Today I get to say Happy Birthday to The Idol, one of the most important people to me on this whole entire planet and the very reason I’m writing this blog.
Happy 97th Birthday Grandma
Almost a century old, three years away from getting a telegram from the Queen and she’s still cracking cryptic crosswords on the daily and beating me at scrabble.
She’s the greatest storyteller I’ve ever known.
For the last three decades I’ve sat there on her living room floor, rifling through her black and white photographs and listening to her tales of days gone by.
Ruth, DOB 1921
Mother of four, Grandma of six, Great-Grandma of two and forever the Love of Albert George Aspey’s life.
She was born in 1921 in North Liverpool to Ruth and Ernest Hilton, the eldest of three children. Her Dad left home when they were young and Ruth was left helping her mother to raise the family.
At the age of fourteen she took her first job, working at a small factory down the road making huge vats of sauce – something she now attributes to her endless suffering from chronic asthma.
Throughout her childhood and teenage years, her Aunty Lily would take her and her cousins up to Moreton for weekends at the seaside. And it was there, at 11.15am on the 3rd September 1939, while sat in their marquee tent, that Neville Chamberlain came on the wireless and said;
…this country is at War with Germany
Her Aunty Lily burst into tears as she knew exactly what was like and had already lost plenty of loved ones to first. My Grandma’s frail mother and younger sister, Irene, were sent to refuge in Wales while she stayed behind in Liverpool to help with the war effort.
She’d just started working at Littlewoods football pools when war had broken out and their buildings in Edge Lane, were turned into factories making barrage balloons and woollen materials. During the six years of war, she helped to make parts for parachutes, rifles and aeroplanes. Days were long and the work was hard.
She remembers how precious everyday things became. They had coupons for everything; everything was rationed. You’d get a spoonful of sugar and a tiny splodge of butter to last a week, eggs were dried and milk was canned. You’d have to queue up for hours just for a loaf of bread that would cost you tuppence.
And even though the struggle was real, she seems to look back on it all somewhat positively. It’s as though growing up in the darkness of a warring world has drenched the rest of her life in the sunlight of gratitude.
War time dance
One of my favourite stories to hear is the one that makes her face light up, her feet tap and her arms sway as she sits in her chair,
Every weekend, after working twelve hour shifts on the factory line, in between the air raids and rationed food, she found a place to forget about the harsh reality of war; going to ‘the hop’ with her best friend Lily Walmsley.
She had one black dress to wear and there was no chance she’d be getting another. But out of necessity came invention, and every week she’d reinvent her frock by adding a new trim, a brooch or removing the collar and sewing it back on as an over the shoulder frill.
Sailors and soldiers would come and go but she and Lily were in their own little bubble, dancing until their feet were about to fall off and laughing the whole night long.
It was through Lily that she met my Granddad, George. They had a Love that I’m not sure really exists anymore, it was truly lifelong. Their marriage was an unbreakable bond and they were together forever.
He was the kindest man you’d ever meet.
In his younger days he looked a little like Yves Saint Laurent; impeccably dressed with thick, dark-rimmed glasses and wherever he went he’d carry a comb in his pocket to make sure his thick wavy locks were in check.
You’d hear him before you could see him; either revving the engine of his motorcycle or whistling more melodically than a canary.
My Granddad was always the joker, pretending to pinch my nose and showing his thumb between his fingers, or pretending there was a fly so he could steal a chip from my plate.
They balanced each other out, they looked after each other, they made each other laugh and they stayed together for almost seventy years until he passed away.
My Grandma is The Idol for so many reasons.
Strong in character, positive in outlook and kind in heart – she’d do anything for anybody.
She’s one of the most gregarious people I know and her phone never stops ringing. It makes me smile just to think that only the other week she slowly got herself up out of her chair, dragged her oxygen tank across the living room and slightly closed the vestibule door so she could get some privacy and have a gossip one of her best friends, Mary.
And as much as she’s been through, or is still going through, she never takes herself to seriously. She lets me do her hair, give her ridiculous glitter makeovers and dress her up in tiaras and sequinned capes. It’s like having my very own Iris Apfel.
She’s given me my arts ‘n’ crafts facet. In the winter we’d turn her dining room into an elf-like workshop making Christmas cards and presents for everyone. In the summer, we’d sit outside and sketch whatever was in front of us. And in between we’d sketch models in pretty dresses, paint colourful flowers, embroider cushions or attempt to knit.
She’s taught me to never stop learning, never stop reading and never stop doing crosswords. Always exercise the brain. And although she’s told me, on several occasions, that I can’t sing a note in tune, she has sung my praises when it comes to writing.
Ever since i was little I’ve been writing poems, research projects and short stories. When I pottered about Europe in my twenties, we’d send each other long letters and she’s been forever telling me to scribble out a book.
So now with little power left in her lungs, she’s sat in a chair looking out of the window, doing crosswords, reading books and living vicariously through my blog posts – the ones that don’t contain swear words or dating disasters.
So, here’s one extra-specially for you Grandma, feliz cumpleaños desde Menorca