People in a little frame

IMG_0069My cousin Ann has sent me a little brass tree which holds some very precious pictures, of my Nana Ada, and her sisters Ellen and Florence, and her brother Alfred.

These people were all born at the end of the 19th century, and after we have gone, those of us who knew and loved them; there will be nobody to tell the family stories, and they will be literally dead and buried and forgotten.

The problem with family stories is that as they are passed from person to person, they are changed and embellished to suit the purposes of the teller…especially, it seems in our family. We are great story tellers in our family. Many happy hours have been spent reminiscing over pots of tea or the odd glass of whisky. Among my own happy memories of being a small child, a lot are of the comfort of being in bed between my two teenaged aunts, and listening to them talking about friends and boyfriends.

So what of these four people, Ada, Ellen, Florrie and Alf? And the generation of people before them? I have in my head a jumble of bits of stories of a grandfather who took poison because he thought his wife was having an affair with her dance instructor. Of another who died of a broken heart three months after the death of his wife. Who were they? Were the stories true?

These are the stories I’ve been told, but bear in mind there might already be a few embellishments….none of them mine, I might add!

Ellen died when she was 18. I don’t know what she died of, so my presumption (embellishment?!) is that she had TB. She had a group of friends, one of whom she was very close to, and he was Irish. Apparently her father had a hatred of the Irish, but when he realised she was dying, he responded to Ellen’s pleas, and went to look for the boy. He was told by their friends that the boy had gone home to visit his family. When Ellen’s Dad told her that, she said, very sadly, “You didn’t look for him, did you Dad?” he told her he had, and went and got her friends, to prove that he had tried.

My Nana, just a child at the time, described how they stood round Ellen’s bed and sang the Lord’s my Shepherd to her.

Florrie was a formidable woman. A spinster, she had very definite views about how things should be done. She was in service all her life. People in the family were sometimes a bit wary of her, because she had a sharp tongue. The other side of her, the side that she showed to me, was of a very kind person who didn’t suffer fools gladly. She told me once that pears poached in lemonade taste just like tinned pears. 54 years later, and I have still to try her recipe! She was decorating my Nana’s front room, said “I’m going home now, Ada, I’ll be back in the morning to finish it”. She died that night in her sleep. After she died, I found out the the young woman, Florrie Hindle, that Aunt Florrie often had with her,was actually her daughter…. one of three illegitimate children. My mother said the father of one of them was a pilot killed on his way back home at the end of the first world war. Who knows?

Alf was a lovely man, a bachelor all his life. He was a photographer, a poet, a religious man. He travelled round the country a lot, and would ask his boarding house landladies “Where is the nearest place of worship?”. When they asked him which he was looking for, Catholic, Protestant? he would reply “Just the nearest place of worship, church, temple, synagogue…they all serve God.” He had three kittens that he named Shadrach Meeshach and Abednego. We went to visit him once and my dad was horrified to see that Alf’s car was literally rusted through, and the driver’s door was held on with string. This was long before they introduced MOT tests!

Alf had a couple of lady friends that he lodged with, in Poole and in Gosport, one of whom had a little model shop. My brothers thought they were in heaven when we were taken into the shop after closing time.

Ada, my Nana, was fourteen when she was orphaned. They were very poor, but had rich relatives. She said that her aunt said to her at the funeral “Pack your bag, Ada, you can come home with me” Ada said “What about Florrie and Alf?” and when her aunt replied “Oh no, I can’t take them as well”, Ada said “I’ll take my chances with my brother and sister”. She said later, better that than be a skivvy to her aunt all her life.

Ada married when she was 16. I think she was probably pregnant, That baby died when he was about three months old. When she took him to the hospital, the doctor asked where his mother was. Ada replied “I’m his mother, Sir” and the doctor tutted and said “Children having children”.

That baby was the first of Ada’s sixteen children to die. The eldest was Eddie, who died of pneumonia following measles. He was six, and my Grandfather had made him return to school, thinking that Eddie was just enjoying the attention from his mother a bit too much, and was no longer ill. I don’t know if Nana ever really forgave Granddad for that.

Ada was heartbroken. She was about 7 months pregnant. Every morning she would get her children up and drag herself across town to the cemetery, and she’d sob her heart out. One day a grave digger who had watched her distress, came over and told her her bairn wasn’t there, he was in her heart. He said she wasn’t doing herself or her other children any good by going every day.

When she gave birth to her baby, Stephen, he had cerebral palsy. The doctor told her it was caused by her grief over Eddie. Stephen, too, died as an infant.

Ada’s life was hard. Tom’s health wasn’t good and she often struggled to feed her kids. On one occasion she went to ask for help, and had to go before a board. As soon as she walked in, she recognised one of the panel as being her uncle. One of the other board members said “Have you no relatives who could help you?” She looked directly at her uncle as she replied “Oh yes, Sir, I have relatives who COULD help….but they wouldn’t”. Her uncle looked very embarrassed, and said “I think we should give this lady the help she needs”….no doubt hoping she wouldn’t betray him as one of the relatives who could have helped her.

Ada took in washing to help supplement her income. I will never forget the smell of linen boiling, combined with the lamb stew she had cooking on wash days.

As her children grew, Ada found it hard to let go. No man or woman was ever good enough for her children. She’d have had them all living at home forever if she could. I often wonder if that was a reaction to losing her parents so young, and to the deaths of six children. The ten children she did raise would never have made up for the loss of the others. Each one was precious.

So there’s the story of the people in my little brass frame. I’m sure there are lots of other stories to tell, but for now, Ada Ellen Florrie and Alf…I haven’t forgotten you, and if the stories aren’t quite the truth, because of our family embellishments, I’m sure you’ll forgive me, and maybe recognize the family trait of just adding to a story a little bit!

 

 

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