Granny Lyle was widowed in 1957. For as long as I knew her, she lived alone in a house not her own; she had never lived in her own home, going from her parents into service with the local doctor at the age of fourteen. After she married, she and he moved into the council house, government-owned, where she lived and died, where I knew her.
When she died, she left nothing but a few sticks of furniture, which her son and daughter burned in a bonfire in the back yard, and just enough in her savings book to cover her cremation and to give her grandchildren a parting present of fifty pounds each. Her little dog went to live at a neighbour’s house.
She didn’t have a telephone. If we needed to get hold of her in a hurry, we called her friend across the street, and she would put on her housecoat and go and fetch Granny Lyle and bring her back so that we could call again in ten minutes.
I thought of Granny Lyle this week, walking along the beach in hot sand and cold water so nice that I walked halfway back barefoot in sisterhood with her, who, much to my mother’s shame, never wore a shoe where a foot would do. We walked that way in heather on the moors, and on the pier, where she ducked in to play bingo while we ate our ice creams.
She was not what you might call a domesticated widow. She was tiny and strong as a coiled spring, and her breath came in gasps towards the end, and she drank a bottle of Guinness every day and her bird seed fell into the gaps in the window sill and grew accidental hemp.
The dishonourable judge, who feared neither God nor man but got heartily sick of the nagging widow woman, would have crossed the street and poked his head into the public bar to avoid Granny Lyle, and hidden his face in a foamy pint of northern bitter and never come back out till closing time.
I thought that she was a saint. My mother thought she was a holy terror.
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