Monday 22 January 2018

My gorgeous Grandma: The legend of Nanny Josie

Nanny Josie all set for a wedding in 1982
Nanny Josie all set for a wedding in 1982
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

The best way to tell you about my Nanny Josie is through scenarios that I think best capture her personality and her close-knit relationship with her rather large family.

With nine surviving children, all procreating in true Irish fashion, the grandchildren and great grandchildren have now extended into the hundreds.

And Josephine O’Donnell, living in the centre of Finglas, was very much the heart of that crowd – a veritable homing signal for her family who had branched out to all corners of Dublin, Ireland and beyond.

It was in her home where we would gather for Sunday dinner – whether she liked it or not. Rowing relatives even made sure they avoided each other’s feeding time slot to make the self-imposed mandatory visit.


A familiar image: Nanny Josie in a kitchen with something to say for herself

One of my earliest memories of Nanny Josie is going past her house on the way to school on bitter winter mornings. For some reason, our small entourage would stop by before 9am almost daily when we were younger – but the cold days served more of a purpose than most.

Once in the door we’d remove our shoes and socks which Nanny Josie would promptly ‘haw’ into with hot breath and immediately slip them back on our feet. Of course, we could do that ourselves but it was Nanny’s method that would keep you toasty all the way to school.  She did it just right.  

Don’t get me wrong, Nanny Josie wasn’t all cuddles and sweetness – not by a long shot. On request she would horrify and delight us grandchildren in equal measures by removing her false teeth and pulling faces only the toothless have the ability to do.

At length, she would lecture her own grown children – but mostly her daughters – for consuming too much alcohol. She didn’t drink herself – despite always having a bottle of brandy in the press beside ‘her’ chair.

She would concoct ridiculous meals such as rabbit stew that would be ever on the boil in her small kitchen and call you “precious” or “ruined” if you had the audacity to decline a taste.

And God forbid should she ever get wind of you using your Dad’s razor before you hit puberty. Nanny Josie was a firm believer in the “tried and tested” method of rubbing lemon on your legs and under your arms to deter hair growth.

Yet, despite her amusing rough edges, her inner generosity and Irish-Mammy affection endeared her towards everyone she encountered.

Pushing her four-wheeled trolley to the local shops and back, she would pause at regular intervals to “get her breath back” – but we all knew it was so she could catch up on the gossip with everyone who passed by.

Nanny Josie (R) with her friend Dolly (L) in their gladrags

Nanny Josie (R) with her friend Dolly (L) in their gladrags in earlier years

Her daily run-ins with the butcher and vegetable man placed them on first name terms and firmly within the inner consortium. And not just because she always bought more than she needed.

I’ll never forget the day we made the seemingly endless drive from Tipperary to Dublin when we got ‘the’ call from the hospital.  We were about five minutes late, we could read it on the faces of our relatives.  Her cheek was cold and her skin was grey – no more bear hugs.

And yet the legend that was Nanny Josie lives on. From electrical faults that led to her voice recorded message ringing and ‘talking’ to my aunt to the 20 or so electrical appliances that came tumbling out of her upstairs closet. She never could turn a door salesman away.

Today is Gorgeous Grandma Day. Remembering mine brought a tear and a smile. Tell us about yours.

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