What I create is always tied into my past (and sometimes present). Even the fantastical paintings have links to my childhood. This particular drawing is of two family members. My Grandmother Isobel’s Mum, Blind Granny MacClean, and my grandmother’s half sister, Gleeda.
I don’t know Granny Mac’s christian name, and there’s no one left to ask. They’re both lost to time, dead and buried locally and I have no idea where or when they passed. But I do have memories of them both. As a small child standing in front of Granny Mac, my own grandmother Isobel looked very much like her, and I get a distant ‘feeling’ of thinking she looked even older than MY Gran (who at that time would have been only 48). I have several memories of Gleeda, all either puzzling or terrifying. If you look closely at the drawing you’ll notice Gleeda is different.
What do I mean by that?
As a disabled person myself labelling others as ‘terrifying’ is cruel and unnecessary, but in my defence the way Gleeda looked, her dark sunken eyes and large hands, did frighten me, as I was only 5 years old and didn’t understand why she was different. Why this big grown up person carried a dolly with her everywhere, wouldn’t share that dolly and would spit at you if you went near her. Today Gleeda would have probably been to school and then a specialist college, she would have learned to live independently and would have been cared for.
In one way she was lucky because she remained at home at a time where people with special needs, who could be challenging, were institutionalised. It was around 1969/1970 that Granny Mac Passed, leaving Gleeda alone in the house. Her brothers and sisters couldn’t care for her complex needs. Which of course gave the family.y only one option, an institution. I do recall the last time I saw her. We drove for what seemed like hours, My dad and Isobel, until we got to a hospital-type building, and there on a huge ward filled with beds (and in each bed a person) was Gleeda. Still clutching her Dolly. Her eyes darker now and her body thinner.
I can remember the horrific smell more than anything, and I remember crying in fear. I don’t know how long we were there, I don’t remember anything of my Dad or Gran, but I do remember Gleeda thrusting her book at me to look at, Aesops Fables. On leaving being told to give to her back, she pressed it back into my hand and she looked so sad. Every single time I saw Gleeda she would scream at the threat I posed to her dolly, I was terrified of her dark eyes, and finally the most throat gagging smell from where she ended her days.
Gleeda didn’t last long after Her mum died and she was put ‘away’. I often wonder how different her life would be if she’d been born 20 years later. This photo belongs to my uncle, the only survivor of Isobel’s four sons. Looking at it as an adult Its very upsetting to think I was so very scared Of Gleeda, that no one took the time to explain to me that she wasn’t someone to be feared, that she wasn’t a monster out of a book, but that she was just a bit different. I look into HER eyes in this photo and see HER fear.
This drawing is a memorial to Granny, but mostly to Gleeda.