Today marks what would have been my paternal grandmother’s 81st birthday. My Granny Rae was my favourite person in the whole world, my very own living legend, so please forgive me as I write a very personal account of her life.
Doreen Brown was born in 1933 to John and Henrietta Brown in Castle Douglas. A few years later, younger brothers Douglas and Ian would arrive. As a child, Doreen was very active and competed locally in running competitions, earning her the nickname ‘Bomber Brown’. At her dad’s request, she shelved her plans of becoming a nurse and became a book-keeper instead. This trade would come in handy as she later helped her husband James keep the books of his business in order. Although she re-married several years after James died, let there be no doubt that James was the love of her life. Her retirement years were spent with her grandchildren, holidaying abroad, caravanning and faithfully serving her local parish church.
I could write an endless list to describe all the reasons I admired and still admire Doreen. Firstly, she and her younger brother Douglas (and his wife) were genuinely best friends. They were so alike, sharing the same kind nature and silly sense of humour. I feel so lucky he is still around. He’s a wonderful man and I find his likeness to Doreen a great comfort. I admire the strong bond they shared and hope that my own brother and I can one day enjoy a similar friendship.
Doreen was strong-willed. Not stubborn (although I believe my dad would argue to the contrary), but very strong-willed. When she was diagnosed with cancer the first time, she was told to slow down while she went through treatment. Doreen was simply not the kind of person who did as she was told. She would not slow down, she would not stop attending church coffee mornings, she would not be told to feel ill when she did not. Several bouts of cancer later, Doreen still lived life to its fullest until her body finally gave in. Until the last time I saw her just days before she died, I never saw her look ill or worn out. She was still the spritely, funny, strong-willed woman I adored.
Doreen was well-known in the town, so well-known in fact that you couldn’t go down the street without bumping into somebody she knew. It was not unknown for me to leave her chatting to whoever we bumped into, fetch the bread from Corsons bakery on the high street, and find her still chatting to them on my way back up the road. Not long after I started college, I visited granny to tell her how I was getting on. She was so proud of me, so supportive, and for some reason her approval meant more to me than anybody else’s. Anyways, we wandered through the town and bumped into my younger cousin and his friends on the high street. They would have been around 15 or so at the time and had known my granny all their lives. My cousins had a standing Thursday night dinner date with her but would also drop in randomly after school with their friends to say hello and get fed. This particular day, I had a brief catch up with my cousin and his friend jokingly said “here, come on with me, Dode. Let’s leave this pair to it.” Unfazed, she linked her arm with his and off they tottered down the road, before they turned around and laughed at my reaction. My cousins’ friends loved Dode (as she was often called and she called herself) so much, they would appear at her door without my cousins and she would insist on them coming in for a wee chat and their dinner. They loved her and she loved them for visiting her.
My dad delivered Doreen’s eulogy and he told how Doreen lived life to the three F’s: friends, family and faith. All three were incredibly important to her and she couldn’t have lived so happily without any of them. Friends and family you could not separate as she treated them with the same love and respect. Her very best friend she had known literally from cradle to grave and my brother continued to visit her after our granny had died. She often told stories of family members, particularly her Granny Brown and Granny Carruthers. She was a faithful attendee of the local church services, often helping out at their coffee mornings and encouraging the children in their Sunday School activities. She was so proud to be a part of it all and had an unfaltering faith, even in what many would deem life’s hardest times.
Doreen died in August 2009, leaving me heartbroken. I would never hear her voice again, hear her infectious laugh, bake with her or just take a wander through the town wondering who we’d bump into that day. Since her death, I have baked a Victoria Sponge cake every year on Doreen’s birthday. I love baking and it’s the first thing I remember baking with her. Today, I baked a Victoria Sponge with the help of my young charges. I didn’t set the family’s oven correctly, the cake came out slightly uneven, the table ended up covered in icing sugar but it was ok because I know that’s exactly how Doreen would have done it. I will forever miss her and look forward to the day I can tell my own children about my wonderful Doreen, just as she told me stories of her grannies.
To my favourite storyteller, baker and my hero: Happy Birthday.