Exploring That Rabbit Hole Again …

Whoo-hoo! Sliding down that rabbit warren again, and picking at etymologies like itchy pimples!

It started with “cousin”. I have hundreds of them, first, second and several times removed. I wanted to know the exact definition, and where the English word came from. Well, I never realized anyone could be so specific in the degrees of consanguinity.  Having studied Latin at school aeons ago, I remembered only pater, mater (mother and father), frater, soror (brother, sister) avus, ava and avunculus (grandfather, grandmother and uncle).

However, the following Roman family round-up made my eyes water! My informative website says of the word Cousin:

early 13c., “a collateral blood relative more remote than a brother or sister” (mid-12c. as a surname), from Old French cosin “nephew; kinsman; cousin” (12c., Modern French cousin), from Latin consobrinus “cousin,” originally “mother’s sister’s son,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see com-) + sobrinus (earlier *sosrinos) “cousin on mother’s side,” from soror (genitive sororis) “sister” (see sister).

Specific modern usage, “the son or daughter of an uncle or aunt,” is attested by c. 1300, but throughout Middle English the word also was used of grandchildren, godchildren, etc. Extended sense of “closely related thing” is from late 14c.

Italian cugino, Danish kusine, Polish kuzyn also are from French. German vetter is from Old High German fetiro “uncle,” perhaps on the notion of “child of uncle.” Words for cousin tend to drift to “nephew” on the notion of “father’s nephew.”

Many IE languages (including Irish, Sanskrit, Slavic, and some of the Germanic tongues) have or had separate words for some or all of the eight possible “cousin” relationships, such as Latin, which along with consobrinus had consobrina “mother’s sister’s daughter,” patruelis “father’s brother’s son,” atruelis “mother’s brother’s son,” amitinus “father’s sister’s son,” etc. Old English distinguished fæderan sunu “father’s brother’s son,” modrigan sunu “mother’s sister’s son,” etc.

Used familiarly as a term of address since early 15c., especially in Cornwall. Phrase kissing cousin is a Southern U.S. expression, 1940s, apparently denoting “those close enough to be kissed in salutation;” Kentish cousin (1796) is an old British term for “distant relative.” For cousin german “first cousin” (early 14c.) see german (adj.).

(Do follow those links – it’s fascinating!!)

OK,  so let’s look at some other relatives. The word uncle is clearly straight from avunculus and in English avuncular is still used, but there’s more:

late 13c., from Old French oncle, from Latin avunculus “mother’s brother” (“father’s brother” was patruus), literally “little grandfather,” diminutive of avus “grandfather,” from PIE root *awo-“grandfather, adult male relative other than one’s father” (source also of Armenian hav “grandfather,” Hittite huhhas “grandfather,” Lithuanian avynas “maternal uncle,” Old Church Slavonic uji “uncle,” Welsh ewythr “uncle”). Boutkan, however, says “the root probably denoted members of the family of the mother.” 

Replaced Old English eam (usually maternal; paternal uncle was fædera), which represents the Germanic form of the same root (source also of Dutch oom “uncle, grandfather, brother-in-law,” Old High German oheim “maternal uncle, son of a sister” German Ohm “uncle,” Old Norse afi“grandfather”).

Also from French are German, Danish, Swedish onkel. As a familiar title of address to an old man, attested by 1793; in the U.S. South, especially “a kindly title for a worthy old negro” [Century Dictionary]. First record of Dutch uncle (and his blunt, stern, benevolent advice) is from 1838; Welsh uncle (1747) was the male first cousin of one’s parent. To say uncle as a sign of submission in a fight is North American, attested from 1909, of uncertain signification.

So Uncles appear generally in a positive light. Now what about aunt? She’s a mixed blessing:

1300, from Anglo-French aunte, Old French ante (Modern French tante, from a 13c. variant), from Latin amita “paternal aunt” diminutive of *amma a baby-talk word for “mother” (source also of Greek amma “mother,” Old Norse amma “grandmother,” Middle Irish ammait “old hag,” Hebrew em, Arabic umm “mother”).

Extended senses include “an old woman, a gossip” (1580s); “a procuress” (1670s); and “any benevolent woman,” in American English, where auntie was recorded since c. 1790 as “a term often used in accosting elderly women.” The French word also has become the word for “aunt” in Dutch, German (Tante), and Danish.

Swedish has retained the original Germanic (and Indo-European) custom of distinguishing aunts by separate terms derived from “father’s sister” (faster) and “mother’s sister” (moster). The Old English equivalents were faðu and modrige. In Latin, too, the formal word for “aunt on mother’s side” was matertera. Some languages have a separate term for aunts-in-law as opposed to blood relations.

I heaved a sigh of relief that I didn’t grow up speaking one of those languages, and having to distinguish the bloodlines of all my aunts, uncles and cousins!

From families to orphans. Now that is a strange-looking word, and although I knew that it’s orphelin in French, that didn’t really help. Did you know that etymologically, orphans are linked to robots? (Just click on the word robot in the excerpt below.) Seems they have been exploited forever.

Here we go – and look out for the goblins!

orphan (n.)

1300, from Late Latin orphanus “parentless child” (source of Old French orfeno, Italian orfano), from Greek orphanos “orphaned, without parents, fatherless,” literally “deprived,” from orphos “bereft,” from PIE *orbho- “bereft of father,” also “deprived of free status,” from root *orbh- “to change allegiance, to pass from one status to another” (source also of Hittite harb- “change allegiance,” Latin orbus “bereft,” Sanskrit arbhah “weak, child,” Armenian orb “orphan,” Old Irish orbe “heir,” Old Church Slavonic rabu “slave,” rabota “servitude” (see robot), Gothic arbja, German erbe, Old English ierfa “heir,” Old High German arabeit, German Arbeit “work,” Old Frisian arbed, Old English earfoð “hardship, suffering, trouble”). As an adjective from late 15c.

The Little Orphan Annie U.S. newspaper comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894-1968) debuted in 1924 in the New York “Daily News.” Earlier it was the name (as Little Orphant Annie) of the character in James Whitcomb Riley’s 1885 poem, originally titled “Elf Child”:

LITTLE Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,

An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,

An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,

An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;

An’ all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,

We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun

A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,

An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you

Ef you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

 

Christmas Blessings

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View from my apartment today

To use those alliterative clichés much loved by TV weather people, it’s a wet and windy, misty and murky Christmas Eve. No hope of snow down here in the valley, which is probably just as well for the motorists. But it’s cosy indoors with my candles lit and adding to the peaceful atmosphere, and as I don’t have to go out today I’m quite content to sit in contemplative mood in my chair listening to traditional carols. I shall make another batch of mince pies to take to the family gathering tomorrow, and thanks to the Internet, I shall also be able to watch and listen to BBC1’s Carols from King’s this evening, a nostalgic touch to round the day off.

In Germanic countries, Christmas Eve is the main day of celebration so some of my friends were quite concerned to hear that I would be alone on this important occasion. I can reassure them that this is really not a problem for me, quite the contrary in fact.

We had a small congregation in our little international church fellowship yesterday, but everyone joined in heartily and once again I was very grateful for this tiny community where the Christmas spirit is still hale and hearty. We actually had a real straw-filled manger, brought in as a visual prop by our preacher who lives in an old farm house and found it in the barn. He also has four young children, and I was amused after the service to see that the youngest had honoured the occasion by laying her teddy bear to rest there. Another wry smile at the juxtaposition of lantern and tablet on our worship leader’s music stand!

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I am grateful for the opportunity last week to visit my Dear Middle Granddaughter and her Darling Husband near Geneva. I lived in that city for 8 years in the seventies, and though much has changed (it has expanded beyond belief) I still found much to be the same. The day I arrived was sunny and bright so I took a few photos, and it didn’t matter that it rained the rest of the time as the main purpose of the visit was to see my loved ones and inspect their new home. Yes, the home passed my inspection with flying colours of course! And we had a really lovely time together (at least, in my view – they may have been glad to drop me off again on Friday!)

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Proof I was in Geneva – the lake and jet d’eau

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Sunrise over the Jura  – view from DMG’s window

We shall meet up again tomorrow for the Big Family Turkey Dinner at my Dear Eldest Granddaughter’s house. The main reason for this is that having four children, she also has the biggest house and can get us all round the table, plus the kids can play happily in their own familiar environment. The meal will be a joint effort, with contributions from all of us so that takes some of the burden from her shoulders.

My very best Christmas wishes to all my readers, especially those who don’t have a family around them at this time. May the love, peace and joy of Christmas enfold you.

More About The Hardwicks

John Holdsworth / Hardwick 1815-1875

My Great-Great-Grandfather 

Was this a man with a chip on his shoulder? Right from the start, he was marked: “Spurious son of Mary Holdsworth” it says on his baptismal record of 10 May 1815, and although his parents married and had eleven more children in their 40 years together, he was branded as “he being illegitimate” on his marriage certificate on 9 June 1851.

I wonder about his relationship with his parents, brothers and sisters. How did he feel in his early years? Did he suffer his illegitimacy as a stigma? He presumably spent his first three years alone with his mother and grandparents, so her marriage and the arrival of his first siblings may well have put his nose out of joint. Did he resent his situation?  Feel angry with his father? Is that why he used the name Houldsworth rather than Hardwick? How was he affected by the death of his grandparents and two siblings, all within 3 months, when he was eleven? And then the loss of three more little siblings during his teens?

The 1841 census shows him as a 25-year-old living at home, an agricultural labourer like his father, helping support the hungry mouths of his younger brothers and sisters. The Hardwicks’ home stood between those of his mother Mary’s 70-year-old Uncle Henry Holdsworth, a framework knitter like many others in the village of Heath, and her brother John Holdsworth, 5 years older than Mary. Did our John identify more with his Holdsworth relatives than with his Hardwick family? Although he had obviously been acknowledged as a Hardwick like the rest of his family, in his adult life he preferred to call himself Houldsworth which is the name used for all the entries in his family Bible and in all official documents, right to the end of his life.

He didn’t marry until his mid thirties, and his wife Elizabeth Moody was 12 years younger than he was, only 23 at the time of their wedding on 9 June 1851 at the Church of St Stephen’s, Woodville, Ashby de la Zouch. They lived in Common Newbold. Their first child, a little girl named Frances, was born almost exactly a year later on 7 June 1852. Sadly, she died 9 months later in March 1853.

Was there some consolation in discovering that Elizabeth was expecting another child? Alas, death struck yet again. The new baby, another little girl born on 8 November 1853, survived but her mother died just a few days later and was buried on 18 November 1853 at Holy Trinity Church, Chesterfield. John named his new little daughter Elizabeth, in memory of his wife.

What did he do then, a bereaved widower with a tiny baby on his hands? I doubt if he turned to his mother-in-law, as she herself died in 1855. His parents and many of his relatives were still in Heath, so did he go back to his parents’ house?

There’s a gap of 15 years from November 1853 to August 1868 where I can find no information as to the whereabouts of John or his daughter. When his father was killed in 1859 John may have returned to help his mother out as his other brothers and sisters were now all married and had their own families to care for, but I have no way of finding this out.

The 1861 census ought to give some indication, but so far we haven’t been able to find John, Elizabeth or Mary anywhere. Perhaps they were together somewhere? They weren’t in Heath, although they must have gone back there at some point because John Houldsworth reported his mother’s death, at which he was present. Also, 16-year-old Elizabeth Hardwick was a witness at the wedding of her friend Jane Probert in Heath on 19 December 1869.

A 55-year-old John Hardwick is recorded as resident in Heath in the 1871 census, but this may not be our man who called himself Houldsworth to the last: the first entry for the year 1875 in Heath parish register is the record of John Houldsworth’s burial on 15 February.

*******

I have so many questions.

Where did Elizabeth grow up?

Did John Houldsworth return to Heath after his wife died leaving his baby daughter Elizabeth with one of his siblings?  She seems to have preferred to be called Hardwick rather than Houldsworth, although Houldsworth is the name she was registered under at birth, so that could indicate that as she grew up she felt closer to her Hardwick relatives. However, she didn’t show up among the Hardwick siblings and their families (Elizabeth, William, Joseph, Henry George, Hannah) in the 1861 census and by the time of the 1871 census she was married.

Now an interesting discovery:

In the 1871 census, John Houldsworth’s youngest sister Hannah née Hardwick, with her husband Charles Fletcher and their three daughters Mary, Jemima Lucy, and Sarah, are lodgers in the home of a young couple called Isaiah and Jane Jones and their baby Harriet. These names rang a bell for me. Isaiah Jones was born in Gornal, Staffs, and his wife Jane in Oswestry, North Wales. None other than Jane Probert, sister of Joseph Probert who married Elizabeth Hardwick in February 1871. (You can find out more about Elizabeth, my father’s grandmother, here and here

Is this a clue to Elizabeth’s whereabouts in the 1860’s?

How did the Fletchers and the Joneses meet?

Did Elizabeth introduce her Aunt Hannah to her friend and sister-in-law Jane?

Or were Hannah and Jane friends before she married Isaiah, and did Hannah introduce Elizabeth to Jane?

I suppose I shall never know – how frustrating!

Still Hunting Hardwicks

Mary Holdsworth 1795 – 1868:  My 3rd Great-Grandmother

(This links to my previous posts of November 2017 about my Hardwick ancestors)

My third great-grandmother – that is, the grandmother of my father’s grandmother – was Mary Holdsworth, daughter of John and Elizabeth Holdsworth. She spent most of her life in an obscure Derbyshire village, and from the few facts I have been able to glean about her, it was not an easy life.

She was baptized on 22 February 1795 in Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, her mother’s home town, notorious for being the place where the last person to be publicly beheaded with an axe in Britain was executed in 1817. I wonder if Mary went to see that?

Mary was the sixth of eight children, most of them born in Sutton in Ashfield. Her father was from the Derbyshire village of Heath, about 7 or 8 miles away, and the family appear to have moved back there, as Mary’s youngest brother was born in Heath in 1803. Perhaps it had to do with the death in 1802 of her father’s mother, who had lived in Heath.

On 6 May 1815 twenty-year-old Mary gave birth to a son, John. His father was Samuel Hardwick, the 26-year-old youngest son of a prosperous local farmer. Why didn’t they marry at that time? Parental disapproval? Was Mary not good enough? Or were the young couple uncertain of their feelings?

Whatever the reason at the time, the relationship remained strong and Mary became pregnant again. They married on 24 November 1818 and their daughter Priscilla was born five months later in March 1819. She was followed in August 1820 by little Samuel, in March 1822 by another daughter, Elizabeth, and then another boy, Joseph, in February 1825.

In October 1826 Mary’s parents died and were buried a week apart, and then early in 1927 both Priscilla (7) and little Samuel (4) died. What was the cause of their death? Was it a very harsh winter? I don’t know, but the children were buried on the same day, 27 January 1827.

Later that year, Mary had a sixth child, William, christened on 11 November 1827. He lived. But in January 1830 she gave birth to twin girls, Mary and Priscilla Ann, who were christened on 12 January and were buried aged 3 weeks on 4 February. As twins they were probably very small babies, and again, maybe the cold weather took its toll.

The name Priscilla was presumably in honour of Samuel’s sister, who had married a grocer and tea dealer in Chesterfield and was probably well off – maybe they wanted to flatter her, or perhaps Samuel was close to his sister. The name Ann may have been for Samuel’s mother, Ann née Turner, or his sister. When Mary’s daughter Elizabeth grew up, married and had children, she also called her daughter Priscilla Ann. That Priscilla had a long life and passed the name on to her daughter.

In January 1832 Mary had another little girl, Sarah: she didn’t have to worry about this one, she lived to be 82. And in May 1835, when she was 40, Mary produced another boy, Henry George. That made five children who had survived. Sadly, her next baby Thomas lived only two days, from 10 to 12 April 1838.

How must Mary have felt when her last little girl Hannah arrived just about a year later? Thankfully, Hannah also survived. By this time Mary was 44. She had brought 12 children into the world, and suffered the death of six of them.

Her husband Samuel was a labourer working on his brother Joseph’s farm, and life in the 1840’s must have seemed more peaceful at last. But the 1850’s once again brought tragic blow after blow. Her son John – who continued to call himself Holdsworth rather than Hardwick ; didn’t he get on with his father? – married and had a little girl in June 1852. Sadly, this little girl died the following March, and in November of that same year 1853 his wife died a week after giving birth to another baby girl, Elizabeth (who was my great-grandmother).

Mary’s husband Samuel (72) was killed in a dreadful accident, crushed by a horse and hay cart in August 1859. Nine years later, on 1 August 1868, Mary herself died aged 73 at Heath Common. Her son John was present and reported her death. The cause as stated on her death certificate is “Decay of nature”. She was buried in Heath on 3 August.

The entry in the parish register following Mary’s burial caught my eye. It says:

 “Man, unknown – found in a well in Heath – buried 14 August 1868.”

Those were hard times.

 

 

Shell pattern shawl

As the mother of three and grandmother of four lively kids, my daughter is never at a loss to find some kind of absorbing activity to distract a bored and wandering mind. That ability she also applies to me, so when I was casting around for something to occupy me while listening to podcasts in the evening during our recent holiday, she generously presented me with several skeins of a beautiful soft yarn, Drops Lace. A light, very fine mixture of baby alpaca and mulberry silk, in pale pink and violet, it felt like gossamer. I caressed and cuddled it for a while, wondering what it wanted to become, then took a small sized crochet needle and began to cast on.

I wasn’t sure what I was making, and after several rows of mesh it was clear it wasn’t working. I unravelled it and started again with the yarn doubled, one of each colour. I liked the colour effect but the small-sized crochet hook made the stitch fiddly and the mesh pattern was not at all satisfying. It kept me busy for a few hours, though, and unravelling the fine yarn was even more absorbing than the crocheting so my daughter was able to get on with her knitting in peace.

When I got back home again after the holiday, I fished out my unsatisfactory work and carefully undid it all yet again. The Internet (Jonna Martinez’s youtube tutorial at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vI4U53yFjuo) had revealed a stitch I thought might suit this delicate yarn, a variation on a shell stitch, softer and more feminine than the fishnet pattern, and as I had several kilometres of yarn I was hopeful that there might be enough to make a small shawl.  There was. And even some left over.

Another ingenious idea popped up here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i72FFsQyy74 on youtube. I love Kristin’s facial expressions as she demonstrates her method, she’s having such fun. I wish I had seen that before I spent so many hours winding up my little balls of yarn, as fine yarn tends to stick to itself and tie itself in knots. But maybe next time.

This time I used a size 4 hook instead of a size 2, which made the work easier. I had three skeins of pink and two of violet, so I used two pink threads to one violet for the main body of the work, then worked four rows of double-thread pink, followed by two pink threads and one violet. I realised I was now running out of pink so swapped to two of violet and one pink, then finally finished off with double-thread violet, which gave a nice shaded effect towards the edge.

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The pattern needs a bit of concentration at first, but isn’t really difficult and of course repetition makes it automatic after a while. For me, that’s dangerous as I then lose count and make silly mistakes, but I caught and remedied most of them. I console myself that in Islamic art, there’s always a deliberate mistake because only God can create perfection. Who’s going to notice, anyway? My shawl is far from perfect, but I think the yarn is happy in this form.

Kenavo, Breizh!

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It’s our last day here in Brittany. Tomorrow morning, we’ll close up the house, have a last look at the view, and wave goodbye till next time. Kenavo, Breizh! (which is Breton for au revoir, Bretagne!)

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The summer is officially over. The air was filled with shrill tweetings and twitterings as the swallows began assembling on the cables on Saturday, 1 September, having received the annual signal by whatever mysterious manner it’s conveyed to them, and are now clearly well on their way south.

Children, presumably also tweeting and twittering, returned to school this week, so the still sunny beaches are also now much quieter and calmer, as families are replaced by middle-aged ramblers, some of whom are following a section of St James’ Way to Santiago di Compostela which passes through here. IMG_2879.jpg

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The sky is still blue, the air mild, the sun bright. This is one region of Europe that has remained green during this year’s scorching summer, and although the hydrangea flowers are now fading and turning brown, they have been magnificent.

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Unable to resist the desire to record the ineffable beauty of the sun sinking into the sea, I have added many more photos to my already vast collection of marine sunsets (I bored you with some of these last October in my posts La Mer … Ar Mor and More of Ar Mor).

We’ve been busy, but have also had time to visit a very nice little Wool Fair in an inland village, that was worth the trip in itself,

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and my daughter has stripped the armchairs belonging to my father and mother down to their wooden skeletons, all ready to re-upholster sometime during her next visit,

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And I also managed to crochet a lap rug/shawl in soft blue wool that is perfect when the evenings grow chill. That is, of course, nothing in comparison with my daughter’s enormous pile of cardigans and sweaters that seems to increase overnight!

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IMG_2885Already subdued by the thought of departure, our mood is made more sombre by the sad news of the death of one of our neighbours, a kind and gentle lady who has struggled with ill health for a number of years, and recently seemed to be winning. Alas, she lost. And will be greatly missed. She and her husband have lived here for a very long time, and are very much a part of the fabric of the place. It’s a devastating blow for him; they have been a truly devoted couple.

Almost three decades ago, when we first came here, most of the houses in our little cul-de-sac were occupied by couples, some with children, others with grandchildren of much the same age, who banded together during the long French summer vacations for games on the beach or gatherings in each other’s houses. These children are now all adults, with their own families, and rarely meet up nowadays, taking their vacations elsewhere.

Those of us left, one by one, are all being defeated by advancing age. Widows and widowers where there were once happy marriages, their children or strangers taking over houses left empty. Our house, too, is following this trend, but in a cheerful, positive way: it now belongs to my daughter and continues to resound to the laughter and cries of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who are all equally attached to their Breton holiday home. Some of them will be here in the October half-tem break, as they were last year.

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But for my daughter and me, our summer holiday is over. The last load of washing is dry, rooms vacuumed, dusted and tidied, the outdoor furniture put away in the garage, and the car packed. Tomorrow, like the swallows, we will “fly” south. And hopefully return in the spring.

Time regained …

IMG_3243.jpgIt’s been a long time since my last post. I could offer excuses for my long silence, even valid reasons, but I doubt anyone is interested so I won’t. Among other things, I have been offline and searching for lost time.

I finished reading Proust’s masterpiece a couple of weeks ago, and although I skipped a few bits where his introspection got on my nerves (especially in the Albertine episodes), I have to say that on the whole I enjoyed it and I am very glad that I finally made the effort. I am feeling pleased and proud of myself for having persevered and achieved something worthwhile. It’s a good book!

Having reached the “Fin”, where the whole thing comes full circle and all the loose ends are tied up, I realized why I had so dismally failed with it first time around, and now I feel the need to go back to the beginning and read it all again. That’s one of the greatest compliments I can pay any author. I am also still looking for a complete set of the seven-tome novel at a reasonable price; some of the volumes were in a second-hand bookshop here, but at 12 € apiece, that is more than I am prepared to fork out for something that sits unread and dusty in so many French homes. I’m in France at present. I remain optimistic.

Proust’s theme of memory – voluntary and involuntary – has recurred, aptly enough, in my own life during these last few weeks. I have been spending time with my daughter in our Brittany home, where the pace is slow and time is governed by the tides.

img_2756.jpgWe have had some very sad moments, owing to the need to have my daughter’s lovely and very lovable little dog put to sleep. That isn’t something you want to have to do during your holidays, and obviously it has cast a pall over the last weeks. It also led to a time of sharing doggy memories and stories, as she had been part of our lives for over fourteen years and had caused a great deal of merriment and amusement in that time. Other pets came back to life for us, too, re-surfacing in old photos that I have been sorting through.

And not only pets: people also.

After we cleared out my mother’s house last year, we decided to keep some of her furniture and had it shipped to this house in Brittany, where it fits in very well. Also in the consignment were several boxes, bags and suitcases containing photos, letters and other papers that my mother had carefully preserved, some of them now over a century old, and since we have had a few dull days recently I took the opportunity of starting to go through these. What a revelation! And what memories were evoked – including some events that I had entirely forgotten, and others that my daughter was unaware of. All fitting in with my Proustian mood, of course.

My mother never threw away letters or cards. We had to get rid of hundreds of Christmas and birthday cards last year, but had kept some that we decided had sentimental merit for us, for instance, correspondence from my grandparents, all my twenty-first birthday cards, and the cards my parents sent each other with tender and humorous little messages in them. There are also documents relating to happenings in my parents’ youth that are interesting for our family history.

But Mom had also kept all my letters home throughout my years away at university and from when I was a young bride and mother in Germany. Since I am in this respect a chip off the old block, I had kept the letters from my parents to me over this same period, and at some point must have given them back to my mother for safekeeping (my ex-husband was the opposite: he trashed everything that he didn’t see an immediate use for, so my mother’s later letters have vanished).

Thus we have a dialogue covering the entire decade of the 1960’s, plus incidental commentaries on events in the seventies, eighties and nineties, although these are sparser because I don’t have my mother’s replies, and anyway by that time we spent more time talking on the phone than writing to one another so the narrative is interrupted.

How strange to find myself suddenly back in the persona of the young woman I inhabited more than fifty years ago, reliving all the stress, drama and agony as well as all the fun and happiness of my late teens and twenties! The world turns, times change, and so do we. In some ways, although I recollect most of the events and my feelings then, I have difficulty in identifying with that “me”.

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I have little sympathy for that young woman who irritates and annoys me. I don’t really like her and feel ashamed that I was so stupid, crass and egoistic. There are photos to go with the letters, and although I know it’s me, I feel she’s almost a stranger. I judge her very harshly, especially as I re-read my mother’s kind, sensible words and reflect on how fortunate I was to have such a wise and loving adviser – whilst at the time, I stubbornly pursued my own wilful ways. We alter gradually and imperceptibly, like everything else in nature.

Would I have acted differently if I had known how things were going to turn out? I look at my daughter – kind, loving, sensible and wise – and realise what a silly question that is. Change one moment, and everything goes out of kilter. No Things have turned out exactly as they were supposed to. I need to forgive that silly, heedless, selfish girl I used to be. Whoever I am now, she is part of me and I have to accept her. What would she have made of me, I wonder?

(Oh dear, in my daughter’s opinion, I haven’t really changed as much as I thought!)