Thursday 1st January 2004
It is the New Year and I am forty eight – the age you were when you died. You are my great grandmother and I think of you often, even though we never met. Gran told me many tales of you and I feel that through these I know you at least a little.
This is an important year in my life. My first grand child is about to be born. The hospital think it will be a little girl. If it is, her name will be Kirsten. If the baby turns out to be a boy, then his name will be Adam after the brother Sonia lost. I think you would like Sonia. She is young in heart, but kind and has longed for a baby for some time. Fatherhood is a daunting prospect for Jon, your great-great grandson, but he loves his child already and will do anything for her – or him.
This will not be the only milestone in my life. This year, Morgan and I shall celebrate our pearl wedding anniversary, whilst our youngest daughter will celebrate her eighteenth birthday. We have been blessed with a long and happy marriage, just as a fortune teller once predicted.
Were you happy, I wonder. Gran says that you died shortly after coming out of hospital following a hernia operation. She says that your husband and son [Tom?] had decided to engage in their hobby of fisticuffs and you were trying to break up the fight when you haemorrhaged. My poor, sweet Great-gran to die like that after living your life with such goodness.
Is it true that they called you the Lady of Winmore Road? Gran said that, after your pools win, anyone in need could go to you for help and would not be turned away. That is typical of your Irish generosity. She used to recount stories of her elder sister May who would deliberately bring her boyfriend to visit at mealtimes, just as the food was being put on the table. Your Irish upbringing meant that he had to be fed and so you would ask my Gran, who loved you so much, to give up her dinner and have porridge instead. Gran was always plump and so it probably seemed that she could spare a meal – which she probably could, but she bitterly resented her sister’s selfishness. That passed as they grew older, though and they were on good terms when May died. I met her several times and liked her enormously, as I did all of your children. One day May visited my Gran whilst we were there with our two older children, years before the youngest was born. I don’t recall the occasion, but do remember that May gave each child a pound. She seemed well and happy, but died peacefully the next day.
Then there were the tales you would tell beside the fire. Gran loved to hear you talk – you had such a beautiful, melodic voice. You would tell her of the Banshee who sits in the tree combing her long hair. If a hair dropped on someone, they would be blessed with good fortune. I think that was Gran’s favourite tale, as she never told me any others that I recall. I write stories now and I often wonder if I got the talent from you.
Was your life happy? Your parents were killed in a motor accident, one of the very first ever in Ireland, and your grandparents, Squire Love and his wife brought you up. They were strict Catholics and were scandalised when you fell in love with an irreligious Englishman and ran away to England with him. You were disowned and were forced to go from a life of comfort and security to one of poverty and hardship. He married you after the fourth child and you gave him six more. Gran was second eldest and so she was present at most of the births. When the twins were born you named them Mick and Pat – odd names for girls, but perhaps your sense of humour twinkled a little at that moment? I seem to remember Aunt Mick announcing at a family party that she had discovered that her real name was Agnes or Ethel – I forget which, after thirty odd years. She died a while ago and Pat is terribly ill at present after suffering a massive stroke.
You worked hard for little pay – a washerwoman for many years. It may have seemed lowering after being brought up a lady, but I have a feeling you maintained your dignity and took pride in your work. Then you went to work at the Rudge motorcycle factory as a cleaner. Whilst you were out Gran and May were responsible for feeding the family. To save on washing up they would insist that the youngsters eat dinner and pudding off the same plate. Did you know that? If they did not clear their plates, then they got no pudding. I think that mostly they ate up and didn’t mind too much.
Gran loved to blacklead the fireplace and talked often of how beautiful it looked when it was clean and gleaming.
You were a fine needlewoman and made dresses for your girls. Gran remembered one in particular. It was pink with long fringing, which was all the rage in the 1920’s. You had made one each for Gran and Aunt May. Aunt May, of course was the family princess, clever and beautiful, never being expected to get her hands soiled. May was happy with this and took good care of her possessions. Gran was from a different mould. She loved adventure, especially in the form of motorcycles. If a young man had a bike and was willing to let her ride on the back, she would gladly perch precariously on the pillion pad, even in her new pink dress. She went home one day with it spattered with oil and earned your intense anger. I can understand your feelings – how long had you worked on those dresses?
Gran was a silly, skittish girl, but she was wonderful too. She and her second husband, Albert, taught my twin brothers and me how to make pastry, create Christmas decorations out of a little foil, wire and a coat hanger, and how to turn egg boxes into sewing kits. She also taught me the importance of hospitality. And that came direct from you.
I only ever saw one photograph of you. It is a formal study of the entire family, including young Joe, who died aged seven. He looked just like my brother Martin, who also nearly died in infancy, although he was just a few months old at the time. He did survive, though, thank goodness and is well. In the photograph you were wearing an outfit you had made for yourself and you look beautiful. Gran said it was a salmon pink blouse, though the picture is just black and white, so I can only imagine. Your smile is similar to my mother’s, although you were not related. Best of all I love your eyes. They say the eyes are the windows of the soul and yours was obviously clear and good.
Thank you for the blessing of your living. Your goodness has passed like ripples through the generations of your descendents and lives on still as I try to live and bring up my children by your example.
Copyright 2002 Susan M Phillips
No part of this work or associated illustration may be copied without the consent of the author