My Grandma came to live with us when I was nine-years-old. She moved into my parents’ Seventies Suburban life – peppered with parties that caused divorce and homebrew that brought headaches – and gave us a sense of solid, stable love that helped me survive.
Tempestuous tempers and endless supplies of alcohol combined to make cataclysmic times, but my Grandma’s gentle presence was a godsend.
And the ritual we observe in memory of her is the act of Rolling Maltesers.
The Rolling of the Maltesers takes place every Christmas, every Mother’s Day, and most birthdays. You only need a small box, cause that’s all Grandma had.
My children take great pleasure in buying the Maltesers boxes because they’re perfect for pocket money prices, yet they’re guaranteed to bring a big smile.
The rule is to present the box and tip it slowly from side to side to hear the Maltesers slide. As the sweets roll they sound like the rounded sandstones that run up and down the slipway at high tide.
And I’m back, remembering times when my mother was shouting and my father had gone off in a huff to comfort himself with another love.
I’d creep to the end of the sofa and curl up next to Grandma’s stiff, high-backed chair, sometimes crying quietly, otherwise silent. Grandma was often upset herself, but my parents had kindly taken her in, so as a disabled, grateful dependent she was powerless to say anything.
Instead, she would stretch out her arm to squeeze my hand with her fingers.
Grandma had Parkinson’s Disease: her tendons were taut and painful, her muscles contracted on a whim of her brain, not her wishes. Her fingers could be tight, nipping my skin at times, but I usually managed a smile.
Then she would attempt to get her box of Maltesers from the sideboard beside her.
The Parkinson’s made this a nightmare, for when she grasped the familiar red box, her hand would shift in tremor. Hidden inside, the Maltesers would roll from side to side.
The jerky, uncertain manoeuvres to get the box across to me could take some time, but my Grandma had her pride, so I never got up to take it off her.
Meanwhile the vibrations would glide over my ears. The noise of Maltesers rolling was strangely calming.
When at last Grandma opened the box, she’d urge me to take one Malteser – two if it was really serious. Leaning together like conspirators, we would pop the sweets into our mouths.
The taste of that chocolate! Rich, velvety smooth, soothing as it melted on my tongue. Keep the Malteser still and sense it subside, crunch it and feel the bite of the biscuit. Delicious either way.
Afterwards, my Grandma would give a smile so loving and with such compassion that remembering her expression makes me cry decades after.
I have five children, only one of whom ever met her, but every time we hear the rolling of Maltesers, we remember Grandma.
The sound reminds me that you don’t need power to give strength, that sometimes there’s no need for words to provide answers, that a simple gesture of love can be enough.
Julie Noble is a working-class writer who lives in North-East Yorkshire with her two
youngest children on the North Yorkshire Coast.
As well as being in Kit De Waal’s ‘Common People’, she has recently won three awards. A Northern Writers Award for fiction, the first Arvon Gold Dust Award, and a Moniack Mhor Two Roads Award which gave herself and herchildren places on the first fiction course with childcare.
Julie’s short fiction has won short story competitions including the Writing Magazine
Jane Austen Alternative Ending competition in 2017 and She Magazine (2010). She was longlisted for Penguin Writenow 2017 and is a participant in the New Writing North’s Working-Class Writer Development Programme.