By Maureen Barron
Nellie was BIG. When she came to visit when I was small she blocked the light out in the doorway, I could see some sky above her head and some of the yard through her ankles. She would haul herself into the house by clutching either side of the door frame with her huge sausage like fingers, which were always adorned with rings and perfectly manicured nails in scarlet nail varnish.
Even though Nellie was big she didn’t seem to jiggle and wiggle so much as she seemed to bob and barge like a tugboat trying to break free from its moorings in a choppy marina.
She was a farmers wife and she was quite rich. She wore magnificent fur coats and wonderful velvet hats in the winter, and brightly coloured duster coats and a variety of colourful hats in the summer. During her visits she never took off her hat. She always wore silk dresses which rode up when she sat down, revealing silk bloomers which came to just above her knees.
She was like a walking human sensory garden to a child like me. She catered to all of my five senses , with her textures and perfumes, bright colours and sounds, and the food that she carried in her wicker basket.
Thanks to Nellie,I knew from an early age lots of different furs and what they felt like. The smooth silky mink, the short, soft Beaver lamb and the curly uneven pattern of the Astrakhan.
She would have magnificent leather hand bags and matching shoes. And exclaim proudly to my mother “Do you like me shoes Kitty?” -” Real crocodile skin they are and the handbag is too” I would be aghast and ask as many questions as I dare about where they came from and everything but not too much in case they sent me out to play. My mother daren’t say she liked anything too much because Nellie would take it off and insist on giving it to her.
Nellie made a lot of noise, her jewelry chinked and rattled, her voice was resonant and wheezy and harsh, she had a booming laugh and a chortling giggle. I loved it when she laughed and the mascara ran down her powdered cheeks like a black river, spreading and drying in her big round parched, powdered face. Her hair was dyed jet black and parted at the side, it was waved and curled in the latest fifties fashions.
When Nellie came, she never came empty handed. She brought all sorts of farm produce in a wicker basket and say. “There you are Kitty me dear, some eggs and butter and cheese and things to help you out a bit, I don’t know how you manage with all these bairns to feed”.
Nellie loved to eat, and ask for some of me Mam’s wonderful home made bread with some of the butter and cheese she had brought. Then they always had their little joke. Me Mam would say “One sugar in your tea Nellie “? Nellie would laugh and say “Now Kitty, do I look as if I take one sugar?” “Three sugars please”
When we had all had some tea and bread, me included, they would pull their chairs up to the big black fireplace range and light up their cigarettes. Nellie had posh cigarettes in a lovely white packet with a handsome sailor on the front, and me Mam would smoke her Woodbines.
I would ask Nellie to blow me a smoke ring and I would watch as the ring lifted and spread out into the air until it became wispy and float around like Caspar the friendly ghost.
When all that was over I would ask Nellie if I could sit on her knee and I would settle down and start by feeling her long nails which felt hard and a bit sticky like the school railings at the bottom of the street. Then move onto her charm bracelet, examining the charms on her bracelet and rings on her fingers, and best of all watch the colours in her earrings flash and change as she moved and talked. The jewelry was always in exotic colours – ruby red, and sapphire blue in silver settings. I loved it when she got out her powder compact out and opened it and the beautiful smell of powder would shoot out, along with puffs and clouds of powder. She would scrub her face vigorously with the powder puff and then reapply her red lipstick which would soon be soaked up into the dryness around her mouth and make her look as if she had eaten a strawberry. When I sat on her knee I could see the powder clinging to the hairs up her broad flared nostrils in her big, round nose.
She always wore Evening in Paris perfume which was in a lovely dark blue bottle, and she would give me and my and me Mam a dab.
Nellie loved my Mam, that was obvious, and she would wasn’t frightened to give my Dad a piece of her mind when he came in,about how wonderful his wife was and how he should be a better man, and then all hell would break loose. They would clash like Titans. My dad was natured like Nellie and neither one would give in. Many times he would order Nellie out of the house and she argued that as long as my Mam wanted her there she would continue to come.
Me dad would call her names and say that you couldn’t make a silk purse out of a Sows ear. It took years to understand what he had been implying and I now I know how wrong he was about her, because without a doubt Nellie was simply sensational.