Saturday, 11 February 2012
Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Green
"Of course," said my friend Penelope, "they would both insist on coming to us at Christmas. They both had sisters they could have visited, but no, it had to be us."
Penny rang this morning for a chat and we decided she should come to tea this afternoon. She was a bit lonely, her husband died last year. The weather has been so uninspiring for days that nobody, who didn't have to, has felt like setting foot outside, dog walkers being the exception. The valley can get awfully depressing at times. Somehow we had got to talking about drink and drinking to excess; not that we do, but one man in the village has just drunk himself to death and another appears to be on the brink of doing the same.
"Talking of gin and orange", Penny continued, "I used to enjoy the occasional snifter." And then she told a little story.
"Before we had the girls, both mothers came to us for Christmas. My mother was divorced, and Bill's mother was a widow. Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Green didn't like each other at all; not that they had any proper falling out, they never rowed, but it was patently obvious that they couldn't abide each other. They arrived on Christmas Eve and left again on Boxing Day evening, neither leaving the field before the other. On top of it, they were both nearly tee-total, a drink might have livened up proceedings a little. By the time Christmas dinner was served, you could cut the air with a cheese knife." Penny took a sip of her tea, unlaced. "Bill and I were pretty desperate. These two women spoilt every one of our Christmases. We enjoyed a drink, but didn't feel able to drink in front of two grimly disapproving ladies. Then we had an idea: Bill half filled a jug with gin, added orange juice and put it into the fridge. Now and then, he'd ask the ladies to excuse him, he'd have to go and make sure the boiler, which ran on coal, had enough fuel to keep going. I'd follow him, explaining that the oven needed checking, and find Bill in the kitchen, two glasses on the table, pouring gin-and-orange. Mrs Brown and Mrs Green were none the wiser and we had fortified ourselves enough to carry on."
"Good for you," I said, "but why do you call them Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Green? One was your mother and the other your mother-in-law. Didn't you use first names?" "Oh no, never," Penny said. "Mrs. Brown didn't like me and she would never have permitted me to use her name. And Bill called my mother, with whom he got on extremely well, Mrs. Green, always Mrs. Green." I was curious. "What happened when the girls came along?" I asked. "O, then they became Granny and Nana respectively, we all called them Granny and Nana."