It was 1972. Ben Sandalwood was three years old, with an extremely vivid imagination. He’d wake up screaming at 3.33 every morning due to the monster under his bed, or the lady in the doorway, or the smiling man by the chest of drawers. Hazel, Ben’s mother, always went to comfort him, and gently rocked him back to sleep. She pointed out the only thing under the bed was a box; the lady in the doorway was a reflection from the streetlight just outside the window; and the smiling man was simply a cord from the small lamp on top of the drawers.
Once he was sound asleep, she herself could get back into bed, where her husband Malcolm was also soundly sleeping.
“Typical…”, she often tutted, but didn’t blame her husband as he worked very hard in the corner shop that they both owned, from very early in the morning until sometimes gone eleven at night.
It was 8.30 when Hazel opened her eyes again. It was still dark, December usually was, although the sky outside was beginning to glow a pale pink. “Red sky in the morning”, she thought as she made her way to the bathroom to get ready for the busy day ahead of playing with building blocks and singing nursery rhymes. Not that she’d change a thing. Since Ben had come along, she had felt complete within herself, and loved giving him as much attention as she could.
She made breakfast for herself and Ben, whom she’d left playing in the living room. She noticed things had gone very quiet, usually a sign that Ben was doing something he shouldn’t really be doing.
She crept into the living room, and to her surprise Ben was sitting upright in an armchair, surrounded by old photographs, smiling. And whispering.
“Ben” she said, to no response from the toddler at all. “Benjamin!” She said, a little sterner than she’d liked, but it got his attention.
“Mummy…” Ben held out his hands to her, one of which had hold of an old sepia photograph. “Ganny Lo.” He said.
Puzzled, Hazel walked over to Ben, took the photo from him and looked at it. She felt a chill travel down her spine. “Breakfast time for you, little man,” she said, and carried him to the breakfast table, not mentioning anything to him about what he’d just said.
They spent the rest of the day busying themselves with building blocks, and sticky blocks, and fun songs and lots of laughter. One of Ben’s favourite cartoons opened the afternoon programming schedule, so Hazel left him watching in awe the cat chase the mouse all around the black and white TV screen, while she prepared tea.
The box of photos that Ben had rummaged through was now on top of the sideboard, and Hazel decided she’d have a look through it herself. She put the kettle on the stove to boil, sat herself down at the breakfast table, and took the first photo out of the box; the one Ben had showed her earlier. She decided to take a few of the photos out of the box, and try telling Ben who they were. After tea, of course.
She settled Ben in her lap, and instead of reading him a story, she wanted to tell him the story of the people in the photos.
The first one was the ‘Ganny Lo’ photo.
“Ben,” Hazel asked gently, “Do you know who this is?” She turned the photo around to show Ben, making a gentle ‘oooh’ noise as she did, and pulling a surprised face.
“Ganny Lo!” Ben replied with a huge grin on his face. “Ganny Lo!” He laughed with excitement.
Hazel showed him a second photo, another old sepia one, this time featuring a couple. Again with the ‘oooh’, she asked Ben if he knew these.
A third photo, a man this time; another ‘oooh’; another “No.”
The fourth photo, a stern looking group photo, with a young woman wearing a white dress standing in the centre, a man wearing a long coat and a flat cap beside her, three children in front of her and what looked like an elderly couple behind. Ben laughed again. “Ganny Lo!” he shouted. “Unky Hallol!” Hazel was about to show him another photo, when they heard the front door close in the hallway. Ben shouted “Gaddy!” and he’d lost all interest in the photos.
Hazel read Ben his usual bedtime story, tucked him in and wished him good night, kissing him gently on the forehead. She left him giggling to himself, and went downstairs to sit with Malcolm.
“Malc, have you been telling Ben about these photos?” she asked, trying hard to think of a time when he would have been able to do so.
“Nope – not me. I haven’t seen them myself. Where are they from? And who are they of, for that matter?”
Hazel explained to Malcolm that the photos had been kept in a tattered old shoebox up in the loft for years, and she found the box recently as she was looking for the Christmas decorations. She decided she would find a better box for them, and left them on the sideboard, well out of Ben’s reach. How he’d managed to get hold of them was anyone’s guess. But that wasn’t the only mystery.
The lady in some of the photos was Hazel’s Grandmother’s Mother, who was known as Granny Rose to the family. Granny Rose had passed away in 1950, when Hazel was eight years old, and as far as she knew nobody had mentioned her around Ben. Rose’s brother Harold was known as Uncle Harold, and he passed away in 1936.
“Maybe you’ve mentioned them to him,” Malcolm suggested, noticing Hazel’s strange puzzled expression.
“Only tonight…” she said. “He pointed them out to me this morning.”
“Perhaps the people in the photos told him,” Malcolm laughed, thinking his imagination was now more vivid than that of his three-year-old son’s.
“How else could he know?” Hazel pondered. “He was whispering to the photos when I saw him with them earlier…”
They both looked at each other and laughed nervously. “He seems happy enough with them,” Hazel eventually said, although still puzzled.
In the days that passed, Ben mentioned Ganny Lo sparingly, and eventually stopped completely.
In 2016, Ben took his own three year old son, Adam, to visit his Nana Hazel. Hazel scooped him up and, as usual, smothered him with hugs and kisses. She’d created a collage of old family photos and framed it, placing it on the wall above the mantle. Adam pointed to one particular photo, and laughed with such joy that Ben was taken aback slightly.
“What’s gotten into you, little fella?” He asked tickling Adam under his chin.
“Ganny Lo!” Adam shouted quite animated, and then began to whisper inaudible words.
Hazel smiled and looked at Ben. “It appears Granny Rose has become this family’s guardian angel. Sit down, Ben, and let me tell you about another three year old who met her many years ago…”