To mark Dia de los Muertes, when we remember those who have gone before us, I thought it would be interesting and lovely to explore our memories of our own Grandmothers. Please share your stories, either on your own blogs and link to them in the comments at Pilgrim’s Moon, or write directly in the comments.
Here’s my story of the only one of my grandmothers I remember.
My Grandmother was not a Crone
My father’s mother had a certain sharp strength and a lot of determination, but they were not channelled into the wisdom, courage and compassion of the Crone. She shunned female companionship, investing herself in men.
The choices she made in response to loss and hardship perhaps arose partly from her class and time.
Louisa was born in the late 1800s in a poor area of London. Her father took casual manual jobs when he could get them and died, destitute, of heart failure in a workhouse not many years later. His widow took in ironing when she could, to try and support herself and her three children. By the age of 18, Louisa was a domestic servant. She was largely uneducated. And somewhere around this time she met my grandfather.
Thomas, it seems was one crucial step up the social ladder, and Louisa was beautiful. They fell in love, and married in 1916 while he was home on leave from fighting in WWI.
Eighteen months later, Louisa had a gorgeous baby son, my father, and held in her hand a telegram from the War Office informing her of the death of her handsome young husband. (I have that telegram and the first time I unfolded its creases to see what it was I had to sit down suddenly, so strong were the shock waves of grief stored in it.)
In her loss, she clung to her young son, placed him at the centre of her life and began to bring him up not as a son, but as a man she could rely on, as she had her husband. She turned away from her mother-in-law and her sister, who tried to help and companion her. She had a war widow’s income but struggled financially.
A few years later Louisa married again: a widower, quite well-off and with his own young family. It started well, but wasn’t a good match. The new husband’s daughter was the apple of his eye and Louisa couldn’t cope with competition from another female. She felt she wasn’t given enough attention, that her own son wasn’t valued.
Years passed. My father met and married my mother. They set up home together and soon had a baby son. They were blissfully happy.
Louisa became more and more resentful that her husband didn’t consider her to be the centre of his world, and this was thrown into sharp relief because her adult son had “left her” to marry. Photographs of this time show her lovely face becoming pinched in bitterness. She wrote long, slightly unbalanced letters to my father describing petty incidents in which she believed her stepdaughter was deliberately undermining her.
The marriage deteriorated over the years, inevitably and inexorably, until the day her husband hit her, and she turned up on my parents’ doorstep with a suitcase, a little while after the end of WWII. It’s greatly to her credit that she left him immediately, and divorced him at a time when divorce was still almost unheard of.
Life without a husband
Louisa lived with my parents until her death. And yet again my grandmother turned her face away from female companionship. She tried to marginalise my mother’s relationship with Dad. Manipulative stuff: subtle little criticisms and offhand remarks, redoing household tasks that Mum had done perfectly well then making it obvious how tired it had made her, harking back to the perfection of her own mothering skills, spoiling my older brothers. (My parents’ relationship was made of strong stuff and weathered this storm, but it was difficult for them, and a token of my mother’s generosity that she continued to try and befriend Granny.)
A room of one’s own
By the time I was born in the early 50s, Louisa no longer made any attempt to live as part of the family. She held court in a room of her own: the best in the house. I don’t recall her ever joining us for a family meal, not even at Christmas. She put my father in an impossible situation, insisting that Dad go up to spend time with her as soon as he came in from work every day, giving her preference over his own wife and family.
I was far too young to be aware of how manipulative she was. I loved spending time with her, being allowed to look in her jewellery box, to try on her rings, to examine her photographs and memorabilia, to hear her stories, to read her love letters, to have her fix my hair. The photograph on the right shows one of her favourite outfits from her glory days. She would instruct me that men liked a woman who took care of herself, who listened to them and fussed over them. She had a glamour that my poor hard-working mum didn’t even aspire to.
I have beautiful eyes, and my strongest memory of Granny is of me sitting at her feet, gazing up at her and listening to her tell me with strange intensity “It’s your eyes that will get you your man. You must learn to make the most of them.”
In the early 1960s Louisa had a heart attack and was hospitalised. She was warned by the doctors that complete bed rest for several days was essential if she didn’t want a more serious attack. That evening, after my Dad visited her, she got out of bed and began walking the hospital corridors as fast as she could. She was dead the next day. She didn’t want a long, drawn out ending, she wanted it on her terms.
And the world was changing beyond her understanding. Louisa was quintessentially a man’s woman, and the feminist storm gathering on the horizon would have appalled her!
What about you?
What are your memories of your grandmothers? It would be wonderful if you would share them.