Thursday, 28 March 2013

Roxalla

I'm away in Kidmore End this Easter to spend some time with Cecil as I'm never sure how many more Easters, birthdays, Christmases she may have; she will be 88 this year, which is quite a good age.

I have been reading another one of my grandmothers novels, this one called Roxalla, published in 1953, seven years before I made an appearance in the world. As with her other books, I can see family members in the characters she paints; in this one, her Aunt Annie makes an appearance. The youngest of my Great Grandmother Nanya's siblings, she was always known as "ah nah" to my mother, because of her habit of saying, with a gentle Irish lilt, "ah now". She appears in this story as Aunt Hattie, borrowing the name of her sister Harriet. She lived with Nanya until her death, and Cecil remembers her being a very expert smocker of children's clothes, work she did to earn a little money, as they were perpetually poor.

This story, like the others, is a gentle tale, set once more in Arklow, though she had not lived there for over thirty years. It is a place full of hidden and magical energy, somehow held in time, in her mind, permeated with the sense of mystery that she must have felt as a child. This was someone who was quite sure she had really seen a fairy, and the was an element of fey'ness in her and her older sister Connie. In this story, a young boy, Arthur, who lives in a small house set apart from the main body of the town, is befriended by the grandson of "the old lady" who lives in the grand house on the hill, and who is, we understand, grandmother to both boys; the one, William, raised in privilege; the other in poverty. This difference in upbringing is because Arthur's mother had been a servant in the big house, had married the youngest son despite the strong opposition of his mother, and was the left a widow when her husband died in a riding accident before the boy was born. The story is about the unequal friendship between the two boys, and about what happens when the eldest son of the family dies, leaving no heir. Because of this, it seems that young Arthur will inherit the house, a place that has filled his imagination for all of his life, although, until we join them in the story, he has never entered it, nor been acknowledged by the wealthy family. William is the son of "the old lady's" daughter, and so takes the last place in the line of succession.

As with all of her stories, it is as much about the impulses, motivations and inner worlds of the characters, as it is about the narrative. As with all of her stories, I enjoyed it a great deal, feeling that I had spent time with her, although she has been gone for many years; feeling also a wistful sadness that I can never say to her, "oh, I loved that one, the bit where you describe .... I know exactly what you mean, and is ......".

Tomorrow I will be able to share it with Cecil, and she will know who the characters are, and will tell me again about Aunt Annie and her smocking, and how she and Mum, when they stayed with their grandmother, all snuggled down together in her "great big feather bed" and other tales of their shared past, which are more immediate to her now than her day to day present. And she will pause and say "ah Kath, you've taken me right back to .... I can see that clearer now than I can see my home here", and I will know that it has given her pleasure, and brought me little snippets of those who are gone.

I have one left to read now, Glory Down, my favourite.

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