Despite the testimony of fading photos in the family album, it’s almost impossible for children to imagine their grannies as younger women.
It’s difficult for them to picture their grannies as roses in full flower whose petals have not faded and become freckled with liver spots.
Although grannies are always extra-ordinary, it’s understandable that rambunctious grandchildren not fully grasp the rowdy exploits of their granny’s impetuous youth. Not unless there is unquestionable evidence, irrefutable proof to confirm daily - yes, daily - that once upon a time granny was … well, a pirate, p’raps.
‘Pirate Gran’ [Breakwater Books], written by Geraldine Durrant and illustrated by Rose Forshall, is indisputable truth, picture book confirmation, that grannies were once unbridled girls, bold maidens, bodacious damsels, not homespun grannies knitting in their rockers.
The book’s first double page panel caused me to revise my thinking - it was a risky cliché anyway - regarding grannies in their rockers. This particular Gran occupies her easy chair alright, with two of her grandchildren present. Gran is cheerfully knitting a scarf, a lovely woolen scarf, with a skull and crossbones motif.
Gran is purling patterns of her pirate past.
A careful survey of Gran’s living room reveals a number of other objects that reflect her previous life - cutlasses leaning against the wall, a lamp shade buried-treasure map and a model pirate ship becalmed atop a chest of drawers.
Placed in juxtaposition among the memorabilia is a still-life arrangement that silently evokes the twofold nature of Gran’s existence. Lodged on a lamp table is a teacup, a cupcake, and a pea-green lamp fashioned from a rum bottle – a 1775 rum bottle!
Although the body of her lamp is a rum bottle, Gran claims that in her sea roving youth aboard the ‘Black Barnacle’ she sipped sherry because it was “more ladylike.”
Gran, erstwhile lady pirate, is spry for her age.
Attended by her parrots, who have been her companions ever since she sailed the Seven Seas, Gran irons a stack of shirts. She stands tippy-toe upon a stool and dusts the ceiling. She pins her dainties - granny pantaloons decorated with a blood-red hearts design - to a windy clothesline. Come Thanksgiving dinner, she deftly carves the turkey with her still-honed cutlass.
There is a grandpa in Gran’s life. He’s not an old shipmate – Flint-Hearted Jack or Cut-Throat Malone – but rather a landlubber she once rescued from the clutches of overly eager pirates who’d stripped him naked and hung him upside down from a coconut palm.
Actually, according to the illustration, he wasn’t quite naked. For the sake of propriety - this is a children’s book after all - he was allowed to keep his underwear, boxer shorts that, interestingly, bear the same heart-shaped design as Gran’s high-strung baggy bloomers.
I’m childlike when I read children’s books.
No, that’s a fib.
I’m childlike when I look at children’s books because often there is as much fun in the details of the pictures as in the story itself. In addition to the pair of parrots, a couple of awkward seagulls and a hungry pelican, there’s a dozen or so fish - both whole and skeletal - whose distressful eyes kindle childlike - okay, childish! - laughter.
As should any children’s book, Pirate Gran, to some extent presents a cautionary tale – think Big Bad Wolf or Mean Ol’ Troll.
Children are encouraged to mind their health, to eat what’s on their plates - their greens, for instance - even though Gran’s greens might taste a “bit sea-weedy.”
As already noted, Gran is spry. Because sometimes the ordinary is fraught with danger, Gran is capable of nimbly leaping from her bedroom door to her bed to avoid the danger lurking beneath its mattress springs.
No, it isn’t a monster under Gran’s bed. Nor is it a bogeyman or wicked witch. It’s worse than either.
Underneath Gran’s bed lurks a crocodile.
Thus the advisory on the book’s back cover: ‘Never EVER look underneath her bed.’
When I was a curious child - remember dinosaurs still trod the earth - exploring the shades and shadows of my Gran’s tall dark house, I once foolishly looked underneath her bed and discovered … well, nothing more horrifying or piratical than the chamber’s pungent piss pot.
Thank you for reading.