As I previously mentioned, my grandmother from Jarrow (who was affectionately known by everyone as ‘Nanna Jean’- or ‘Nanna’s Jeans’ to one of the toddlers who didn't quite understand that Jean was her name not her clothing) was one of the most amazing people I ever met. Though she has been gone for several years, she left us with so many great memories.
What do I remember most about my Nanna’s Jeans? Nothing!! I never had the privilege of seeing her in a pair of jeans, but my Nanna Jean was one of the most selfless people I ever met (my mum is a chip off the old block which I will get to share with you in another blog).
I remember as kids, my brothers and I would get excited as we asked her to tell us about ‘The Good Old Days’. She was never too busy to tell us.
Her real name was Jenny Sparrow (from Jarrow) and the kids at school called her 'Sparrow legs'. But the 'Sparrow' is a whole other blog!! Suffice to say that when she left home at 15 to work in Manchester, she left Jenny behind and made a new start as Jean.
She told us about how poor they were when her father worked down the pits and would go down to the pub on Fridays to spend every penny he earned. She told how her mother would buy a half penneth of bones to make stew and would open her door to share it with all the kids and young people in the neighbourhood.
She told us about little Tommy putting the cat’s tail through the old mangle shouting “Hush pussy, you’ll soon be through!!”, and about the two Londoners who went to place a bet on a horse “Ideentna” (Geordie for “I don’t know”) which they’d heard was the favorite. She had a great sense of humour and such an excellent story teller that we didn’t know what was truth or fiction, and we didn’t care!!
She told us about the sad times, like when her sister died in her father’s arms as he ran to the hospital after a pan of stew poured over her head. How she too was scolded on the head and lived forever in fear of going to the hairdressers as they would see the bald patch that was her constant reminder of the not so ‘good old days’. How her husband left her with my mum (a teenager) and my auntie Hazel who was just two years old.
Nanna Jean lived to help others. After she re-married she got a job as a cook in a borstal (home for juvenile offenders). The detainees loved her and went to her in stead of the social workers when they wanted advice.
When I was a teenager I shared a bedroom with Nanna Jean for a year or two (which I loved because I got to hear more about the good old days) because she gave her house to a young homeless family.
It was only later in life that I learned that my grandma and granddad Hailes had not accepted dad’s marriage to mum. They looked down on her because she was from a divorced family (which wasn’t acceptable practice in the fifties). But when Grandma and Granddad Hailes were sick and needed help, it was Nanna Jean who gave up everything and went to be a live with them and care for them. She bathed them, clothed them, took them to the toilet, cooked for them, washed their clothes, ironed and gave their medication until the day they died. Needless to say they grew to love my Nanna Jean (as did everyone who knew her).
That is the story of my Nanna Jean.