‘What I’m saying — and nobody will tell you this but me — is that your hair is going to be frizzy. All of the time. You’ll be beside yourself.’
Bess Kalb has saved every voicemail message her grandmother – her best friend, her confidante – ever left her. Stubborn, glamorous, larger than life, Bobby Bell gave Bess critical advice on everything from lipstick to life partners. Bess’ new memoir Nobody Will Tell You This But Me shares the truths – full of devotion, killer instincts and hard-won experience – that her grandmother told, even when they hurt – and even though she’s gone.
As a tribute to the wisdom of grandmothers, we asked the Virago team to share the lessons they learnt from theirs. As it turns out, our grans, nanas and nannys taught us the big and little lessons which we have all come to live by.
My grandmother’s practical but alarming advice was passed down to me by my mum and I realise now, as I write this, that it’s something I think of most mornings – ‘always wear matching underwear, you never know when you could be hit by a car’.
My grandmother was Irish so her advice was mainly (kindly) threats, but she taught me how to read, write and draw shoulders and that’s the best advice I would want.
My Granny had a bath every night, and whenever I felt rotten, she’d tell me ‘Take a bath. I bet you’ll feel like a new woman!’ She also told me to straighten up and stop sticking my bum out when I walked. I took the first advice well – the second never really sunk in.
My Grandma is the most important woman in my life. Right now I miss her food and her smile. She always says to me: ‘the stone that the builder rejected will become the cornerstone‘. It’s a biblical saying and she tells me this because, although I am estranged from my mother and have been homeless, she has always expected great things from me. Her love and pride in me and these words have seen me through the darkest of times.
Most of my Nana Joan’s advice was absolutely barking, and she used to believe everything she read in the Western Morning News, including the somewhat dubious advice ‘you must chew each mouthful 40 times for good digestion’.
My Grandma Gwen’s advice was ‘always make your own mince pies, never buy them’ and it’s a life motto I will always live by!
My mother remembers my Grandmother saying: ‘Above all, believe in yourself’. But, these quotes from my cousin are more the Nana Clara I remember: ‘Wear your coat to the beach so you don’t catch cold’ and ‘Don’t swim in the ocean at night because the sharks will get you’. Often preceded by phrase ‘They say…’ like she was quoting, sometimes attributing advice to Readers’ Digest or ‘the newspaper’.
My Grandma Gunn would have survived this current situation like she survived everything. With biscuits, new dresses, dancing and whisky.
I still love reading through my Granny’s handwritten collection of recipes which includes some corkers – Banana Bonanza, Queen Mum’s Favourite Date & Walnut Cake, Christmas Pudding (1955) and my childhood favourite Toffee-Mallow Crispies (renamed Disaster Bars after my shocking attempt to recreate the magic).
My gran always used to say this:
‘Ná dean nós, ná bris nós.’
The literal translation from the Irish is ‘don’t make something, don’t break something’ and it means that you shouldn’t make commitments you’re not sure about, because you might have to end up breaking them. So she’d say it about, say, having a cup of tea with an annoying neighbour – ending it angrily in the future, when you’re sick of them after 50 maddening cups of tea, is worse for you (and them) than not starting in the first place. Very wise!
My nana is a style icon, has a pierced nose, a tattoo of a gecko on her foot and has been to Glastonbury (in the 90s – far less family friendly!). One of her best pieces of advice ‘Never trust someone who doesn’t like roast potatoes’.
Grandma Seaside’s advice was – ‘It will all come out in the wash’. I say this to myself all the time when I’m worrying about something. She’s always right.
My Granny Hall’s wise advice was ‘Don’t wear uncomfortable shoes, they will give you awful bunions.’
by Bess Kalb
**I HAVE NOT BEEN AS PROFOUNDLY MOVED BY A BOOK IN YEARS' JODI PICOULT**
A brilliantly original memoir of a grandmother speaking to her granddaughter from beyond the grave, telling the story of her life with hilarious candor and love.
Bess Kalb has saved every voicemail message her grandmother - her best friend, her confidante - ever left her until the day she died.
In this wildly imaginative memoir, Bobby Bell's voice is still in Bess's head. Stubborn, glamorous, larger than life, she gives Bess critical advice on everything and tells the history that made them both. Beginning with her mother's escape from the pogroms of Belarus in the 1880s to the rambunctiously cramped Brooklyn apartment where Bobby was born, it swings through her loving marriage, blazes over the rebellious youth of her daughter and finally - falls madly in love with her granddaughter, Bess.
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me are the truths - full of devotion, killer instincts and hard-won experience - that Bess's grandmother tells even when they hurt - and even though she's gone.
This unusual love story celebrates the bond of women across generations and the personalities that live on through grief and love. Told through documents, photographs, and verbatim dialogue, it's a memoir like none you've ever read before.