Sunday, July 19, 2009

Coffee anyone?

Grandma Wallah was a remarkable women if only for her ability to put up with Grandpa Wallah who, by all accounts, was quite the petty tyrant in his home. Considering that he was not the tallest of men, slight of build generally, it would appear his might came from the ferocity of his character. But I wouldn't know, as a child I had little contact with them and they both passed on by the time I was barely a teenager. The stories about my paternal Grandfather are legend in the family though we learnt them as adults.

Granny Wallah though, remained an enigma until one day,my uncle while visiting looked at me and said, "goodness, you're the spitting image of mama". Well aside from the fact that I'm about half a foot taller, have red hair and am somewhat outgoing. My memory of her is of a quiet, dark skinned woman, with head always covered by a tightly wrapped head tie. She never seemed to be particularly interested in us, the children of her oldest son and the Muslim woman he'd married. By the time I was old enough to remember her she was already a shadow of herself. From the time she married GPW he'd put her out to work in the cane fields which she did until she retired after a lifetime of backbreaking work and then taking care of a family with very little money. I know nothing of who she was or where she came from, I suspect though that her quiet facade hid a lot.

My father's few stories involve how his mother would forage the waysides for bhagi (spinach) to eke out the daily meal and her ability to make do with whatever. My mother always claimed that my father's family could not cook but I suspect that had more to do with her discomfort with them than anything else. The aunts were a homely but strangely attractive bunch of women struggling to make ends meet while raising families. Grandfather Tartar well known for throwing people out into the street for the slightest perceived infraction of his authority. You then could not cross the bridge over the drain to come back to visit, Granny Wallah was relegated to meeting her errant daughters on the sly. After Father died, Uncle parted with a few more stories, it would seem according to him, GW was a woman of great charm, a "beauty" who my grandfather punished for being likable.

These are the things I do know: she loved coffee. She would brew up her pot on the fireside and then sit under the house with her enameled cup and drink it thoughout the day. The doctor made her give it up shortly after she retired, it seemed she was hypertensive and he felt it was bad for her. Actually, it might have made more sense for her to quit Grandpa Wallah because we all suspect he was the cause. She had a hard life and died when she was sixty having suffered the consequences of her life of want. My mother bought her a "dress length" each Christmas and Mother's Day and she would get my Aunt Iris to sew it up for her though I can't recall ever seeing her wear any of them. But then, we never saw her "going out" so why dress up? GW was Anglican, GPW Catholic but it is interesting that he could never get her to convert.

Not a lot to know about the woman who appears, was the precursor to the Coffeewallah.


Gabriela said...

Although it's not a lot to know about her, it seems she was a huge influence for you.
I'm always amazed by the hard lives lived by many people in general, and women in particular. And yet, they manage to be wonderful beings.

Coffeewallah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coffeewallah said...

Sadly, she is really a closed book for me, I have yet to find the key to unlocking her. My mother always talked about how hard she worked to support everyone with very little return. I suspect despite living with my other Granny most of the time I was growing up, I'm more like Granny Wallah.

Coffedude said...

his is a lovely post .. classic "Coffeewallah".

It touched me as it reminded me of m memories of my grandparents though in my case it was more of my maternal grandfather who died when I was 8 almost exactly 30 years and 3 weeks ago. My memories of him are more vivd though as I grew up on his knee on Woodford Street eating all manner of chinese delicacies (eel, rabbit, snake)and apparently I was his eyeball. Yes, he drank his thick, bitter percolated coffee out of an enamel cup.

You continue to be an inspiration for opening oneself to the world in order to perhaps find consolation and camaraderie in life's experiences.

The Coffeedude