Phyllis was my grandmother. She was an important part of my life for almost 38 years.
When I was little the family and friends would spend Sunday afternoons at the Leadmill Club, where my grandfather, Fred would play the trumpet in his jazz band. The smell of beer and the sound of live music still sometimes brings me back to those Sunday afternoons, where Phyllis would sit, tapping her foot and enjoying a cigar.
She looked after me whenever was needed when I was a child. She got on well with my paternal grandmother Vera. The two of them took care of me together one week when Mum and Dad went away to Paris. They had a lot in common. Two happy Geordie women, with a lifetime of child care between them. I was in good hands.
When my little brother Tommy was born in 1985, Phyllis took care of me while Mum and Dad where at the hospital. Tommy was a few weeks premature and weighed just 5 pounds 4 ounces. Phyllis took me to the hospital to meet him for the first time. He was tiny, wrapped in silver foil like a baked potato.
I got into trouble at school once when I was a teenager and got taken home by one of the teachers. Phyllis was waiting for me on the doorstep as Mum was at work. I was upset, and the teacher wasn’t very nice to me. Phyllis just smiled and chuckled. “Oh well,” she said, “Better put the kettle on.”
She was nice like that, she never judged. I don’t remember a stern word or a telling off. She was always jolly and friendly.
Our fridge was often well stocked with stews and casseroles she’d make at home and bring over. Our freezer with fish from the fishmongers. Always making sure we were well fed.
I was amazed by how unfazed she seemed by her age. “How old are you now?” she’d ask me, “My goodness, how old does that make me?” Always with a laugh.
I was the first of her seven grandchildren. But I wasn’t the first grandchild she cared for. For eleven years she was grandmother to my older half brother and sister, Andrew and Leigh and my adopted brother, Mark. She was kind and caring to them too, and they all have fond memories of her.
As a grandmother she excelled. And she did what all good grandmothers should do, she made us all feel equal, each one loved no more than the other, because she loved us all to the fullest, and she was proud of us.
I think we can all learn from Phyllis. How to treat people with honesty, generosity, with care and not to judge. How to grow old with grace and resilience. She went through life with her head held high. I’m extremely proud and very lucky to have been her grandson.
Phyllis Henderson 1923 – 2016