In 1996, I visited Zimbabwe to do the research for my Honours dissertation, When “Back Home” isn’t England: making visible the memories, lives and experiences of some white women in Rhodesia. One of the women I interviewed was my Aunt Doris, my father’s brother’s wife. She told me this story about my grandmother and grandfather (my father’s parents).
My aunt told me about when she and Uncle Peter got married (in 1941). They invited Mama and Papa for Christmas dinner. Aunt said, “I was very nervous and wanted everything to be just right.” So she laid the table and lit candles. When Papa arrived he said, “Aren’t the lights working?” and flicked the switch. When the lights came on he said, “Well, Good Luck!” and blew out the candles. Aunt said she was so mortified she didn’t have lit candles on the dinner table for the next 25 years! She said, “Papa related candles with poverty”.
I sometimes wonder what my grandmother had to say about it. Probably not very much as she was not a great talker. My aunt admired her hugely, as did most people. Aunt said, “Mama was … she was a great philosopher. She was wonderful. She was very wise. The time I loved her most was, she never gave advice. She never pushed herself on you. She was lovely. She was quiet and she was wise. And she worked very hard.
Many, but not all, of the stories from the research made it into my dissertation. So there’s a possibility for more blog vignettes.
I woke up this morning thinking about my mother and her mother. I don’t know who my grandmother’s mother was. I vaguely remember Granny telling me that her father took her and her sister away from South Africa to New Zealand when she was a small child. Her mother (my great grandmother) didn’t want to leave her family; her country, so great grandfather snatched the children and went anyway. His sister went with him to care for the children. He was in the British army – or so the story goes. There has been some discussion on how important he was in the army. My research shows he was simply the aide de comp and not the main player. No matter. Great grandfather never returned to South Africa from New Zealand because he suffered such terrible seasickness on the trip over there. Granny eventually went back to her homeland as an adult. She married a South African man and my mother was their oldest child. Because she was a girl, but was meant to be a boy, my mother’s nickname was Bobby. This had no relation to her real name at all.
My mother had four siblings: three boys and a girl. One of her brothers was a pilot in the South African Air Force. He was killed in the Second World War. I believe he was a rear-gunner as he was quite tiny in stature and I’ve always heard him referred to as ‘Uncle Stumps’ because of it. I have a photo of him. My second brother looks a lot like him.
My mother was an artist. She studied art at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. Some of her botanical studies are beautifully executed. I don’t have them but my oldest brother managed to get them to Australia when he migrated here some years ago. He has them in his keeping and they will, no doubt, be passed on to his children eventually.
I have started writing a novel, part fact and part fiction (the bits I don’t know I make up) about my granny but I’ve bogged myself down in the research so have stopped. Actually, I stopped a couple of years ago, maybe three years ago!
Sometimes I wish I knew more about my ancestors. I’d like to know so that I can tell my grand daughters if they show any interest.