Anne Pitcher


    “Love in a hug” – my granny

The feeling of being wrapped up in a warm loving hug from someone who loves you and returning that hug, during the Coronavirus epidemic, has been something I have missed with all my being. So I wanted to share my memory of the person from my childhood whose hugs meant so much to me – my granny – my father’s mother – Elizabeth Shanks.

My Granny was a warm, loving, rosy cheeked woman who had a smile that lit up the room, especially when she saw her grandchildren – myself and my two wee brothers, Andy and Davy. Granny was almost as round, as she was tall. She was always full of fun and laughter and always smiling it seemed to me. When Granny hugged me, it felt like being wrapped up with love.  People always say that you should not have favourites in your family, but as the only grand-daughter, I was the apple of Granny’s eye.

My father, Jim Shanks, was a Congregational Church minister in the sleepy North East coastal fishing town of Aberdeen, as it was then – not the oil capitol of Great Britian as it is now. It was only in the summer holidays that we could travel the five hour journey down to Airdrie to visit my dad’s parents. We never really saw my mum’s parents, the Waltenbergs, because, with my mum’s two brothers, Theodore [Uncle Bonnie] and Sirdar [Uncle Bill], they had immigrated to New Zealand when mum got married in 1940s to my dad. They were a bit like a distant far away fairy tale, my grandpa and granny across the other side of the world.  They had done well in Christchurch, running an engraving business, producing embossed leather goods that they ended up exporting round the world. Uncle Bill panned for gold in the stretch of goldriver he had bought in the bush beside Greymouth because he had become fed up with being “The best bloody chemist in New Zealand”. I never met Grandpa Waltenberg but Granny Waltenberg visited us three times from New Zealand when I was a child like a visiting royal dignitary descending on her subjects. She was killed in a car crash when at university in the early 1970s

So in the summer holidays we visited our Shanks grandparents. Bursting with excitement, me, my two wee brothers and my mum and dad, crammed ourselves into in our old black Ford Popular car which, in 1950s, had no suspension and no seat belts.  After a long journey bumpy ride by car, we arrived at my grandparents’ house in Airdrie, stiff as a board because we had been sitting for so long. Tumbling out of the car, we ran up to their green front door and banged with the door knocker, loudly. Then grandpa and granny flung the door open wide and their arms open wide, with a huge smiles of joy on their faces, as they had been waiting for us.  Granny would try to hug us all at once – it was wonderful! Delicious smells of her home baking wafted out of the door to meet us for she was an amazing baker and cook.

With our teddies grasped in our hands, my brothers and I would run straight up the stairs to the bedroom we would always sleep in – it was our special room. It had a huge double bed with a big painting hanging on the wall beside it showing the “The Three Ages of Man” painted by my dad’s cousin, Duncan Shanks, who later became a famous Scottish painter. The painting showed a grandpa, a dad and his son, walking along a sandy shore with fishing rods over their shoulders, hope and excitement on their faces.

It was lovely being snuggled up, cosy and warm, in the big, soft bed at night under handmade quilts and blankets, lying looking up at the grandpa, dad and son, looking like they were going off for an adventure. Granny would put a hot ‘piggy’ – a hot water bottle, in our bed to warm it up.  A ‘piggy’ was a round clay bottle with a bit at the end which had been used to feed piglets but instead of having milk in it, there was hot water. Instead of a feeding teat there was a stopper. After a huge meal, my brothers and I would go up the stairs, into bed and soon were fast asleep dreaming of tomorrow’s adventures.

Granny was a talented kilt maker and a wonderful seamstress. She used a Singer Sewing Machine which moved by pressing her feet up and down on treadle or peddle – not by electricity. She made little kilts for me, which I loved and tartan trousers for my brothers, which they didn’t like because the real wool was so scratchy on their skin. My Grandpa was a research chemist in a local paper manufacturing company, so when we visited, there were lots of different types of experimental paper for us to draw on, made of different thicknesses, textures and materials.  My Grandpa always sharpened the pencils we drew with, using a sharp, folding penknife which he always had in his pocket. He did not think sharpeners did a very good job and he was right. This both fascinated and scared me, at the time because his knife was so sharp and it brought the pencil to a sharp point so quickly. I was warned never to try and do that myself for obvious reasons! When I was older, travelling round the world by myself, I had a Swiss Army Knife which had a great penknife blade which always reminded me of him.

On Saturday afternoons Grandpa listened to the radio to hear the football results being announced, waiting for how many goals his football team –Airdrie – had won or lost by. He had a very comfortable armchair which was his special chair – we all knew that!  I still have this chair in my home in Kilbarchan, re-upholstered but still great for sitting on. Everyone had to keep completely quiet while the football results came in - which is impossible for kids! So my dad took my two wee brothers, Andy and Davy, out to play in the garden with the ‘go-cartie’ which grandpa had made from old pram wheels and wood.  They would race down the garden path shouting with laughter. My granny would come and say, with a smile “Would you like to help me bake Anne?” Of course time with granny was special and to ‘help’ her bake was so much fun. She would bring in a wooden chair for me to stand on since I was so little and couldn’t reach the kitchen worktop. She would wrap one of her big aprons round me to keep my clothes clean. We often made gingerbread. So the big wooden Spice Box was brought down. It had lots of little drawers, carefully labelled with the name of each spice – cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, curry powder - each one had a wonderful but different smell.  Some ingredients were stored up on the kitchen shelves in white china jars of different sizes with a blue and white pattern on them. Down came the tin of treacle. I was sent to get the butter from the ‘pantry’ as there were no fridges in 1950s households. A ‘pantry’ was a cupboard which had a metal grill going to the outside, which kept things cool. The butter was sold in wax covered paper and was usually stamped with s Scottish Thistle pattern. I loved this butter and felt very grownup when I was able to go and get it from the pantry shelf.

So granny got out the big mixing bowl, made of white china on the outside and cream on the outside – it was very heavy. So together we mixed and stirred.

Through the open kitchen window we could hear my brothers laughing and playing outside, racing down the garden faster and faster in the home-made go-cart. But inside the warm kitchen was my special world with my granny – just her and me - I could do nothing wrong in her eyes. She just loved me so much. After mixing and stirring, the gingerbread would go into the baking tin and then into the gas oven. While the cake baked, granny let me scrape the mixture left in the mixing bowl with a spoon – it was heavenly!

It seemed that in no time at all, the gingerbread was ready. With a conspiratorial twinkle in her eye she would say “Anne – you get to taste it first – just to make sure it’s good. The rest don’t need to know!” With her oven gloves on, granny would take the cake out of the oven, looking dark golden brown, with the most mouth-watering smell. Then Granny would cut a slice just for me and I would take a little butter from the wax paper, careful not to break the Thistle pattern and put it on the gingerbread, where it melted straight away. Then it was in melting in my mouth – it was bliss! Her home baking was always wonderful. When it was all done and sitting cooling, my granny gave me a big, big hug, smelling of fresh home baking and would say to me “You are so clever, my bonnie wee Anne”. And I felt like the luckiest and most loved little girl in the whole world.

May you know ‘love in a hug’ in your life, as I have done in mine, during this Pandemic.  May you never take for granted the blessing of being able to show ‘love in a hug!’ to others – enriching their lives, as my granny did for me, helping to make me who I am today.

Anne Pitcher (c)

17th May 2021