At My Grandmother’s Knee.
I remember, she said, how the old folks
Told stories of people they knew,
Of this and of that, with a smile and a laugh,
Sitting near the fireplace, that comfortable hearth,
Those dark winter days passed gently away,
Her voice, faltering now, recalling a time
Where husbands and children came back to life,
Savoured lovingly like good vintage wine.
The stories, she said, of horses and pigs,
Of beer in jugs, carried home by the kids,
Of stables and brickyards, river in flood,
Of pastors and curates trying to do good.
How pretty she was when she married her man,
Walking to church whilst the Nobs went in gigs,
Of service, and blacking, rent to be paid
To skinny landlords who cared not two figs.
I remember, she said, how the women
Would tell, of Gin Palaces, harvests and Hell,
How God-fearing women gave all to their men
In marriage and children, to love and obey,
And told of the time when struggling to find
Food for the table and clothes for their backs,
And how you sold furniture to pay for the rent,
And starving people tramped on the tracks.
Her eyes brighter, she started to speak
Of women who, during men’s vicious wars,
Worked factories, drove ambulances and cars,
Pulled overals and trousers over their drawers.
She laughed when she spoke of her time in the line,
And explained how some died demanding their rights,
Telling me stories I could not understand; she said,
For your mother and me I joined in the fights.
But most of all I remember, her trembling hands,
As softly she spoke of her own family, and how,
She said, your uncles and aunts should be six
Not three; living still in this old heart of mine.
And as I stood by my Grandmother’s knee,
For a short while I thought I could see,
Happy children playing down through the years,
And looked up to see my Grandmother’s tears.