#DailyWritingChallenge Day 16: Family

As I’ve alluded to before, my family have always been very important to me and without them and their support, I wonder whether I’d be the person I am today.

Today is also my youngest sister’s birthday. Our closest family would usually try to meet up somewhere over the Easter weekend: my parents; both my sisters and their families; me and my family. Either for a meal out at a restaurant, or a gathering at one of our homes. It’s certain that we won’t be the only family who will be doing things differently this year.

My wider family is interesting, but somewhat distant. My father is the third son of a man who sadly lost his first wife to cancer. He had two half brothers, both between ten and twenty years older than him and both are sadly deceased. I didn’t know them. There seems to be a shroud of secrecy around this side of my family, although I met some of them briefly at the eightieth birthday party of my father’s Aunt Dorothy and then sadly at her funeral, over ten years later. ‘Auntie Dorothy’ as my sisters and I called her, was the glue that held the family together. Every birthday and Christmas we would receive a present and card from her and we always wrote a thank you card or letter back to her, explaining why we really liked the present and sending our love and thanks. Auntie Dorothy lived quite modestly in a rented flat in the Black Country, within two miles of the places where the rest of her siblings lived, but she always went to the effort of remembering all of us.

Our Auntie Dorothy was an upbeat person, who always looked on the bright side of life. She never married and spent the majority of her life looking after her parents and other family members as they aged or became ill. Born in the early twentieth century, she lost several of her siblings in infancy and early childhood. I remember my dad telling me that she never wanted to see photographs of us asleep as children: she had seen too many ‘sleeping’ children in coffins. Auntie Dorothy was a talker; when you went to her home and accepted a cup of tea and a digestive (or rich tea) biscuit, you knew you were there for the long haul and would have the full update on the family members to whom you had never spoken. This characeristic was well-renowned, family-wide.

One of my Dad’s cousins, the son of one of Dorothy’s brothers, spent a long time researching the ‘Groucutt’ family tree and it was quite interesting. There is even a street named after our family in the Black Country, although I dread to think what conditions workers would have had to endure, as it seems a ancestor ran some kind of steel works in the area. I teeter between pride and also a sense of concern and shame for those who were likely to have been subjected to significantly worse working terms and conditions, than some of those we have today. It seems funny that my dad worked in just two steel works in the Black Country, for his whole working life.

The family of my dad’s mother moved to the Black Country from the south western countryside during the industrial revolution and my dad has discovered that some ofthe women were involved in nail-making; this was reputedly really hard work, for many hours and little pay. My paternal ‘Grandma’ was fortunate to work in a shop, where she met the grandfather I never met: a man who loved to play Chopin and who smoked a pipe. Maybe it was him from whom I inherited my love of lisetning to and playing music. This is something I really need to start doing agin more often!

My Dad loves music and is a child at heart; I think this is what keeps him young. He is always positive, but rational and realistic too. He is dependable and reliable, the way dads are supposed to be. His own father threw out his older two sons when they were eighteen to make their own way in the world. My dad lost his father to stomach cancer when he was seventeen, so his treatment was not as harsh, but I have the impression that his childhood was not all rosy, due to him being the child of a second marriage and I think he grew up quite isolated from many of his father’s family and did not fully understand the reasons for this. Similarly, I have no idea if he has managed to speak properly with these people since. My dad tells me he was out when he learned of his father’s death and he went to school in Stourbridge at the same time as Robert Plant was growing up. Having a night out disturbed by the news of your father’s passing must have been very strange, difficult and far from my realm of understanding, but maybe I am remembering the story incorrectly! I must ask him again, whilst I still can! Now, my dad is seventy-three and very active: he ran his first Parkrun three years ago. Some of his uncles lived until the age of ninety-six, so he has a marathon in him yet! He is an amazing Grandad to my and my sister’s children and he has done so much to help us.

My mother’s family is more of a mystery, we know her maternal grandparents were Irish and possibly her father’s parents too. However, her dad’s family were from Bethnal Green in East London and was a cobbler. My Uncles, Albert and George, remember visiting the family home in London in their teenage years. This is definitely something I would like to find out more about; were all of my mom’s family Irish? Were any Jewish? We just don’t know. She has cousins and relatives in London, Canada and a Greek Island, but I have never met any of them. Her father was is the Navy and had sea legs; my mom remembers a restless man who found it hard to sit down for a long time. In 1966, my mom was in her third year of teaching training college in Cardiff. Her father had been to the bank to deposit some money for my mom; when he arrived home he opened the front door, had a massive heart attack and died (or so the story goes). My mom couldn’t finish her course to be able toturn her training to a degree because she had to come home and find employment as a teacher.

My mother worked in Wolverhampton teaching Science for twelve years before she gave birth to me in 1979. Maybe that is why one of sisters is a gifted scientist, mathematician and is now a fantastic Paediatrician. Mom’s brothers were both twenty and fifteen years older than her, like my Dad’s. You see, both my parents are classed as Baby-Boomers, having been born in 1946 and 1947. However, they defy a lot of the stereotypes and both have a youthful and adventurous nature about them. My Uncle George moved away from the family home and until he passed away four years ago, married into one of the oldest families in the old mining community where I used to work as a teacher. It was a bit close I think – I knew everybody! Her other brother, Albert, was like a Grandfather to me.

Uncle Albert was an excellent footballer, swimmer and athlete, although he won no medals! He was a skilled forger and could fix any of your jewellery or watches if they were broken. He was an excellent gardener too and seemed able to cultivate anything he laid his hands on. Despite his home being run-down and dilapidated, I remember a grapevine growing through the window of his blazing hot verandah, tomato plants growing on the windowsill and their fruit ripening in brown paper bags in the sun. Clematis, roses, hydrangeas: vibrant colours of beaming flowers behind the overgrown grass. Apples, Victoria plums, raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries: there was always some weather-defying wonder in his crowded back garden.

Uncle Albert never married: he had had a girlfriend but sadly broke his leg in his early twenties, playing football for his factory team. Twenty seven operations later and they couldn’t fix his leg, so aged twenty-seven, he became an amputee: his life and his footballing days would never be the same again. I don’t think he ever swam again. I don’t know what happened to his girlfriend but he never married after that. When he died in 2007, after a brief battle with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, the bottle of champagne and box of chocolates they sent him in hospital after breaking his leg, all those years ago, were still under his bed. This is intensely sad and also makes him seem miserly and bitter; I doubt there was a day that passed when he wished he hadn’t broken his leg, but he was an amazing Uncle, always with a smile and a joke and would do anything he could to help my mom, my sisters and I.

My family is, to some, unorthodox. My partner is twenty-one years older than me, which makes for an eclectic music collection, if nothing else. It’s a good thing I like both punk, Rembetika, the New Romantics, as well as Mozart and pretty much anything. His family is interesting too: brought up in the streets on the docks of Hull, his mother met her first husband and the had five children together. His father was also twenty years his mother’s senior and arrived in England as a stowaway on a ship. He had run away from an arranged marriage in what was then India. Hull was always welcome to strangers. My partner’s father arrived in England before partition, but some of his family still live in a village in Pindi, Pakistan. My partner has never visited the members of his family or his father’s grave, both of which are there. Funny, isn’t it? Family.

Our friends or close working colleagues can be like family too. I have more in common with some of my friends than with my sisters and can tell them anything, even though I am very close with my sisters, due to our shared history and seeking alternative perspectives. At work too, we spend so much time in close proximity with our colleagues, that our school communities become like family and are close to our hearts. We have a need to feel trusted and are loyal to the cause and family unit. In my case, I have cared for, worried about and laughed with the children I teach and in my tutor group. I have cried for them and celebrated their success with them. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now, at a time when so many tragic personal stories are unfolding around us, the need for family and a collective sense of what makes us human, is needed more than ever. The Coronavirus may be separating us in person but many of us are united by a family heart and the desire to keep each other safe.

Finally , this is very true of the group writing the #DailyWritingChallenge. Values are important to all of us and our world family will emerge changed but stronger than before.

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