Winifred Bond (nee Bulmer) was my dad’s mother and my Nana.
When I was about three years old, my Grandpa died and Nana came to live with us. She had what would now be called a bachelors apartment in our basement at the bottom of the stairs. The door was always kept shut and I was taught to knock and wait for her to call out ‘come in’. But I was always a welcome visitor.
Her kitchen was cozy and I remember sitting with her chatting. She had a wee drop leaf white Formica table with chrome legs and two grey vinyl kitchen chairs. Her chair was the one in the corner and her visitors sat on the other. When I visited with Mom or another adult, I would scoot into the living room and take the small step stool from where it was kept under the sewing machine cabinet and haul it into the kitchen so I wouldn’t be left out of things.
Every Sunday morning, Nana would soak her feet and give herself a pedicure. As a diabetic, she told me that good foot care was important and she would take an hour or so, soaking and using a pumice stone to make sure her feet stayed healthy. On one day a week, her correspondence tin would come out and she would write letters to friends and family. I know she kept in touch with the descendants of her father’s sister Christiana (Kit) Bulmer who had moved to Rhodesia and wrote weekly letters to her daughter, my aunt Irene. When I was six or seven, I remember that I made her a postage stamp case out of envelopes as a craft project with slots for 5 and 6 cent stamps and one for “air mail” stickers and one for international postage, which I believe was 15 cents at the time. The 5 cent stamps were for unsealed envelopes – mostly greeting cards, or postcards and the 6 cent stamps were reserved for sealed letters that she painstakingly addressed in her tight British script.
Across from the kitchen table, under the basement window, was her fridge that she brought with her from her home on Brian Avenue. It was the old fashion kind with and rounded profile and one single door that opened to show a tiny internal freezer that need defrosting often. The handle had to be pulled down to open the fridge. Beside her chair was a metal shelf that held her pots and pans underneath and a small, two burner hot plate that she used to cook her meals. Beside that was a small counter with a kitchen sink in the middle. There was a small round dish pan to fit inside the sink ‘to save water’ but I don’t ever remember seeing dishes so she must have been fanatic about keeping them washed up. Above the sink was a cupboard that hid the house electrical panel and some narrow shelves where she kept her many spices. I especially remember that there were whole bay leafs for stews, whole cloves for cooking hams and whole nutmegs that she would grate on a mini grinder for baking.
On the opposite side of the kitchen, near where her visitors sat, was another set of cabinets, both upper and lower and at the far side, near the wall under the window was the ‘junk drawer’. Here she kept all manner of interesting things. There were her ‘tools’ – a hammer and small saw and odds and ends of screws, nails and hooks. There were small skeins of string, off white in colour with a twist of red or blue that were saved from the pastry boxes she would bring home from the Woman’s Bakery at the plaza. Pa Bond’s pocket watch was there, along with his wrist band from the war that he made out of an artillery shell and had engraved with his regiment and enlistment number. I used to love being given the chance to explore the drawer and ask questions about everything I found.
Just before the kitchen, in a sort of entry hall was her storage area. Just inside her front door was a tall cabinet. The upper door, probably about six feet off the ground, was her medicine cabinet. It was filled with old fashion remedies, many of them home made by Nana. When I would fall down and get a bruise, I would visit her for some ‘magic’ – an evil smelling, black coloured ointment that seemed to make them fade away quickly. I have a vague memory that it contained glycerin from the drug store but unfortunately I think the ‘recipe’ probably died with her. She didn’t keep band-aids but had surgical tape, gauze pads and other supplies to fashion a bandage no matter what or where I had a cut and it was always accompanied by lots of Mecca ointment. Under the medicine cupboard was a cupboard with her linens on shelves. I don’t remember ever going in that cupboard so there must not have been anything too exciting to a child. Next to this was a double doored, walk in (barely) closet. Her dresses all hung in the back on a pole and there was a large trunk which I was never invited to browse through. It was a deep burgundy color and was off the back of an old car that Nana and Papa had once owned. I think it may have contained old photos and keepsakes among other things but strangely she never showed them to me.
On mending or craft day, she would pull the sewing machine cabinet from the living room and set in up in place of the kitchen visitor’s chair. It is a wonderful machine; one of the first motorized Singers from about 1932. I have it now, sitting proudly in *my* living room. The cabinet is cherry coloured with an inlay diamond pattern inset in the door. It uses the old style, long bobbins and when I got the machine after her death, the rubber piece that ran against the wheel to wind the bobbin was worn after more than forty years of use, and often slipped. I took the rubber piece with me to a small, old sewing store downtown that was packed with all things imaginable and was owned by a rather elderly lady. As soon as I pulled the rubber piece out of my pocket, her eyes lit up. She knew just what I needed and said “My goodness, no one has come looking for one of those in years! But you’re in luck young lady. I still have a couple here somewhere.” She proceeded to go to a drawer filled with bits and pieces of sewing machine parts and pulled out two of the rings. I bought them both – I think I paid 45 cents each – and she packaged them in a small brown paper bag for me, thrilled to have been able to serve me.
Nana used her machine and her crochet hook for all manner of crafts to donate to various bazaars. She made pot holders shaped like chickens with combs of bias tape and she used the bias tape attachment for the machine to bind the pot holders. She also made crocheted poodle covers for everything. The standard was a small bleach bottle that she would fill with Epsom salts, colored with food colouring and scented with perfume. The poodles had a large pom-pom on top for their hair, two smaller ones as cheeks on either side of their nose, four more in front for paws and a final one on the back for a tail. I remember well sitting with her as she wrapped endless cardboard rings with yarn over and over to make the full pom poms. After she had finished, she would tie them off at the centre and then carefully cut around them with manicure scissors, fluffing and trimming until it was perfectly round. Sometimes she would use a glass bottle as the base for the poodle and fill it with different colors of bath salts poured in layers. She made poodle covers for bathroom tissue, for teapots and even for whiskey bottles. Another bazaar project was face cream, cooked up in her kitchen from carefully guarded ingredients. Friends and neighbours would save their baby food jars for her and she would paint and decorate the tops and fill them with her special cream. Everyone in the family had one of her crochet covered curtain rings to pin inside their coat and pull their scarf through for safe keeping. Another favorite was a fine crocheted cross shaped book mark. She would make them of different colors of crochet cotton, often edging them in my favorite, variegated cotton and then starch them for a crisp look. Another popular project was a crocheted afghan. Every member of the family got one. Mine was pale green and blue and white. One of her last projects before her death was a full size afghan for her new great-granddaughter Christina in bright yellow, orange and red.
Nana’s living room was my favourite place. I would sneak down to visit often and retrieve my little shoe box from behind her big green arm chair. It held three dolls and a few assorted clothes and I was only allowed to play with them when I visited downstairs. There was a boy doll named ‘Bobby’, a girl doll named ‘Barbara’ and a baby doll named ‘Little Darling’ and I imagined all sorts of adventures for them.
Nana always sat in her big green arm chair. It was upholstered in a one colored, woven pattern; part polished cotton and part steel I think. It was a big old semi wing back chair and it never seemed to wear. She had a gold cordoroy neck cushion that she used behind her head. The sewing machine cabinet doubled as a lamp table and sat beside her chair. Her feet were always resting on a big green leatherette foot stool that Nana made herself years before with some cast off furniture legs, some board, some foam, some leatherette and a lot of determination. The seams were studded to match her chair. Visitors sat on the sofa which was upholstered in brown in the same indestructible fabric as the chair. There were sofa cushions but they sat perched on the back of the sofa. You weren’t allowed to use them! When I was about four, both Nana and I caught whooping cough from some neighbour children and I remember camping out on that sofa, and coughing incessantly. Presumably we stayed down there together so we would not infect the rest of the family.
Across from the sofa was an arm chair with upholstered back and seat but wooden base and arms. The men visitors used to like to sit in this chair for some reason. I have this chair now. It has been reupholstered a couple of times since it was that steel green and is currently covered in a deep royal purple velvet to match my dressing room.
Opposite from the sofa and against the wall were Nana’s bed nook and dressing nook. The bed was made up during the day in a tailored fitted cover made of the same brown fabric as the sofa. At the head of her bed was a small sofa table with a reading lamp, a clock and her favourite, special Princess telephone. When Bell Canada first offered the Princess telephone to their customers, there was a one time surcharge but Nana phoned right away and ordered one in beige, much to my dad’s disgust at this crazy waste of money. Everyone but him understood just how much Nana loved that phone. She would chatter to her friends and family by the hour, finally hanging up and saying “That woman would talk the hind leg off a mule!” but I never noticed that she did much listening!
Above the night table were shelves for displaying knick knacks. Past the bed was a dressing alcove. It held her tall dresser and her vanity and it was curtained off from the rest of the room for privacy. In the corner was a covered hassock. I’m not sure what she stored in it but I remember sitting there often watching such fascinating things as her putting her hair ‘up in pin curls’ or putting these strange aluminum waving clamps in it while it was wet. She kept her bobby pins and hair pins in two ball shaped silver containers that she said once contained some kind of powder. I have one of them, still filled with pins.
At the end of the room, opposite her big chair, was a red brick wood burning fireplace. On cold winter evenings, Nana would light a fire and it would always be my job to toss in a few special treated pine cones (probably they were wax dipped or coated with boric acid) that made the fire burn blue and green. On the hearth, sat a small porcelain dog named Brownie that I used to love making up stories about. There was always a piece of surgical tape on the bottom of Brownie with my name written on it which was Nana’s way of saying who in the family was to get which keepsake when she was gone.
Next to the fireplace was her old console TV. She would never miss her Lawrence Welk when it was on. She was also a big fan of Saturday night wrestling, although it seems very strange to me now and I would often watch with her.
In the early years, Nana would come upstairs to use the only bathroom in the house. Although she was a large woman, she would come up the stairs so quietly that she often scared us silly when we realized she was there! In later years, when the stairs got too much for her so often, my dad built a small two piece powder room in another part of the basement and she mostly made do with strip washes at her kitchen counter with her door securely locked.
I have so many memories of my Nana from my growing up years and I’m grateful that I was able to get to know her so well. She was sometimes a stern, difficult lady, with lots of old fashion opinions but a loving Nana all the same. I wish I could still go and visit her now.