Pieces of Nana

Today might have been my grandmother's 105th birthday (there was some confusion about whether her birthdate was actually the 16th or 17th June).

Doris Alice McCulloch was tiny, tough and stubborn. Having survived the Depression, she abhored waste; she kept a basket of half-dead batteries near her radio and rotated them, eking out the last spark of life in each rather than throw it away. She re-used teabags. Before her marriage, in the 1920s, she worked in the rag trade in Flinders Lane, and sometimes used to model the clothes for clients. (Maybe she modelled some of Phryne Fisher's fabulous outfits?) She was a keen amateur actor; she won elocution prizes, performed radio plays and toured country towns with a drama troupe.

At 80, Nana moved into a granny flat attached to my parents' house just as I was moving out. I picked up her armchairs, some saucepans, an antique stove-top coffee-maker (later broken by a careless housemate who didn't even have the decency to confess his crime).

I still have some relics of Nana: her sewing basket, complete with wooden darning mushroom; a china jug; an elocution medal; a book of household remedies called "Consult Me For Everything You Want To Know." But this week, I broke the knob off the lid of Nana's old saucepan that I've been using for the past 25 years, and I felt sad -- one of the last links to my grandmother is about to disappear from my daily life.

But then Alice came down from the attic brandishing a fur hat. "Can I wear this?" The same question I asked Nana when I rescued it from the top of her wardrobe as an 18 year old.

From hand to hand, down the generations, things pass on. Not the things you expect, not jewels or furniture or works of art -- what survives is a funny old hat, a vanity case, a darning mushroom. And I wonder what objects of mine my own grandchildren might end up with?

Happy birthday, Nana. Alice looks great in your hat.

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