This is my Grannie R’s engagement ring, which my parents gave me on my 21st birthday (along with Auntie‘s gold watch). She died 2 years before I was born, so I never knew her, and was thrilled to be given her ring. It was my first piece of real jewellery and I wore it constantly, until the day I noticed, with a lurch in my stomach, that the emerald stone was missing. I was devastated, and couldn’t bear to tell my parents. At that time I was living in a cheap rented room, which had the ubiquitous decor that all cheap rented rooms had in the 1980s, complete with regulation dark brown, green and orange patterned carpet (like walking on a sea of vomit). I didn’t vacuum very often, which was blessing; as I was sitting on my bed one day gazing at its nauseous whirls (I have no idea why) I spotted the stone lying there. It had been there all along, perfectly camouflaged against the muddy lichen colours, making me deeply grateful for my clarty habits.
My boyfriend’s sister-in-law was a jeweller so I took it to her to be repaired. Sadly, she told me it couldn’t be done. When she was cleaning it, the thin layer of gold had started to come off, revealing cheaper metal beneath; and the fine claws had become too worn to hold the stone in place. So the ring has stayed in its box ever since, in 2 pieces, but no less precious to me for that.
The contrast between this humble gold plated emerald ring and my Grannie Lane’s fine diamonds and pearls is as stark as the contrast between the two marriages. Unlike the Lanes, my paternal grandparents had a lifelong, happy, and loving marriage. They had very little money – hence the gold plated engagement ring – and raised 6 children in a single room in a tenement in the Gorbals district of Glasgow, a rough area in those days. Yet my Dad had nothing but happy memories of his childhood there. I always had the impression of a warm and loving home with much music and laughter. He wrote down some of these memories just before he died.
I know quite a lot about Grannie R’s family history, thanks partly to my cousins who have done a lot of research. I know that her father, James Grant, was a railway signalman from Holywood, near Belfast. My Dad remembered him as “not very tall, stooped, his eyes looked sternly out from a mass of greasy hair, always with his clay pipe and his flat, black, greasy railwayman’s cap.” Her mother was a country woman from Stranraer whom James had met and married en route to Glasgow. They lived in the same tenement as my grandparents, and after James died of bronchitis leaving her with two children still at home, she took in lodgers to make ends meet. From my Dad’s memoirs, it seems she ended her days an angry, violent alcoholic: “Heavy handed, as I had full reason to know, and fond of the bottle.” One day a lodger suggested to Dad’s mother that she should check on her. “Not unusually, she was lying on the old horsehair couch, stupefied. But there was something different, the smell of Lysol in the air. Dr. Colvin arrived in time to certify her death”.
The Grants were a Catholic family with 8 children, my grandmother Alice (“Allie”), born in 1889, being the fourth. Some of her siblings emigrated to Australia; my cousins have done a wonderful job of tracking down their many descendants and we all met up at a Grant family gathering in Glasgow a few years ago. My grandfather Jack came from a Protestant family but happily converted to Catholicism in order to marry her. I got the impression he was not too fussed about religion (although he couldn’t bring himself to go the whole way and support Celtic, so his boys were raised to be Partick Thistle supporters instead). I do know that he didn’t give my Dad any grief when he left the Church for Communism.
Allie gave birth to 9 children (there may also have been a still birth). My Dad, born in 1913, was the eldest and witnessed the births of all the others, in the kitchen where the whole family slept: parents in a “set-in bed” in the recess, children in a “hurley-bed” of straw that slid snugly underneath. He described:
“a drama which I could not understand until several repetitions. Each time began when my mother was in bed, sick. Maw (granny) was looking after us…Suddenly there was a commotion. The kitchen was full of neighbours, all women. Dad and I would be pushed into the [good] room. Dad would sit on a chair, his head buried in his hands. Something terrible was happening. Then another commotion outside. A car, no less! – and old Dr. Colvin. Crowds of people. Then, always the same, a long cry. Eventually I would be brought into the kitchen, astonished by the crowd there. In the bed, my mother, eyes closed and white as death. Beside her, another little face, fast asleep. Except that, on the first occasion in my memory, there were three faces. Not in the bed, but in an upturned wooden stool, which my father had previously made. Premature, they only lived a few days”.
The triplets were all girls who, as far as we can discover, didn’t live long enough to be registered, or even given names. My dad also recalled the doctor predicting that they would not survive and, looking around at their surroundings, saying “it’s just as well”. But 6 children did survive and thrive into adulthood, although the only girl, Dad’s sister Helen, was taken by TB at 18. My Grannie R. must have been a very strong woman to have survived all that and live 70 years, raising 5 fine sons (“All my boys is good boys”, as “Pop”, my Grandad R., used to say). They certainly appreciated her. My Dad was in Glasgow when she died just before her 70th birthday, and wrote to my Mum (who was at home with their 2 boys) of his father’s quiet, dignified grief: “As a family we have always been affectionate as you know, and we do not require to put forward an elaborate show of grief and lamentation…So tomorrow at 10.30 we say goodbye to the best of mothers, who always put us before herself”.
I am very glad to have the emerald ring as a memento of the grandmother I never knew, and of her long and happy marriage to Pop.