Grandma's tuneful legacy comes out of the blue

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Somewhere in the skies above Morocco, I start to sing. "Lavender's blue, dilly-dilly, lavender's green. When I am king, dilly-dilly, you shall be queen."

My son, red-faced and bawling at the indignity of being cooped up in a flying cage, stops to listen.

"Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream," I croon.

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Grandma used to sing that song to my sisters and me. She trained as a preschool teacher in Ibstock, a village in England's gritty center. As a spinster schoolma'am with a brown curly bob, she sang nursery rhymes to her small charges. Decades later, she sang them to us.

Twice a year, Grandma came to visit, a bag of green grapes in her handbag.

"How are you, my chick?" she'd say to my father as he took her raincoat and head scarf.

We girls giggled. Dad is nearly six feet tall and decidedly unfluffy, but to Grandma he was always a fledgling.

"Half a pound of tuppenny rice. Half a pound of treacle. That's the way the money goes. Pop! Goes the weasel," she'd sing.

I didn't know I'd remembered all Grandma's rhymes.

"Let's go to Mr. Hare, my chick," Grandma would say as soon as she finished unpacking her grapes.

Mr. Hare the secondhand dealer is located on the banks of the River Bain in the center of Horncastle, the small Lincolnshire town where we lived. It's a big white warehouse of a place, crammed with old furniture, china, curtains, and glass tumblers. Grandma loved it.

Lots of our furniture came from Mr. Hare, most of it picked out by Grandma.

Each piece has a story. There's the rectangular table that still sits in my parents' dining room. Mr. Hare said it came from an old Royal Air Force base out on the flat Lincolnshire Fens. It is a solid piece of furniture with a central leaf you can extend when guests come over for lunch on Sundays.

Grandma taught me the importance of a sturdy, secondhand family table. It turns out that she also taught me lots of useful nursery rhymes.

Meanwhile on the airplane, my son opens his mouth again, baring his four new white teeth.

He clearly seems to be readying for a roar.

"Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside. Oh, I do like to be beside the sea. Where the brass bands play. Tiddley om pom pom," I sing.

He seems to like this one.

Last time I was home, I found some pictures of Grandma on vacation in the 1950s. She is striding along the promenade in a belted dress, her hand threaded through the crook of Grandpa's arm. They look happy.

My father is there, too - a small boy wearing a smile and clutching a new toy boat.

In those days, you didn't need personal cameras. Photographers roamed seaside resorts, snapping photos of you and your children. If you liked the photograph, you bought it.

That must be why I've seen only pictures of Grandma with a perfect smile and not a hair out of place.

The shades have been pulled down in the cabin windows. We must be flying over the Mediterranean by now, I calculate.

"Bobby Shaftoe's gone to sea. Silver buckles at his knee. He'll come back and marry me, Bonny Bobby Shaftoe," I murmur.

I was never that keen on him, but for years my sister Sarah had said she wanted to marry Bobby Shaftoe.

The screen by my seat shows that we're heading for Paris. We're on the homestretch now, I think with relief.

Sam's grandma will be waiting at the airport, and I'm hoping she will swell my song.

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