Friday, 4 April 2014

Nearly home again

I'm at the end of a three week break, my final week being spent with my Aunt Cecil in rural Oxfordshire. Those who pop by here regularly will have met her before, but here she is sitting by the river Thames, about to tuck into coffee and chocolate tiffin. This image, I hope, captures her sweet smile and marvellous sense of fun, quite undiminished by dementia.

I take pictures so that, when we get back home, she can see where we've been and what we've done, her memory being truly absent. It was she and my grandmother who inspired me to stitching many years ago, both being fine needlewomen. The skill has been passed down the family from my Great Grandmother Nanya's generation (and no doubt those who came before her), and Cecil talks of Aunt Annie and her exquisite smocking. I wish some of it had survived, but would guess it was needed to earn money. Aunt Annie lived with Nanya, who had been widowed in 1914, with three daughters in their teens to support and no means of income beyond their wits and feminine skills. They moved from Ireland to England in 1921'ish; their location chosen by the legendary pin placed in the map with eyes closed.

Coming from a family who have condensed into just me, Cecil and my daughter Jen this side of the water, I treasure those family tales and the opportunity to spend time with Cecil and share our joint past. On this visit I took a collection of old photos to show her. They have all come to me, as Nanya lived with my grandmother at the end of her life; I also have, and treasure, the letters she and my Great Grandfather wrote to one another through their courting days (a project for my retirement). Cecil was very anxious that I label all those images so "those that come after" know who they are. It got me thinking about the values we place on things. I know who those precious few blurred faces belong to; some of them I met, some I know because of our shared family tales, to me they are real people with lives and loves and interesting characters. Yet if Jen has children and brings "grandmotherhood" back into this diminishing family, these dear souls might be of little or no interest - just dated images in sepia and black and white. This is true of so many things that get handed down, their value is simply to those who know the who and why. Once those people have gone, what is to be done with them? I don't know the answer, but do recall collections of Victorian photos that we hold in the reference library I used to work in. We kept them without knowing anything of who they were, simply because they were old. I often wondered what was the point, but couldn't countenance throwing away images that were a window on somebody's past, albeit anonymous. What think you?


  1. A timely and moving post. This morning my brother - who is quite a lot older than me - sent me a package with all sorts of documents and photos from my parents and grandparents lives. He doesn't have any children and I do, so I suppose he thinks it's a way of passing on family history. But even so, there are a few pictures of people we can't name - losing those links all the time.

    1. I tend to think that the links are still there, deep buried in our genes, not visible to us, but perhaps visible in us - a picture of my great aunt looks remarkably like my daughter. Just time moving, or perhaps us moving through time. It's good to have these precious things though, and for those who follow to know what came before, the little histories that don't get written into books.