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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