I didn’t know my mother’s grandmother of course, she died about twenty years before I was born. There is a picture of her as a fairly young woman, one of those Victorian photographs that was tinted to look like a portrait. My mother used to say that I looked like her.
My mother’s mother died when she was only twenty-five and her father’s engineering job took him away from home, so it was up to the grandparents to look after the 18 month old child. Two of the four parents had died already, but his mother and her father, who were cousins and must have known each other well, had set up home together (they were not, of course, ‘living together’ in the modern sense). My mother adored both of them and was very happy with them.
Grandmother (I don’t know whether she was called Granny or Grandma, she was always referred to as “my Grandmother” and I’ll call her Grandmother here) was a rather formal Victorian lady and very firm about the right way to behave. It was the ‘right’ way, too – not just formality for the sake of it, but to behave in the best, kindest and most honest manner at all times. For example, a shop assistant or a maid must be treated politely and considerately – “Never be rude, my dear, to those who cannot answer back.” She dressed mainly in black of course, but suitable colours could be worn in a blouse. My mother remembered going shopping for material to make a new blouse. The young assistant asked what colour she was looking for. Grandmother stood erect and firm. “Heliotrope,” she said. Mummy remembered all her days the confused look on the girl’s face.
Grandmother had three sons, two six-footers and my grandad, who was five foot seven. Both the others died in the First World War. When the wartime archives were put on the internet, my sister looked for and found them both. Their mother was with each of them when they died, in fact, for one she travelled to France to the field hospital; the other was brought back to England and she went to be with him. My grandfather was in the trenches throughout the war but was never injured, or not seriously at any rate.
Grandmother suffered from dreadful headaches (Mummy realised, later, that they must have been migraines) and sometimes had to retire to bed for two or three days. Once, the little girl had a bad head herself and said so – it was, poor child, the first migraine of those that laid her low regularly all her life. She remembered the look that passed between her grandparents, obviously thinking she was copying Grandmother, who asked her exactly where it hurt. When she said, at the side and behind her eyes, she saw them realise she was telling the truth.
My grandfather remarried when his daughter was seven years old. In the way things were done in those days, the fact was presented to her after the marriage had taken place and she had the shock of being taken away from her home and beloved grandparents. It’s not surprising that she clung on to and treasured memories of those years with them. They were certainly the happiest of her childhood.