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The Rising Elocutionist

29th February 2012

Today would have been the 100th birthday of my granny, Mary Fraser Anderson Young (1912–1995). She liked to be called Molly. Because of the leap year, technically it would have been her 25th birthday.

Young Molly

She was a fun granny. I remember little details about her. When I was very small, she would make a swing by hanging a bit of wood from hooks in her kitchen doorway. After she was widowed, she kept two pictures of Grandpa around, one rather stern and one happy after singing at a concert. She would switch them depending on how she felt she had been behaving.

Granny was … I don’t know if religious is quite the word, but she was certainly God-fearing. After I went vegetarian, she told me seriously that she believed God had put the beasts of the field on Earth “for us to eat.” It didn’t seem worth having a disagreement over.

Nevertheless she loved card games, and we often played “A Hundred Up” which is a variant of gin rummy. She also read fortunes in tea leaves, but seemed uneasy about this, like it was a bit wicked. She was horrified when she discovered my cousin had been doing the same thing to raise money at her school fair.

I had barely started doing spoken word when Granny died, and never made a connection with her about it. But I was startled, years later, to find out she had been an enthusiastic and popular turn on the church social scene for her poetry recitations in Scots.

Molly had a stammer when she was young, and so went to elocution lessons. She threw off the stammer and became interested in performance. We’ve still got a folder of her material. There are a lot of scraps — she acquired material from newspapers and friends — and one yellowed Boots two hundred sheet refill pad, where we think she was collecting good versions of each poem. There’s stuff about church mice, Greenock men, the decline of shipbuilding on the Clyde, how a dog is better company than neighbours, and even a gentle nationalist jibe about the English stealing all “oor watter”.

We’ve still got a clipping from the Greenock Telegraph, sometime in the 1930s, which describes her as “Molly Young, the rising elocutionist”.

Happy birthday Gran.