International women’s day – the real post

As I grow older I am more and more aware of the hardships that must have been suffered by previous generations.  In various circumstances I think of my grandmothers, and how different everything was for them.  I come from a close family, and I had a loving relationship with both, in fact, I have written about them previously on this blog.  They have both been dead for 40 years or more, but in many ways I feel closer to them now than at any other time of my life.

I was amazed to discover just  a short while ago from this timeline that International Women’s Day has been celebrated since 1900.  Both grandmothers were born before this, but would have been totally unaware of such a day.  I would like to tell you a little about one of them.  The story of the other will wait for another day.

This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother.  It was taken in 1923, and that’s my Uncle at her side.  1923 was  the year that the first Le Mans 24 hour Race was run, Mount Etna erupted making 60,000 homeless, the Tomb of Tutankhamen was opened, and Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as president following the death of President Warren Harding .   This was also the year that Stanley Baldwin became Prime Minister in the UK.for the first time, Tokyo and Yokohama were both devastated by an enormous earthquake killing over 100,000, 70 miners were drowned in a colliery disaster in Scotland, and there was a royal wedding.  It was the year that Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in Westminster Abbey.  If any of these events had happened in the last few years we would all have felt personally involved via the link that we now call Television.  1923 was also the year that John Logie Baird began his TV experiments.

My grandfather was a marine engineer, working at first near Sunderland, County Durham, and then on the Tyne at Newcastle.  At the time of the photograph life was good, but shortly afterwards unemployment was rife and the situation changed.  Grandma’s existence must have been very hard.  She had two children, but was separated from her daughter (my mother) while my great-grandmother, living a life of comparative luxury, took on her upbringing so that she could attend a good school.  The separation had lasting results on both women, even now my mother speaks of it with great sadness.  Contact was minimal, though the actual distance was small, no telephone, and visits few and far between.  My mother has spoken of hiding the tears as she made her way back to her grandmother’s house, pretending that she was ‘fine’, and of crying herself to sleep in the dark of the night.  It was all done for the ‘best’, and happened in many families across the country.  The second world war was to bring separation from my uncle, too, when he was evacuated to the Lake District.  Life had to be lived.  Food had to be put on the table, much was hand grown, meaning garden to attend.  No convenient public transport, no car, ‘by foot’ was the order of the day, shopping had to be carried on foot.  No Social Security, and for much of Grandma’s life, no NHS.  No electric light for the early years, clothes to make, no electric sewing machine, jumpers and cardigans to be knitted for warmth, no local shops for immediate gratification.    How different it all was from the life of today.  No chance to carve out  a career, no say, for many years, in the government of the country.

I have heard it said many times that children are very resilient.  This may be true, but some scars go very deep, and as a result either alienate or make a relationship stronger.  Thankfully the latter was true and my brother and I were brought up in a very loving family.  Not only were our parents part of our every day lives, but also our grandparents.  My grandmother and mother ‘sewed’ the seeds of my interest in working in textiles.  What was formerly performed out of necessity has now become a means of creating art, an indulgence that was not a consideration in the past.

Grandmothers are important in the lives of growing children, but there comes a time to let go and watch from afar.  This is a transition that is unnoticed by the child.  My grandmother allowed me to move on, but that doesn’t mean that in retrospect I don’t regret spending more time with her.  This post is dedicated to grandmothers everywhere who carry burdens for and on behalf of their families, often unspoken and unthanked.  Life lived in unconditional love asks no reward.

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20 thoughts on “International women’s day – the real post

  1. OK, I joined the hop. I really enjoyed (if that’s the right word) your ancestral tale. My grandmothers were born in the early 1890s – and do you know, they never spoke of deprivation but must have suffered it. My maternal grandfather was brought up by – yes – his grandparents. And disinherited by his own family. It all struck me as totally incomprehensible.

    Different generations of women just have different problems. Seems to me the only thing that changes.


  2. thanks for sharing this story. my maternal grandmother came to Canada for a visit for a year, and arrived when i was two years old. while i (obviously) don’t have memories of her arrival, i do of her departure, as well as some unique moments while she was here.
    apparently i missed her for years, constantly talking about her. don’t remember that part.
    but it was definitely a different era when she grew up, and she worked hard to feed her family, as well as doing laundry (by hand of course) and cooking, sewing, knitting, as your did. i met her as an adult on some visits to her, when she was fully retired. the hardships of her life had not made her bitter, and i feel privileged to have gotten to know her. she had a sweet disposition and to know her was to love her.
    thanks for sharing your story – it rekindled some memories of my own.


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  4. Thank you for this fascinating post, Myfanwy, and so lovely to read about your family history, and imagine how life must have been for our grandmothers. Incidentally, I had never heard of International Women’s Day and completely missed it (typical, I’m always late to the party, LOL!)…. but will definitely watch out for it next year 🙂


  5. Thanks for sharing this well-crafted story of your maternal grandmother. It is easy to forget how different our lives are and how the basics of everyday living could be so arduous.
    I think you mean “sowed the seeds” instead of “sewed the seeds” but somehow “sewed” fits perfectly.


  6. What a great way to participate in International Women’s Day! It’s such a wonderful blessing that you and your brother were raised in a loving atmosphere… in spite of your mother’s heart wrenching childhood. Thank you for dedicating this well written post to grandmothers everywhere Myfanwy! 🙂


  7. What a lovely tribute to your maternal grandmother and to grandmothers everywhere. Your story brought back memories of my two very different grandmothers. I do hope that my two grandsons will remember me kindly. I missed so much of their growing up.


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