The Story House and Garden welcomes our latest recruit.
My maternal grandmother was a publican’s daughter and my most prize possession is a copy of a Mrs Beeton’s cookbook. It belonged to her big sister first and is inscribed. 'May Stevens, Valley Hotel Ngambie 1916'.
The Valley Hotel was one of the pubs that my great grandfather Henry Alfred Stevens owned and my nan inherited the book, then it was past on to me, her devoted apprentice.
I’ve been thinking of my nan a lot lately because I’m set to become a grandmother myself.
The other grandmother has already bagsed the title Nan, she already has two grandchildren and that’s what they call her, so I’ve been thinking of what I should be called.
Granny, oh no, sounds way to old for my liking.
Now my nan, Vera Stevens married Francis King Hewitson but as long as I can remember and legend has it back to into her childhood Vera was known to everyone by the nickname Trill. That’s what we all called her Trill or Trillie.
There was always various stories behind the nickname but it is only recently on quizzing an Auntie that we seemed to have uncovered where the name really came from.
It seems as though it might have been a jibe from her older sisters.
You see, Tril short for Trilby was a novel by George Du Maurier published in 1894. Numerous movies followed and would have been screened when my nan was a young girl, and likely that her much older sisters would have seen at the local cinema. The main character, Trilby O’Ferrall was a laundress and model who came under the influence of a the masterful hypnotist Svengali. Even though she is tone deaf he transforms her into a diva. During a London concert tour he dies of a heart attack and she is ridiculed because without the work of Svengali, she can’t sing
The nickname was her sisters teasing Vera about her lack of singing voice.
Tragically when Vera was only five her mother Ada Rebecca was killed when the buggie she was driving turned over and she was crushed beneath. Apparently all the children were farmed out for a while but when they were old enough Henry would have brought them back to help work in the various pubs. The young and malleable Vera was one of his best workers.
My nan was a fantastic cook and a depression era mother. When my mum was born they were living in Coburg but Vera decided if times were going to be tough they would would move down to the beach at Elwood so at last the children would have somewhere to play.
They lived in John street and their house backed onto the canal. I remember all of the furniture being lifted on to bricks as the flooding waters poured into their house. There was stories of her children floating an old bath tub down the canal to the sea.
She was thrifty and an amazing craftswomen . She could stretch meals, make preserves and I remember when I was twelve she let me taste her cumquat brandy. Wow it was like white lightning traveling down my throat.
A middle child with three brothers and a much younger baby sister, I loved to visit Trill, she taught me how to sew and cook and I think I inherited a genetic streak from her that our family call the Trill factor.
She was tough and would speak her mind.
I remember the story of a teacher ridiculing her son when he had trouble reading in lower primary school, they wanted his younger sister to come into the room and show how it was done. Vera was furious and marched up to the school and payed out on them. How dare they humiliate her son.
Another time the parish priest came round and asked Trill why the large gap between children, “Was she using contraception?”. Tragically it had been miscarriages but my Nan sent him on his was saying it was none of his damn business.
The only reason the children were at Catholic Schools was that her mother-in -law insisted. She loathed and detested the Catholics for the rest of her life.
She would often clip sayings and pin them to her kitchen calendar and this one has always stayed with me.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away”. It has always stayed with me.
She was so dear to me. She lived to the ripe old age of 92 and was sharp as a tack until the very end. But in her last weeks, confused and dying she reverted to her childhood and in her final days she would snuggle up to the matron of her nursing home and call out for her “Mum”. the mother she had lost when only a young child of five.
I’m looking forward to being a grandmother knowing what a treasured place Vera has in my heart.
So, my latest thoughts on what the grandchild could call me, is a nod to my Scottish ancestry
Seanmháthair (shin ha tear) is Scottish Gaelic. I know a bit tricky for a young child, but what about the beginning, Sh with my name Annie
So... I'm to be known as Shannie
Congratulations Cassandra and Robert