Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Michaelmas & Memories


Sunlight streamed though the tentative autumn mist, as the last day of September dawned.  Later I sat enjoying the gentle warmth of the afternoon sun, but the breeze had playful intentions, fluttering the pages of my writing pad and shaking the flowers, when I attempt to take close up shots.  The sedum has turned from insignificant green to a flamboyant rosy pink, but the day belongs to the michaelmas daisy, for on this day we celebrate the feast of St Michael.

Today I also recall two members of my family, who were born on this day -  for my paternal grandfather and my mother shared a birthday, and they seemed comfortable with this fortuitous bond.  Both were born into impoverished families.  My Grandfather, I believe, was born in Aberdeen, towards the end of the 19th century, possibly as late as 1891.  He must have been just less than five years older than my Grandmother, because she received her pension first.  According to my Father, my Grandfather sometimes referred to my Grandmother as "the Bride", During the short period after her 60th birthday and before his 65th, she became 'the pensioner". 

When I was born my grandfather was still running the ships chandlers in Milford, where my grandparents had spent most of their working lives.  The return of my Aunt from a year long trip to New Zealand, visiting family, provided the impetus for my Gran to abandon the town she had called home for 50 years and with my aunt decamped to Devon, to a house she had inherited, and waited for her husband to join her in retirement.  My Granddad did not rush into this move, and I think it was at least a year before my Gran could persuade him to leave Wales and settle in Devon.  Sadly, I don't think he lived there more than a couple of years, as he developed pneumonia and died. I thought it was very negligent of my Grandmother to have allowed this to happen and I may even have informed her of this. At the age of three or four I had no awareness that everyone will die and it is rarely a matter of choice. I do not know now if I actually told her, or if in my mind this is what I wanted to do.  Time has made it hard to distinguish between reality and intention.  

I grew up surrounded my legends of the time when the family lived above the shop, but I never stayed at 19 Charles Street.  My elder brother was born there, my sister could join in with the stories, but all I had was an interweaving of family folklore through the filter of a four year old.  The pigeon on the gas lamp in the bedroom, the rainwater that flooded down the staircase and greeted customers entering the shop, the washing line tied to the apple tree, which then grew... and mysterious references to 'the kitchener', which for years I assumed was a welsh word for kitchen, but was in fact the name of the pub close by - the Earl Kitchener

My mother was born in Handsworth, Birmingham.  She was a bright child and allowed take up the place she was awarded at the nearby King Edward Grammar School for Girls.  She took the 11+ a year before many of her contemporaries.  As the youngest child in the school she was given the privilege of greeting a speaker who had come to address the whole school in assembly and escorting them from the back of the hall to the dais, where the Head and other dignitaries waited. The memory of that seemingly endless walk, past all the older girls, stayed with her. Later, when dementia cruelly hijacked her brain, it was to this point in her life that she returned, when she was eleven, at the Grammar School and bombs were falling.  Towards the end of her life it was her maiden name she responded to, her husband, children and grandchildren all forgotten.  I often wondered how different her life might have been if the war had not dominated her teenage years.  If, instead of finding a job which she would be content to do, she had had the freedom to consider all her options.  Luckily she found her niche in auditing, but before this she worked briefly in a laboratory.  She discovered that she didn't have a passion for science, but she did meet my Dad…

Above is a photo he took probably after they were married.  I suspect it is taken somewhere near Neath, as it
a) Looks hillier than I remember the southern part of Pembrokeshire being and 
b) Mum is wearing a mac. She often talked about how much milder south Wales was  than her native Birmingham, and how she didn't need a winter coat, but had several macs so there was always one dry enough to wear.  Neath, she claimed was nicknamed the 'piss pot' of Wales, and with good reason!  The picture has the legend 'The Captive', continuing the family tradition of tongue-in-cheek nick names.

Today, there is no-one in my family who has a September birthday.  On the last day of September I will remember my Mum and Granddad, not with sadness, or bitterness, for despite their humble beginnings, their lives were good.  

Today has been a beautiful day, my Mother would have enjoyed the subtle change of colour as leaves began to turn.  if the weather had been this good they would have  enjoyed a last day in Saundersfoot, before they closed the caravan for the winter.  My granddad could have taken an evening stroll on The Rath or down by the docks, as the last of the suns rays spilled across the Cleddau, bathing the farmland and villages opposite in a golden glow or glorious welsh greyness, with the infamous words "It can't rain, the wind is in the wrong direction...."


In a few hours September will slip away, but for now I will remember family members who have lived, loved, laughed, left the stage and shared a feast day with St. Michael.