Granny Kay lived five houses up and around the corner from the Tucky shop
on Craddock hill, so it wasn't unusual that I'd pay her a visit a time or
two on weekends or on play days when we had a holiday from school.
She had a nice house, a two-up, two-down, semi-detached, but Granny Kay's
house, built at a particularly odd angle to the road and being an end unit
as well, meant that it was afflicted with an overly large allotment.
That's what Granny Kay called it an affliction. I looked up the word
'affliction' and found it to mean - a cause of great suffering and
distress. I couldn't for the life of me imagine why, for the hedges
were always neat and trim and the grass was never higher than the daisies
I never did see any flowers in Granny Kay's garden, but that wasn't
unusual for our town of Glenlockie, although the big privately owned
houses on Campbell Street, mum said, had some of the 'most picturesque
gardens you'd ever want to see'. Granny Kay's garden might not have been
picturesque, but it was certainly nice enough for Craddock Hill, even if
it was an 'affliction.
As for the inside of Granny Kay's house. Though I have visited at least
once each month since I was, as Granny Kay herself often told me, knee
high to a midge. I can't say I have seen much of it, save for the
In all of those visits to 6b Castle Road I had never set foot in her
living room, let alone the upper level. Who was to say how fancy her
furnishings might have been, or how busted and torn her couch.
I did manage a quick glance through the front window, though, never daring
myself any closer than my side of the garden hedge. It's not that I was
scared or afraid of being spotted and labeled a nosy parker, it was more a
case of respect. You just did not go around staring into people's front
After all there was nothing to see. I spotted a mirror above the fireplace
and an old mantle clock below; otherwise the walls were bare. There was no
hint of ornaments of any sort, no pictures, nor family photographs. There
was only the clock on the mantle, ticking under a mirror whose reflection
held the image of a bare lightbulb suspended from the ceiling in the
middle of the room. From that day on I wondered if Granny Kay ever
ventured from her chair by the oven in the small kitchenette.
Knocking timidly at the heavy wooden door, the large pull-down handle
looming just above my forehead, I told myself I would wait for the
beckoning call before pulling it down with an inward shove.
I really don't know why I visited Granny Kay, other than the fact that she
provided dud matches and, though not very often, an empty bottle, which I
could return to the store for thruppence worth of pineapple chunks.
Sometimes just sometimes, I'd hope there was no answer from behind that
large wooden door.
"Come on in," came the call from beyond the door.
I stepped into the scent of natural gas and stewed tea, and a smell that
reminded me of the back of the church on a wet Sunday night; lavender,
moth balls and old wool. The smell seemed to be emanating from an old red
coat which hung limply from a peg behind the door. It struck me as odd,
that old coat, and not merely for the fact that it was hung up in the
kitchen to be something mum would call a sight for sore eyes. It was odd
in that I had never seen Granny Kay actually wear it.
Come to think on it, I'd never seen Granny Kay out and about anywhere; not
anywhere. I'd only ever known her in the confines of her small
kitchenette. I had never seen her in town; not in the co-operative
supermarket, Munroe's Butchers, nor the fish mongers or Kemp's fruit
market. I had never seen her at Mass on a Sunday, either, which in itself
was not only very strange, but a mortal sin.
I've asked Mum a time or two if there was ever a Mr. Kay, or any grown up
son or daughter who might perhaps live across town and visit only on those
days when I was at school, someone who mowed her lawn, trimmed her hedges,
cleaned and polished her windows, for surely there was someone, but mum
just shook her head and changed the subject.
"Oh, it's yourself, laddie!" Granny Kay chuckled, "Come on in and bide a
Granny Kay, as always, sat, arms folded on the padded wooden chair, her
slippered feet resting upon a cushion on the opened oven door, nylons
rolled about her ankles. I gazed into the oven and took in the row of
small blue flame. It was no more than a quarter of an inch high, providing
the barest level of comfort to the small dimly lighted kitchenette.
Granny Kay unfolded her arms and gathered a blue, string, knit cardigan
about her shoulders. "And how is your dear mother?" she asked, a slight
shiver in her voice.
I looked into a face that seemed to be forever smiling, eyes that forever
played with my own. If I raised my eyebrows, Granny Kay would raise her
eyebrows. If I frowned, Granny Kay would frown. At least that's how it
seemed to me. "Fine Misses Kay," I said.
I don't know why I called her Granny Kay, for Granny Kay was not at all my
Granny; not at all anyone's Granny so far as I knew, but for as long as I
can remember Granny Kay had been Granny Kay by name, unless in her
presence, in which case I'd come to understand that one should call her
Mrs. Kay. "Mum says if I'm dropping in to see you I've to say she said
hello." That was a little white lie. It was true that mum did suggest I
say hello on her behalf, but that was as far back as I can remember.
Nowadays, when I tell her that I've been to see Granny Kay, mum only nods
her head and changes the subject, but I thought it only polite to continue
to mention that mum was asking after her.
"You'll tell your mother to come and visit me, won't you?"
"Aye, Mrs. Kay. I will," I said, my eyes moving to the door which barred
the entrance to a room that most likely had never heard laughter at
Christmas, whose skirting boards had never felt the bump of a misguided
Tonka truck, a room whose doors remained tightly shut, undamaged and
unmarked by the pen-knives of growing children. Now, as always, it was
closed tight, with the addition of a rolled up towel on the floor in front
of it to stop draughts. I would mention Granny Kay's request to mum, but I
knew mum would never come to visit. Somewhere in the past mum and Granny
Kay had been good friends, but for reasons I'll never know, all that had
Lifting my eyes from the rolled up towel I disclosed the sole purpose of
my visit. "Have you any dud matches, Mrs. Kay?"
Dud matches were a great source of fun in those days. A couple of boxes of
dud matches, a bit of dirt by the curb and two or three of your newest Hot
Wheels and an afternoon was never long enough.
Wooden cabins could be built with dud matches, Roads could be constructed.
Ranches with Corrals could appear out of nowhere. It didn't matter that
the Seventh Cavalry were the good guys, with the German army, as always,
being the baddies; a few of Robin Hood's Merry Men making up the
shortfall. It didn't matter that the Germans had a Confederate cannon, or
that the British army were using a Morris Minor for a tank; somehow it all
fell into place with the dud matches and Granny Kay was my only supplier.
Almost as if she had expected my request, Granny Kay turned with a
toothless smile and produced three small boxes in the palm of an almost
skeletal hand. "You'll be sure and tell your mother to come and visit?"
"Aye. I will," I replied, picking each box carefully from the old woman's
hand. "Thanks Mrs. Kay."
She leaned forward then, her double stringed necklace of blue and green
glass rasping in front of my face. "You've been bramble picking," she
whispered into my ear. Granny Kay sat back, nodding knowingly even before
I had answered.
"Aye," I said, "I have."
Her ancient mouth opened with a silent chuckle. "I know fine you have,"
she said. Leaning forward once more, the necklace rasping in front of my
sweater, Granny Kay relayed information that even PC Quigley ought not to
know, "You were picking brambles in the quarry!"
I could feel my face redden, even before Granny Kay had rested her old
back against the wooden chair. The quarry was a forbidden place, a place
mum had often told us to keep away from -- so heaven help us. "Just far
enough into the bramble bushes," I said wanly.
"There's no such thing, Peter Gibson. One step too far and over you would
go into Dead Man's Pool."
Dead Man's Pool was a deep, dark body of stagnant water at the foot of the
sheer cliff face. Not to mock Granny Kay's warning, but just then I
thought of how Me and Wiggy and Sticks had often leaned over the edge of
the three hundred foot quarry, launching spits onto the skeletal remains
of sheep that had not been as careful as us.
"Those skulls are not sheep's," the ever intelligent Sticks one day
exclaimed as he whistled a particularly frothy missile into the air.
"When's the last time you ever saw a sheep in Glenlockie."
Sticks wiped his nose on the cuff of his sweater, as if to affirm the
statement that followed. "Dad says they're Hamish Anderson's unwanted
Granny Kay was waiting for an answer. Turning from the window I said, "But
I wasn't alone."
"Hmm," Granny Kay muttered. "A little bird tells me you were with Wiggy
Wiggins and Sticks McGuire." There was a moment of silence while she made
a rose with her lips, her gray-blue eyes following my own as I looked
towards the window. They followed again as I moved my eyes back to hers.
Not that I'd ever utter what thoughts ran through my head, but Granny
Kay's eyes were faster than the eyes of Jesus on mum's bedroom wall. The
rose made a kissing sound and Granny Kay said, "Do you like to pick
"Aye," I said, "I do."
Granny Kay nodded knowingly, the smiling lips drawn into her toothless
jowls. "And do you like rhubarb?"
"Aye," I said, "I do."
"And do you like rhubarb pie?"
"Rhubarb pie?" I exclaimed, bending to scratch at my knee. "I've only ever
had rhubarb with a bag of sugar. Mum once made jam with rhubarb, but I
don't think I've ever seen a rhubarb pie."
At that, Granny Kay rose from the chair, the string knit shawl slipping
from her back as she reached and shut off the oven. "Then come with me,
young Peter, and I'll show you a rhubarb pie that's big enough to sit on."
I followed Granny Kay out of the house, my own two feet stomping on slab
after slab, crack after crack in perfect unison to the big blue slippers
under the old red coat, lavender and mothballs.
"Doesn't your poor mother ever tell you to lift your head?" Granny Kay
asked with a nudge.
"Aye," I said, "sometimes."
"Sometimes indeed. And swing your arms while you're at it. My heavens,
what a boy!"
We moved quickly along Wallace Street, stopping only a time or two for
Granny Kay to have a cheery hello to what she called some of her fellow
old fogies. A chortle of laughter to old Mr. Kelly, a promise of tea and a
chat to Hazel Joyce and we'd resume our steady pace. I wouldn't say I had
a hard time keeping up with her, but Granny Kay managed to have me take a
few big steps as we rounded into the Terraced houses of Castle Lane.
"Do you know Mr. Hobson?" Granny Kay asked, as she swung the gate which
led into a narrow pathway bordered by zinnias and alyssum
Towards the end of the path stood an old man in brown trousers, a white
shirt and, strangely enough, an orange sleeveless cardigan. I knew him, of
course. Everyone knew Hobo Hobson. Not for any particularly bad reason
though. It was just that, unlike Granny Kay, Hobo was often seen in some
of the oddest places. It was not unusual to bump into him at the sandpits
or strolling in gypsy's park. Pretty strange, really, for someone to be
there and not have a dog to walk. It all made sense though, when Sticks
informed us that his dad says old Hobson was a certified tinker.
Right now, Hobo Hobson was hoeing between the flowers, the shiny silver
blade turning over dirt that looked like black sawdust. He turned as the
latch on the swinging gate chinked back into place. "Lord save us and
bless us, Maggie. Have you went and adopted a wee laddie?"
"Oh, away with your nonsense, Jack Hobson. Can you no' see this is Jimmy
Gibson's wee fellah."
"Aye. So it is," Hobo said, a mark of incredulity in his voice, "and see
how he's grown, so he has."
"I'm after telling him about your rhubarb pie and himself telling me that
he's never had a bite of one in his life."
It suddenly dawned on me that Sticks was wrong about Hobo Hobson being a
tinker. I was an idiot to believe him in the first place, an idiot to
believe him in many of the things he said, like the Greyhounds at the foot
of Dead Man's Pool. But when Sticks raps you on the head with a knuckled
fist, or cracks you on your forehead with his own, insisting that such and
such is so; you sort of tend not to argue the matter.
Right now, if it were possible to hide behind Granny Kay I would do so.
But as this was impossible, seeing as I was positioned in front of her, I
chose instead to gaze resolutely onto the flower beds, feeling strangely
at odds in the company of a man I had taken for a tinker, a man who, as it
turned out, not only lived in this nice house, but was also a really good
gardener and a baker of rhubarb pies.
Mr. Hobson removed a red cloth from his pocket and began to wipe
meticulously on the silver-headed hoe. "Never had a bite of rhubarb pie?"
he exclaimed. "Well, we'll have to put that to rights, won't we?"
There are moments in my lifetime that my mind still replays, and one of
the most memorable moments was that afternoon in Mr. Hobson's backyard. I
had half expected Mr. Hobson's back garden to be half as well kept as his
front lawn. What I found was an even more spectacular jungle of flower and
Trellises, affixed to the wall, were festooned with pink clematis and
climbing hydrangeas. Hanging baskets spilled yellow and orange nasturtiums
and blue lobelia.
"It's a dead brilliant garden," I said.
"Aye," Granny Kay uttered, "He's quite the gardener, is my Jack."
Wooden barrels placed at each corner of the concrete patio were literally
overflowing with a mixture of red and white petunias. Towards the end of
the patio stood an arch with climbing roses. Through the arch I could see
a miniature pool and fountain.
"Mr. Hobson is your friend, isn't he?" I enquired. "I mean, isn't he your
Granny Kay laughed uproariously at that, both hands lifting to cover her
cheeks. "Heavens bless us, will you listen to the cheeky wee monkey!"
"But he is, isn't he?"
Granny Kay lifted a hand to her mussed hair. "Aye, lad, maybe so, but
there's those who might disapprove."
I stepped onto the manicured lawn, noticing that the upper half of the
garden boasted every assortment of vegetables, including potatoes, turnip,
garden peas, lettuce and rhubarb. "Well, I wouldn't." I said. Just then,
Mr. Hobson stepped out of the back door with a pie that was indeed big
enough to sit on.