My two grandmothers were very different personalities. My father’s mother had a sweetness, as well as a firmness, which drew people to her as a fount of sage advice and comfort. She played a major role in my growing up, and her death when I was eighteen was a personal tragedy for me.
My other grandmother was also a strong character, but in a different, and more negative, way. She endeavoured to rule her family to such an extent that she alienated their affections, and ended up as a very lonely old woman, still railing about their shortcomings. I felt sorry for her.
Grandmothers – when we are fortunate enough to have them – are often seminal figures in our lives. To a child, they represent a fount of wisdom and experience beyond that of our parents, and although often accused of over-indulgent “spoiling”, leave behind them – perhaps for that very reason – undying memories of being not only loved, but fully accepted by them.
Wise grandmothers – often great-grandmothers – feature in many of the classic fairy tales by the great Victorian writer George MacDonald, such as “The Princess and the Goblin” and “The Princess and Curdie”. Usually they are tucked away in a lofty turret of the castle, only reachable by a child with true discernment, where they sit spinning the warp and weft of the lives of those whose good fairy they are. In “The Wise Woman”, it is an isolated cottage on the moors where the grandmother-figure instils spiritual wisdom by placing the self-absorbed and surly children into ‘mood chambers’ where they undergo various revelatory experiences.
MacDonald understood the power of true feminine wisdom, long before the strident man- hating feminists appeared on the modern scene. If you haven’t read him, do – his Complete Fairy Tales are available in the Penguin Classics series – and reflect this Christmas upon the blessings the fortunate ones amongst us have received from our grandmothers.