“Ah, it’s a pity they don’t have it in black, Nanny. I would definitely wear it if it was in black.” This was last week in Dundrum Shopping Centre, when my mother and grandmother made the trip up from Sligo to have lunch with my sister and me. We engaged in a spot of post-meal shopping, and Nanny had found a bright yellow coat in Zara that she was intent on treating me to.
“It’s waterproof, it has a hood. You don’t own anything with a hood!” She had me there. After trying on very many coats in the middle of the shop floor, I swayed her towards a very impractical, furry black number instead – with a hood, of course.
Maybe if this had taken place a few years ago, I might have felt slightly embarrassed by the spectacle we created in Zara that Sunday afternoon. Now though, I’m old and bold enough to know just how lucky I am to have a grandmother who is in good enough health to trek all the way from the West to spend time together, and in good enough spirits to bring me coat shopping.
My grandmother and I have always had an exceptionally close relationship. Pretty much all of my earliest memories involve being at her house – picking her flowers until every plant in her immaculate garden was beheaded, emptying the cupboards of saucepans, which were my favourite playthings for too long a time, and playing Old Maid – really not a card game for two.
Sleepovers at Nanny’s house were the best thing ever. She would make me porridge for breakfast, and tell me the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. After school we would do homework and prepare for the weekly Friday spelling test, until I could recite every word frontwards and backwards. She would heat my pyjamas in the hot press until bedtime, turn on the electric blanket so that my room would be nice and toasty, and, after prayers, tuck me in.
This probably doesn’t sound that far out of the ordinary: a lot of kids are close with their grandparents when they’re young. What I think is special about our relationship though, is how it has evolved as we’ve both gotten older. Sleepovers at Nanny’s are not that different today than what they were when I was five. She still heats my pyjamas in the hot press and makes sure the electric blanket is turned on. If we get up at the same time, she still makes me porridge (without the Goldilocks retelling). If not, she leaves the porridge bowl, oats and honey on the counter for me, every time.
We don’t practise spelling anymore, but she’s still the first person I want to tell if I get a good mark in an essay. Our phone calls are rarely less than 40 minutes long – from chatting about my housemates, to the news in the family, to whatever deadline I’m stressing over at any given point, there’s really not much we don’t discuss.
Nanny has been a huge influence on me throughout my life so far. For 10 years, she paid for singing lessons for me, driving me to and from classes every week and practising with me so that I wouldn’t be scolded by my teacher. Not only did she bring me to speech and drama lessons in Mayo for years, she encouraged the instructor to come to our community and set up a school. The drama teacher is still giving weekly classes, and Nanny is in the process of training up my youngest brother.
More recently, she undertook the mammoth task of attempting to teach me how to drive. My father was unwilling to take such a risk – he agreed to get in the car with me only on Christmas Day, to minimise the chance of meeting other vehicles on the road. But Nanny put me on her insurance and took her life in her hands and let me drive her all over Sligo. We had a few near misses, and I don’t have my license quite yet, but I’m a lot closer than I would have been had Nanny not stepped in.
I owe my grandmother so much. I am thankful for all the extra-curricular activities she enrolled me in, and grateful for the skills I learned from them, but what I really value out of these experiences is all the quality time I got to spend with her. Every time we got in the car to go to a music class, or a drama exam, or a driving lesson, she would pack a drink, a treat and an apple cut up into pieces for me to eat on the way. When I came to Dublin for college and our car journeys together became less frequent, she continued in her habit of feeding me, by sending me back to Dublin with a freshly baked loaf of bread every time I come home to visit.
Whenever our chats on the phone are coming to an end, she invariably says to me by way of goodbye that “there’s only one Aisling”. Really, though, as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one Nanny, and I’m thankful every day for her.