Friday, 21 October 2011

Grandma

This is my father’s mother.  She was a figure of awe in my family, until she died at the age of ninety in 1960, when I was eighteen.  She was called Emmeline, a good Victorian name that has been carried forward in the family to my niece (whose fortieth I will be celebrating in a few weeks’ time, as it happens, but who is not at all Victorian).

Grandma was Victorian, and suitably formidable.  Her maiden surname is also my middle name, and I firmly believe (without a shred of evidence) that this naming protocol, which continues down the generations on the male side, may have been one of the conditions of my parents being permitted to marry.  The surname is still eminent in Jersey. 
Her husband, my grandfather, although born in the same year, 1870, died in the thirties, so I know nothing of him apart from a couple of old photos.  She was evacuated to England before the invasion of Jersey, and I think she spent much of the rest of her life being shuttled between various relatives.  She was one of numerous siblings, which I guess is how the family fortune got dissipated.  Certainly there was an uncle who absconded to the Argentine and lost a bundle on ill-advised railway investments.
Of course, I was too young to know any of this background firsthand, so I’m doing a certain amount of reconstruction here.  It’s a fact to be pondered that the historical record inevitably gets diluted, even for famous people, never mind the likes of us; and there are probably now only four people alive who have direct memories of Grandma.

She’d come to stay with us for some weeks during each summer, in the fifties.  This was a cause for domestic repositioning in our household.  My mother was stressed out for weeks beforehand.  And Grandma played to her strengths, more or less reordering things in her own image.  She was pretty good at that.  A friend of mine makes great play (in a knowing self-referential way) of the ‘controlling female’ stereotype – she should have asked my grandmother for a few tips.
And yet, I remember her as mostly kind and wry.  If you saw the photos, you’d see that in her face.  Every late afternoon, she would retire for a while to her room; I later learned that this was for her gin.  She once criticised me for using too much toilet paper, making some joke about rationing.  And one year, it must have been about 1953, we kids had been allowed, on a hot summer day, to play in the garden with the hose.  This had to be stopped before Grandma came, but the evidence can’t have been fully concealed, because when she arrived she enquired what had been going on and elicited a confession.  I can hear her now, in her rich Victorian voice.  “Oh, don’t be silly, it’s very hot.  Of course they can play with the hose.  I almost wish I could join them.”

Thanks to my sister for details; more memories please!
And thanks to Z for sowing the seed.

8 comments :

  1. I love to hear memories about families. More memories from you and your sister would be excellent.

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  2. Emmeline is a splendid name. My Father's family carried the maiden names forward as middle names too but I can't say I was much pleased to be saddled with Newton as a middle name.

    It really is fascinating learning about the generation who grew up in Victorian times and I think it's a good thing to try and capture some memories before dilution claims all the facts relation to 'ordinary' people. If only to reveal that they weren't so ordinary.

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  3. "domestic repositioning"? Is that what we called it? Shock & awe comes into my mind.
    But I concur with your sentiments, though my delusions of Grandma are, to use a foxism, blurred (due to my tender age, of course).
    A vicarious concept of blame (via mother, of course) is that it was Grandma wot started me biting my fingernails. I can't really blame her now though, can I?
    Anyway, I must have been sufficiently devoted for my first-born, 11 years after Grandma's departure to the seven-star hotel, to carry her name.

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  4. Your memories are very good. Grandfather died in November 1939, eight months after I was born. There are some photos here http://www.flickr.com/photos/supine39/sets/72157622179953507/

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  5. And maybe this one http://www.flickr.com/photos/supine39/4859056233/in/set-72157622179953507/

    What is 'fenating' my wv for today?

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  6. I have never heard of fenating, nor any word remotely resembling it.

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  7. Oh, and I see that according to Flickr that photo was taken on August 10th 2010. My, you have grown up fast!

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