As I came downstairs this morning I passed this picture in a frame on a shelving unit. The picture had slipped and was now crooked in the frame. So I decided to take it out and straighten it. Then it occurred to me that I should probably scan it and post it to this blog.
It’s a picture of my grandmother on my fathers side and as I was scanning it I realized how little I knew about her. Since I’d always known her as ‘grandma’ I did’t even know what her real name was.
So I did some browsing around on the internet and this is what I discovered. She was originally Mary Elizabeth Poole (born 1898) and in 1918 she married George Dale. They had two children: my father, Thomas (born 1919) and my aunt, Bessie Margaret (born 1925). From what my father told me his father died (I don’t know when, but apparently from Peritonitis). Subsequently my grandmother married again – this time in 1930 to a certain John W. Watts. They had two children: My aunt, Kathleen Joan (born 1930) and my uncle, Albert John (born 1935). Unfortunately, Mr. Watts was not long for this world either. I recall my father telling me that he died in a mine accident. In 1937 she married again to a Mr. William Smith. Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall he took off never to be seen again. According to my father he was a thoroughly unpleasant person so his disappearance was no great loss.
My grandmother passed away at the age of 83 in 1981. Our wedding also took place in NY in 1981 and I recall that my grandmother was very sick at the time. My father thought about cancelling their trip to NY. However, his sister encouraged him to go as nobody knew how long my grandmother would linger and that in any case she didn’t recognize anyone at that point. She passed away while they were in the US.
I wasn’t particularly close to her. She lived nearby, but her home was far enough away to discourage my father from visiting frequently. I remember her as a fairly terrifying old lady. She was heavily involved in the local church (she was a church warden) and owned a farm. By the time I knew her she’d gone through three husbands and raised four children while running a working farm (that’s probably why she was so tough). When I was a kid I remember playing in the hay barns and watching her milk cows. Later she sold much of the property, but retained the farm house. My Aunt Bessie, her husband (we always referred to him as John or Johnny, but I find from my research that his name was actually George) and their five children Clifford, Margaret, Peter, Geoffrey and Gillian. I remember that we would usually visit on Sunday lunchtime and the meal was always the same: canned salmon doused in malt vinegar, lettuce and bread and butter. Every time we went there I hoped that, for once, it would be something different, but it never was.
The photograph has the words ‘Mother, 1942’ in my father’s handwriting on the rear. While I was scanning it I noticed that there was also a faint inscription on the front: “To Thomas with…”. You can just see the top of a second line, but someone has trimmed the photograph and it’s impossible to read what it says. My mother called my father Tom, his friends called him Tom or Tommy, but I never heard my grandmother call him anything other than Thomas.