Ch01.B28 Glad-ness and inspiration
My Mum’s mother, Gladys Wright (Glad to her friends), was born in Brighton, England, in 1915. Her life at first, and even second, glance does not seem particularly inspiring. She was a working class housewife who never went abroad until she was in her late 70s and never owned her own home.
I only knew my Nan as a very overweight woman who couldn’t get down the shops by herself and required my sister and I to heft her in the wheelchair. We used to cringe with embarrassment when she would heave herself out of the chair to stagger across roads because we couldn’t lift the wheelchair over the curbs.
Nan was a pretty terrible cook and I remember being fed raw bacon rind, “eggy fried bread” (to this day I can’t eat French Toast) and once some corned beef fritters that were so horrible my sister and I buried them in a pot plant. Oh, and home brewed elderberry wine she fed to us in shot glasses.
That’s the other thing about my Nan. She was an alcoholic. Luckily her inability to get out and about kept her out of the pubs, but whenever she did get to the shops she’d buy a 4-pack of Gold Label, a 10% proof barley wine beer, and get through the lot in a couple of hours.
This is not to say that Nan never had any ambitions. As a young woman she’d been a promising hurdler and singer. But nodules had wrecked any hope of a singing career, and marriage and kids had become the priority. Then, in her early sixties, Nan found herself suddenly alone. In the space of a few months she lost her husband and young grandson. She never really recovered; didn’t know how to express her own grief, nor help her daughter, my mother, through hers. She withdrew, got fat and stopped participating in life.
Why then was my Nan so inspiring to me? Well firstly there was her sense of humour. She saw the funny side of everything. I recently found an old letter she sent me: “Your mum bought me some beautiful plants but the slugs had a lovely party and ate the lot.” I can hear her chuckling away to herself as she writes.
But the real reason why my Nan inspired me is that she was the only person in my family who never once questioned my desire to be an actor. While everyone else would openly doubt my commitment, ability and suitability, she would just ask for another performance. Once she wrote to me at uni and said “Don’t smoke marijuana. It’s no good for your short term memory and you can’t have that if you’re going to be an actress.” It was unintentionally hilarious of course, but I never once felt that she doubted the path I had chosen.
My Nan didn’t have much of a life. She lived vicariously through her children and grandchildren. Opportunity was slim and her choices slimmer. Her story reminds me how fortunate I am to have travelled the world and to have the freedom to pursue my dreams.
I never got to say goodbye to my Nan. She died the first year I was living overseas. I don’t believe I ever told her that I loved her. But often when I perform I share a little moment with my Nan before the show, and thank her for her unwavering belief in me.