Monday, December 07, 2009

Every Other Sunday for Very Nearly Ever

My grandmother - the Communist's mother - was known to us as Nanny. In Britain, of course, a nanny is someone who is paid to look after someone else's children. But she wasn't from Britain: she was from Lithuania and I think "Nanny" was her Eastern European interpretation of the British word "Nanna".

Grandad was from Hungary, though had left it at the age of six months. Nanny lived in Lithuania until she was fourteen and so she had a strong accent. It was probably pretty unique: Eastern European Jewish, plus English learned at night school, plus a strong undercurrent of Leeds Factory Girl: the clothing factory where she'd met my Grandad was where she'd learned her conversational English.

When Nanny and Grandad didn't want me to know what they were saying they spoke Yiddish, which is a language that Jewish people speak. It comes originally from mediaeval German. "Not much of a language", said Nanny, who always thought it was inferior to modern German, even though she spoke it every day of her life.

Every other Sunday throughout my childhood we went round to Nanny and Grandad's for tea. They lived in a new 1960s council flat in Harehills. It had a living-room, kitchen, bathroom and one bedroom. I don't think we ever took any photos of it but I can still see the living-room very clearly in my mind's eye - - the green armchairs with cloths over the backs, the glass cabinet for their ornaments, the three-dimensional picture of a waterfall, the heavy old dining table with its embroidered tablecloth.

In the drawers were cards - Nanny loved to play cards - and some board games, and an amazing - to me! - clockwork doll. You wound it up and it crawled along.

We would often play cards, or games, and then we'd watch television for a short time - I saw a lot of The Clangers there on Sunday teatimes with my little brother. This was an animated series of surreal genius about some small knitted creatures who lived on another planet.

And then we'd have tea. And it was always the same. Fried fish cakes. Salad - - lettuce, tomato, cucumber. That was salad in those days: rocket and young spinach and such hadn't been invented, or not in Leeds 8, anyway. Pickled red cabbage, though - I still love it. Bread and butter. Tinned pears or tinned prunes. Cake with cherries in (I hated the cherries but never let on about this: I could tell that Nanny was very proud of this cherry cake). Each dish would be produced, like a conjuring trick, through that Sixties iconic design miracle, the serving hatch.

I loved the comfort of it. Every other Sunday for very nearly ever, with my sweet-natured Nanny admiring everything I did, and rather grumpier Grandad engaged in political debate with the Communist, and my mother playing with my little brother Michael.

Years ago now. They were very proud of the Communist, were my Nanny and Grandad, with his lively, clever wife and his two children and his chemist's shop and his house near Roundhay Park. When the Communist was little they lived in the slums of Leeds. The Communist's dream as a child had been to live in a house near the park and he achieved it in his mid-thirties.

Tomorrow it will be exactly a year since the Communist died. I can hardly believe it.

I have lots of memories of him on special days, of course - - Christmases, birthdays, holidays - but I have a tremendous affection for my memories of those ordinary Sunday afternoons.


Blogger Jennyta said...

Keep focusing on the happy memories, Daphne. Your dad lives on in those.

8:18 am  
Blogger Diz said...

Thank you for that peep into your childhood. Sadly, I only met The Communist a few times, but he made quite an impression on me, with his wit and his lovely voice.
Keep remembering, and please keep sharing those memories with us.

8:35 am  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

A lovely remembrance, Daphne.

My mother's family were Jewish, but the only language they spoke was English. No Yiddish whatsoever. But I watch American television so I do know mensch and megillah and meshugginah and schlemiel and schlemazel and schmuck and I really should stop now....

My verification word is "nomplerm" which is Yiddish for nom de plume.

2:03 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

...Can it be that it was all so simplethen, or has time rewritten every line?...And if we had the chance to do it all again, then would we, could we? ...

3:08 pm  

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