She was a great peeler of vegetables
And I wondered if the crooked tip of her little finger
Was caused by an incident with an apple.
She was part of the family scene for my first seven years,
Short rounded body moving through kitchen vapours,
Her face smiling into wrinkled warmth,
Then reverting to grey-eyed distant sadness –
She’d escaped the horrors of Hitler's Germany,
But with all that death behind her
She was surprisingly up for life,
Gathering conkers for us in her brown coat,
Filling bin liners with the neighbours’ leaves
And leaving chocolate by our bed-sides.
She liked a tipple and would put
Whiskey tops on garden canes
So as not to put her eye out when bending over.
Her cherry tree rattled in the wind,
Strung with bottle tops that failed to deter the birds.
Over half a century she housed
Two generations of children,
And many refugees, waifs and eccentrics.
One childhood morning
With sunlight streaming through bedroom window
She told me the story of the little finger.
As a young girl she had a crush on a Bohemian lad
Who loved to wander the Black Forest,
Sleeping in barns and strumming guitar
To folk songs round the camp fire –
It was 1968 for German Youth in 1910.
Then the First Great Horror arrived
And he was killed early in the carnage.
As the news came through
My Grandmother was holding a kitchen knife
And as grief clenched her hand
The knife bit deep into her little finger.
The next morning she saw a blaze of soul-rise
Streaming up to heaven,
His short life transfigured to light,
While she served seventy more years
Carrying her grief
Through this crooked world.
Nicholas Gill is a classic jazz piano player, expert in the 1930s style and old tyme singalongs. He is also a poet writing about the human condition as seen through the often dark telescope of his life experiences.