Granny Keith Street: Looking Past the Packaging


We named my two Grannies after the streets they lived on: Granny Keith Street and Granny Newton. Granny Keith Street lived in a big house in the center of town along with one of my aunts. Because of its central location, her house was a gathering place for the family. Every Saturday we visited her when our mother took us downtown to do the weekly shopping. I remember Granny Keith Street as a formidable old woman. I was a little scared of her.

In the movies, it seems to me that grandmothers are usually represented as sweet old ladies–I think of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple with her “Cloud of fluffy white hair, crinkled pink face, and innocent twinkling eyes”. Granny Keith Street was nothing like that. In looks she was so typical of an old woman as to be almost funny–she wore her long grey hair in a cue at the back of her neck, she sometimes wore 2 pairs of glasses, always dressed in black clothes, and was rarely seen without knitting on her lap. She outlived 2 husbands. She had 3 children from her first marriage, was widowed, remarried a man who had 6 children of his own, and had 3 more children with him. By the time the grandchildren came along, she had long since ceased to be amused by babies.

Granny was a character. If she liked you, she was fiercely loyal. My grandfather died before I was born, but Granny never threw his clothes away. I remember being amazed to find many of them still hanging in her wardrobe, thirteen years after he had died. As far as I know she kept them until she died herself. She held her own father in high esteem, his name was Norman and he had died at the young age of 43, when Granny herself was still a child. Yet she still revered him and spoke of him often even when she was in her eighties. My mother was called Norma in his honor, and Granny did her best to persuade everyone who had a baby boy that Norman was the only sensible name to choose. The youngest grandchild was my aunt’s son. Even though he originally had a different name, Granny insisted on calling him Norman anyway, and so Norman he had to be.

Granny was a woman of contrasts. To all appearances she was a very proper, conservative old woman of her generation, yet she loved to watch wrestling on TV. She could put on quite a show yelling at the TV on a Saturday afternoon. For someone who appeared so circumspect and forbidding, she could take a joke very well, and enjoying watching plays we would perform for her–which almost always involved one of us in the role of “the cailleach” (old woman). She would laugh as we groaned about our rheumatism and knitted while dressed up in one of her voluminous skirts. She believed in God passionately, yet was once caught dropping a sixpence in her tea in the superstitious belief that it would cure her stomach problems. She wasn’t the cuddly type, yet she spent most of her time knitting sweaters, vests and blankets to make sure that those she loved were warm. She admired “spunk” and enthusiasm and took a practical approach to life. I liked her, but was also scared of her, and was not always very sure of what she thought of me.

Outwardly Granny Keith Street was packaged like a typical old woman of her generation. Inwardly she was a strong spirit. She was prickly on the surface, but underneath a complicated mixture of humor, loyalty, enthusiasm and practicality. When she died she left a hole in the fabric of the family that was never filled. In my whole life with my mother, I only saw her cry once. It was when Granny died.

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