Monday, April 12, 2010

It is of these things that we are made.

Yesterday was my dad's birthday. He was 77.
77 years ago in a small house in The Black Coutry in the Midlands of England Gran sent Aunty Muriel and Aunty Mary off up the park at Hayden Hill to play. On the way back they met their cousin.
"You'm got a baby brother," she said.
"I have not!" said Mary. They ran the rest of the way home.
The house was quite. Grandad sat staring into the fire of the range. Mary walked up beside him and put her hand on his shoulder.
"Han we got a baby brother, Pa?" she asked.
He nodded, almost as if to the fire.
"Can we'n go see 'im?"
"Aye, I reckon so."
Later the cousin came back. She brought a chocolate Easter egg as a gift for the new baby.

Mum and Dad on their wedding day, 55 years ago.

 My grandad was a labourer. My gran was a self employed chain maker. She made chains and nails in a shared shed at the bottom of their garden and they were paid by the weight of their work. Hard work, hot and heavy. She stopped when her third child was born.
One day my aunty came home and found Gran with a great pocket full of gold sovereigns. Together they counted them out. 100 sovereigns in all. Many years later she asked gran whatever became of this hoard of wealth. " We lived on that when your father was out of work and it was all that kept us alive," Gran said. A lifetime's worth of savings, all the money from her chain making.

Gran and Grandad kept a pig in a pen at the bottom of the garden. They had chickens and Grandad would take cakes and sit in the chicken house, talking to the hens to find a bit of peace from the family, to think. When it was cold the hens would come in and sit by the fire.
On the day that Gran and Grandad were married they walked home from chuch and into a house in the street they had both lived all of their lives and she cooked him a cow's tail for his dinner. People in the street bought plates and cutlery and pans that were spare as wedding gifts for the newly weds, and they spent two pounds on a bed and a chest. I still remember that house, although when I knew it the pigpen had gone and the bathroom had moved indoors.

 Me and Mum and Maxine

My Great Grandfather was a collier. He worked on the mine surface. Part of his job was to pay the men their wages and this he did every Friday. He would sit with a great bowl filled with gold sovereigns, and a book and the men would queue up, a great long line of black dusty men. To each he would give two whole sovereigns, bright and shining and each would sign against their name or make a mark.

Dad and I talked away some of the day and I tried to hold in my head some of the stories he and mum told me, of Aunty Hannah and Uncle Benjamin, how Ben had had a vision of paradise one morning and then died in a coal mine, crushed by a wagon on the same day. As they wheeled his body to the mortuary they threw his boots down the alley between the houses and this is how Aunty Hannah discovered that her husband had died. 
So many stories.
And I love to listen and hope that I can hold them all in my heart and my head.
This is what I am made from.


  1. we need to treasure our heritage. Living now in such a young country I know many who don't have that same sense of time as I do having been brought up in Edinburgh. History is not something that is a living thing to them, until they become interested in family trees.

  2. Beautiful post. It is good to write down the stories. I heard my mother's stories about her mother and father and the family..all of them so many times..that I thought I knew them all. But after my mother's death in 2000 when I began sorting all the photos and keepsakes I was dismayed to realize that I could not identify everyone in the photos, and that I had jumbled some of the stories or lost them altogether. I definitely remember more than I forgot, but it still broke my heart to not know all the people in the photos. I identified the ones I knew, wrote down many of the stories, and made a family project to share with 20 family members. Now some of them are going deeper into the genealogy and it appears that those from whom we are made will not be forgotten.

  3. I found your story so touching and I am so glad that you are able to talk to your father and write down your family history. What different times the older people lived though and how relatively easier, in some ways, we have it today. We must pass these memories on to our children or, fragile as they are, they'll vanish forever.

  4. Thank you for sharing your memories! Repeating the stories helps preserve them...and the memory of those who the stories are about.

  5. A fascinating glimpse into the past. Your Grandparents really come to life in the descriptions of their lives. Btw you'll have to tell your dad that he looked darn handsome in his wedding photo ... they made a lovely couple:)

  6. It is important to share these stories and photos. My cousins and I have learned so much about our families by each adding old pictures and scraps of almost forgotten tales.
    As I've learned more I find myself grieving, after the fact, for the little great-grandmother, dead in childbirth on her 26th birthday; my grandfather's favorite uncle and wife who lost both children at an early age--so many stories and memories, so many people who were "real" and part of us.

  7. A family story. I love to hear family stories from times past. Your grandmother was a very hardworking woman and your Dad is a handsome lad in the wedding photo.
    Ms Soup

  8. This is wonderful....I enjoyed it tremendously. I am afraid that toil and trial with tribulation is the common thread to most families tales, and yet I can't help but think that to many, if not most, people living in my area this is just not recognized.

    What a lovely tribute. Thank you for sharing.

  9. This is such a beautiful article. I love looking at old pictures and learn about their stories. Very heart warming and endearing. Thanks for sharing.