Claire March 1st, 2008
I have been thinking about families a lot recently – what with planning the wedding, and mother’s day coming up etc. It’s a bit of a wierd time for me, and although I often get upset about things I feel strangely calm at the minute.
I come from a big family. Now most people equate that with meaning a big, close knit family. That’s not to be confused with the reality of mine. My Mam was one of 11, 10 of which survived to adulthood and all bore at least 3 kids each. We worked it out once and we reckon my Nanna would have had 15 if they had all survived – when she couldn’t have any more on health grounds, she fostered for a bit, then took in lodgers – mad house I tell you! My Dad was one of 3 boys, all of which only had 1 child each. I am the youngest of 3 – quite a bit younger as my sister is 13 years older, and my bother is 11 years older – Mam thought that she was going through the menopause, but it turned out to be me!
When my Nanna was alive, the family although didn’t always get on, had no choice but to interact with each other, as we were all frequent visitors at her house. My Nanna would not stand people bringing their arguments in to carry on under her roof so you had no choice but to be polite to each other. My Nanna died 6 months after my Dad, so I was 16 when pretty much everyone gave up on the pretence of liking each other and stopped bothering, apart from the few who actually did like each other. I never knew my Dad’s brother Arthur – he distanced himself from the family when my grandmother died in the 60′s. I was close though to his older brother Ray and his wife Ethel (Uncle Ray was really called Clarence Raymond – what a name!) and they played a big part in my childhood. My mam was also close to her youngest sister Doreen, and her daughter Sara was 18 months older than myself, so we were incredibly close growing up, being more like sisters. It’s strange how there are people in families who you think you know, and trust, yet don’t really. I think I probably know people I work with better than I know/knew my family. My mam’s sister Doreen, for example for some reason turned her back on my the day after my mam died – I have never really had an answer as to why this happened and to be honest, I don’t think there really was one. I did wonder whether it was because I ended up with the majority of my mother’s furniture after she died, living in rented accomodation I wanted things of my own that would tie me to my childhood home, and she had ear marked things for her daughter who was setting up her own home at the time. I do remember her stopping her speaking to me when she saw me sitting in my mam’s chair – it was the one no one wanted to sit in, but I strangely felt closer to her when I did. I haven’t spoken her since we left Hull 2 days after my mam’s funeral. Who knows – it’s all pointless wondering about it now so I have given up on searching for answers I will never get.
I spoke to my sister for the first time in almost a year the other night. We aren’t close, and have never really been to them – I was always the odd one in the family, the cockoo in the nest so to speak. She told me that neither her or my brother would be coming to the wedding in all probability – she doesn’t want to make the effort to travel from Lincolnshire to Northern Ireland and is using different excuses, and now her health in all fairness isn’t good, but doesn’t want to try. I have told her that we will be opening the house up after the wedding for a barbeque and a bit of a get together for the people who didn’t/couldn’t come, but I know she won’t come to that either.
David’s family have been great to me and have really filled the gaps my family have left behind, so I am incredibly lucky to have that, and it is appreciated. My friends are now my family and when I think of this there were 2 phrases my parents used to use :”you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relations” and “your in laws can be more like outlaws” – the latter was my Dad’s – he never really got on with my Nanna – they very rarely saw each other and were incredibly polite to each other when they did, relaxing again only when it was “over and done with” for another time. I, however like my “outlaws”!
I have a box, a vintage suitcase in actual fact in my spare room that holds all my personal things that are my parents – letters my mam wrote to me when I was away at Uni, cards that she sent me, photos of my parents and grandparents, my dad’s army books and discharge papers, his medals, cards that my Mam kept from my Dad (boxed and padded Valentine and anniversary cards no less), my grandmother’s pearl necklace that I will wear when I get married to David, that kind of thing. I keep it all in there as, after my friend Rach suggested after my Mam died, it would all be together, all the precious bits that I would hate to lose. I think the plan was that in the event of a fire that and the cats would be saved….
I suppose now I know that my friends are to be my family at the wedding, it’s kind of drawn a line under the uncertainty and made me look forward. I am incredibly lucky to have such good friends around me, and I know David is always there, and since I have him, his family. Maybe I need to start my own family box off, and this planning for the wedding being a good a time as any to start it.
I thought that I would share a couple of photos though with you of my parents. My Dad had a wicked sense of humour, loved practical jokes, passionate about Classical music, repaired clocks and cameras and made it look easy, was terrified of heights yet spent 20 years driving a crane, mad on steam trains, traction engines and generally anything he could get mucky doing. He was also one of the biggest softies I have ever known, never once raiased his hand to be and I was spoiled rotten by him. Not that the skill has been passed to me but he was a brilliant photographer, and would have adored the technology that we have now. This picture is of him when he was based in Egypt in 1944 – he had 2 nicknames – the Thin Man, and the Professor, bacuse he always had an answer.
My Grandma, Dad’s mum. Never knew her but wish I had – I think we would’ve got on well – she was a very Edwardian lady, and adored hats, which were often the butt of family jokes as they generally featured a huge, propeller like bow. She was brilliant at needlework and would fascinate people by doing fine crochet, and adapting her hats. She also loved making rag rugs – the cat pictured here is Ginger (yes, I know, imaginative name…) and would lay there on the edge of the table whilst my grandmother would make rugs. I have often thought of writing a child’s story about Ginger – my Dad fascinated me for hours with tales of what Ginger did. Maybe I’ll add that to my “to do” list..
My mam - I still miss her every single day. We were very close as adults -I was always Daddy’s girl as a child, but as adults we became good friends, and it’s this I miss the most. My Mam could scare most people with a look and gave most people the impression she would give them short shrift, as they say. She was also one of the biggest softies (it’s just she didn’t let many people see that side of her) and developed a surprising knowledge of current affairs. It was my Mam that taught me to sew – I still use the sewing machine I learned on as a child and although it would be nice to have a fancy new one, I know mine is reliable and feel I am continuing to connect with her by using it. She loved Chrysanthemums, dark chocolate, detective programmes and martial arts films. Mam also had a strange, dry sense of humour, which was great, cos when she was tickled by something funny, she really was! For all my Mam’s hard exterior, she would do anything for you. She just never wore her heart on her sleeve. This picture was taken and developed by my Dad in the 50′s, when my Mam was about 17 and has my Dad’s stamp on the back- apparently I look a lot like her when I grin at people.
I met David 10 months after she died, and it was a big thing for me to go out with someone she hadn’t met and given her usually short opinion on, even harder knowing neither of my parents were there to talk to me about marrying him. I think they would have liked him, and they would have known he made me happy which was all they really wanted for me. Don’t think my Dad would have heard a word he said, mind as he was part deaf, and David is reasonably quiet spoken with a lovely Irish accent. I can just picture my Dad nodding and smiling in what he thinks are the right places when he couldn’t hear anyone!
Anyway, before I reduce myself to blubbing over the computer I will go – more crafting and cheerfullness next time, I promise x