front unless it was a special occasion. Instead we would follow the smell of 'scouse' (Liverpudlian hotpot) toward the scullery and find Nanny in her favourite chair next to the blazing fire. I would sit at the table by the window overlooking the small back yard and draw, or read my comics, while mum and Nanny would put the world to rights (I always knew there was a scandal when voices would suddenly turn hushed!) As Nanny got older she retreated more and more into that wonderfully warm and cosy room. Instead of dragging herself up two flights of stairs in an old draughty house she decided to stay by the fire. She sat in front of an old sideboard and it seemed to me that it contained everything you might ever need. She would open one drawer and it would contain neatly folded parcel paper and some string. Another would contain old ribbons and trimmings, dutifully saved from past clothing, presents or flowers. A third contained old letters and cards.There was one drawer that I never got to mooch around in. This was were she kept her essentials - brush, 'lippy' and beads. I remember glimpsing the amber beads from time to time and thinking that they must be real gold.
Looking at them later I could see how well they had been cared for. As something she treasured you can see how Nanny had adopted her 'make do and mend' philosophy. A couple of bits of knotted string and some 'irregular bead formation' makes me wonder how often they must have been rethreaded - and what event had led up to them breaking in the first place?
For now though they hang ceremoniously on my mirror. A reminder of a real lady - strong, resourceful and kind. She lived until the ripe old age of eighty nine years old and swore her longevity was due to her daily bottle of stout and twenty Benson and Hedges ciggies. We'll leave her in the snug of her favourite pub and raise a glass.
Cheers Nanny xxx