A few days ago I thought I might try to go through some of the numerous boxes of junk and memorabilia that sits gathering dust in my loft. I’m not sure what prompted me to do so. Perhaps I simply had an attack of needing to have a clear out; or perhaps – as is more likely – I was having an attack of nostalgia, brought on by an impending milestone birthday that begins with a big fat 4.
As I climbed the ladder into the loft, I surveyed the myriad cardboard boxes that littered the floor and occupied spaces amongst the eaves. Many of the boxes had been there, unopened, since we moved into this house many years ago. What long forgotten memories lay therein?
Amongst the CDs, school reports, old letters, sealed and unopened copies of my manuscripts, I found two old and slightly battered notebooks. I’m not altogether sure how they came to be in my possession, but as I flicked through the pages, I realised that these notebooks once belonged to my nanna. The pages were filled with original poetry that she had written herself, poetry that primarily concerned the love she had for my granddad, a man who I sadly never met. There were poems about the loss of her son, Peter, too, a beautiful blond, blue-eyed boy who died of diphtheria just shy of his tenth birthday. They were a real eye-opener. We tend to think that people from my nanna’s generation – she was born in 1904 – were hard folk, that they simply got on with things and didn’t let life get them down. Oh! How wrong we are!
Written in my nanna’s own hand, her words flowing like water into an ocean of heartbreak, she told of how she felt she might be drowned in a tidal wave of emotion when her husband died. Such lines as,
“You said you would always be here
But the truth was not ours to see
I must have somehow angered God
For him to take you away from me”
“When it comes around to the time of year
When we turn the clocks back,
I wish that I could turn them all back
To the time when you were still here.
And then I would stop them forever.”
made we want to reach back through history, to hold her and tell her that everything turned out OK.
The words she wrote about the death of Peter were no less heartrending. Written in prose, she tells of how her own mother pulled her out of despair and taught her just what it was to be a mother. She wrote,
“I was lying on the bed, wishing and hoping that the angels would be merciful and come and take me, so I could be with him once again.
Mum came in and asked if I was still moping.
Still moping? How could she say that to me?
“I’ve lost my son!” I screamed, and sat to face mother.
Her eyes were red; her face stained with tears.
“I know, sweetheart” she said, “But you’ve got another son. He’s only 7 and he’s just lost his brother. He needs his mum. And you’ve got another little one inside you. Don’t you dare let either of them down”
As I sat there, on the loft floor, turning page after page, the tears flowed as easily as my nanna’s words. They were the tears of history, tears of nostalgia. More than that though, they were the tears of all the things I wished I’d known when I was younger, and the tears of tribute to all the mothers who carried my family through the generations and made it as strong as it is today.