I’m feeling a little lost in time at the moment.
I finally managed to visit my Gran recently after more than a year. She’s living in a care home, down near my uncle’s house, and her dementia is pretty severe now. She doesn’t speak or look you in the eye, but she was marking her 95th birthday, so we visited her, me, my dad, my son and my uncle, and we talked to her.
The whole time I was there I was thinking about something I’d read recently. Her memoir, a telling of her childhood, growing up in the 1920s and 30s on the Isle of Wight.
It mentioned her mum and dad, her brother (who is still alive and well on the island at 97), her sister (who died during the war in childbirth), her grandparents, and all the characters and friends she was surrounded by in those years.
She mentioned music and adverts she remembered hearing through the walls from her neighbour playing Radio Luxembourg, music they played in weekly concerts at church, her mum’s singing voice, and flowers she picked.
Her memoir ends just as it’s getting going, in the middle of the war, before her sister died, and before she met her husband, but it’s a wonderful glimpse into her life, and looking at her in her care home (which was possibly the nicest care home I’ve ever seen in reality or fiction) I was seeing her as she was, as well as her as she is now.
After I got home I started reading a series of airgraphs (short letters) sent from my granddad home to his family during his RAF training in 1943. He asked them to keep them for him, and he kept their replies, so there are letters from four of his five brothers and sisters, and from his dad. I never really knew any of his brothers and sisters. Three of them died before I really had a chance to meet them at all, and his two sisters that I did get to meet, were very austere, and old fashioned, and more than likely telling us off when they did see us.
The people in these letters were a tight knit family, full of humour and good cheer and optimism. I had to look back at photographs from the time with new eyes.
Finally, after I’d mentioned my recent reading habits, my dad handed over a memoir written by his aunt, who is generally remembered as a family misery, and I set about transcribing that.
It’s true that her memoir is sad, it focuses on loss, from her new husband during the war, to her nephew of childhood leukaemia, and then her mother and father. However I think that was what shaped her life.
She never remarried, and she suffered with depression and she found it hard to rise above those things. I think the rest of the family failed to understand her. It’s really odd to think that she has the final word on that section of the family history, on my grandma’s childhood, and their parents, on my grandma and granddad’s marriage, and their children.
But she does, because no-one else wrote anything down.
What it’s made me realise, is that everyone matters. Your story is worth telling. You may have children or you may not, but if you have nephews or nieces, or any family at all, they may at some point in the future, be interesting in hearing what you remember.
And if they aren’t, their children might be, so write it down, record it in sound files, but do something, before you and your memory disappear.
We bought these for our parents, after our son was born, for him to give as Christmas gifts for his first Christmas, and I really hope he will cherish the replies he gets for the rest of his life.
Who are you the last living link to? Who do you remember? Write about your grandparents and your great grandparents, write about your brothers and sisters when they were kids, write down the story of how your parents met, because this stuff is gold dust to someone, it’s the stuff of life, and it matters. Stories matter.
I am eternally grateful that anyone in my family chose to write things down.