Monday, December 14, 2009

Remembering Martha




REMEMBERING MARTHA

digital collage created on my iphone


I will not wish you riches
Or the glow of greatness
But that where so e're you go,
Some weary heart may gladden at your smile
Some weary life know sunshine
For a while

The above little poem used to hang in a frame, by the door that led into the kitchen of my nan and grandad's house in the Black Country town of Smethwick. Nan was a Smethwick woman, born and bred, but the statement in her father's newspaper obituary, that he was "from an old Smethwick family" was part of the fiction that dear nan liked to present to the world: one of established respectability and belonging. Nan's father, George Neal, had grown up in rural Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, migrating to Aston in Birmingham at the end if the nineteenth century, to work on the trams. Nan's mother, Elizabeth Handy, was widowed- George's second wife and, by all accounts, as large-hearted as she was large-framed. She capably raised her husband's three infants as her own and bore him a further ten. Nan was deeply loved by her parents and although an iron-willed grandmother for whom "no" meant "no", she was firmly against the physical punishment of children,saying: "life'll give them enough knocks as it is." As I sit in my bed, recovering from flu, I recall that several of my grandmother's siblings perished in the 1918 Flu pandemic. These tragedies effected the family deeply but their motto was "there's always someone worse off than yourself" and Nan would remind me of this, whenever I began to feel sorry for myself during the tempestuous teenage years that I spent living with her and Grandad.
My great grandfather was a Special Policeman and an active member of the "Sally Army": a Salvationist. My great grandmother was the daughter of a Romany Gypsy who had married a Gorgi and become a house-dweller. Family friends remembered Nan's parents as as "the sweetest, kindest people you could ever wish to meet": one recalling how, as a child, he and his friends had taken flight from a policeman, during a game of "kick the can" in the street. The boys ran down a narrow "entry" that ran between the Victorian, red-bricked terraced houses of Trafalger Road, Smethwick, into the back yard of my great grandparents' house, through the kitchen, the parlour, and then, the hallowed front room, where Nan's family were seated, having dinner together. By all accounts, the Neals smiled serenely as the children ran past them, persued by the policeman, my great grandfather cheerily commenting "hallo there!" as the noisy group disappeared out of the front door.
If Nan knew that she was the granddaughter of a Gypsy, she certainly never let on: it wouldn't have fitted the image of respectable, middle-class shop keeper that she cultivated. Following her bankruptsy, my grandparents moved to a house that was in need of renovations that never happened, due too lack of funds, but everyone remembers how "your grannie always liked everything to be just-so" and as the little image posted above began to evolve on my iPhone, I was guided by memories of the front room in her home: everything immaculately dusted and polished; starched anti-maccassers on the backs of the chairs, lace on the dining table and hanging inside the draughty, rattling, sash windows: filtering smelly, grey Smethwick light, transforming windowsill vases of plastic flowers into something fragile and magical. Never since my childhood have I seen flowers like those in my Nan's house. Were there really giant blue plastic Poppies and Dephiniums, pink and amber Daliahs? Or did I merely dream them? No, they were real, because I can remember Nan taking them from their vases to decorate Easter bonnets for my sister and I to wear for a fancy dress contest at school and somewhere, I have a slide that my father took that day.
These memories never cease to break my heart. Lovely, complicated, infuriating Nan: you didn't approve of me being an artist, you thought I had the brains to do a job that would provide the money for a far more comfortable lifestyle. If you were around now, you'd be telling me to buck myself up, get out of bed, mop the floors and do the Hoovering. Oh Nan, how I miss you!


14 comments:

Sapphire Dakini said...

What a great story!

Lawendula said...

Simply lovely, darling! I like family-stories, can’t get enough of them.
The Spanish flu- strange, first a bloody war, and for those who have survived that, here comes the „Spanish lady“. Dreadful times! I think it was Doris Lessing, who wrote that World War I took most of the wonderful young men and Britain will never recover from this...

Limar said...

What a great story and your art is a beautiful celebration of your nanny. But then, your art is always beautiful :)

La Dolce Vita said...

what a wonderful post Lumi, you may miss her, but I am glad you are in bed! NO HOOVERING! rest up for creating all that fabulous art you make!! xoxox

Lori Saul said...

Beautiful vibrant art piece and what a wonderful story- thank your for sharing this lovely tribute- hope you get better soon and Happy Holidays!

Tumble Fish Studio said...

Oh, I think your Nan, knowing what she does now from the other side of things would encourage you to follow your heart and do what you are compelled to do. They say all you can take with you is love and I am sure that is what she would communicate to you now.
Hope you are feeling better! Flus have been everywhere and in everybody this year, except me I think, knock on wood. Get lots of rest and leave the hoovering!
I am shamefully behind on blog visits again, but wanted to drop by and leave some very big wishes for a very blessed and blissful Christmas and Holiday Season, Lumi. I'm so glad 2009 brought you to me!
marsha

Jo Archer said...

What a lovely tribute to your nan! Had no idea you'd done this when I put the one of my GG grandma today. Karma! Thanks for your offer of help, I'll let you know if I get stuck.

Erin said...

You stun and amaze me.

Sorry I went MIA....I'm here and I'm watching you...hah.

xo

Anonymous said...

Inspiring and Magical...!!!

Gaz-Gogs.

lynda Howells said...

love your work.lynda

Gaby Bee said...

What a wonderful story! Love your work.
Wanted to send along some wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Kimmie said...

what an amazing story - it's complex and simple at the same time .....

I wish you a sweet Christmas - one filled with unexpected peace AND joy .....

Hugs, Kimmie

Alberta said...

What lovely memories, Nettie! I wish I had known your Nan; I think that,, thouh you chose a path she didn't exactly understand, she would be quite proud of you now. I can hardly express how happy I am that we met this year, but I want you to know that you are one the bright spots in my day, and I wish you much love and joy this Christmas. Take care and ABSOLUTELY no Hoovering!

Love,
Kathy

Seth said...

Such a fascinating history and set of memories. Happy holidays!!