Apologies in advance, this is rather long and not very wicked but oddly feels very intimate to me.
Today is International Woman’s Day. My Twitter timeline has been full of people celebrating women from all walks of life but the vast majority have been about significant women of history. I have seen mention of Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Anais Nin, Frida Kahlo and many many more. They are all inspirational women for sure, women to be celebrated and talked about for their contributions to society and their impact on generations of women. However for me the women in my life who have really shaped the person I am today are not famous, they are just what many would call ordinary everyday women but to me, they are way more than that.
My Grandmother (my Mothers mother)
Born in 1928 in the Eastend of London she was the eldest of 5. Her only sister died of TB in her teens and one of her brothers died at 11 of what was then called wasting disease which left just her and two brothers. They moved down to the Sussex coast when she was fairly young. I know nothing about her Father and as far as I know she never had contact with him again. As a child she had measles but recovered, however it damaged her sight, which went unnoticed for many years until a school teacher lambasted her for not being able to tell the time and she told her that she could tell the time she just couldn’t see the clock from that far away. Her sight continued to deteriorate throughout her life and in her late teens she suffered from double detached retina. She did eventually have surgery but that surgery further damaged one of her optic nerves leaving her partially sighted. She wore, what one used to refer to as, jam jar glasses all her life. Most people assumed she was short-sighted but the truth of the matter was that her sight was minimal but she learned to adapt, using her hands to replace her lost vision in such a way that most people had absolutely no idea how bad her sight was.
She left school at 12 and went into service at ‘the big house’ in the village. In that day and age it was a good job and she was actually paid well for her work. As result, unlike most of her peers, she did not get married until she was in her twenties and even then continued to work until having her first child at 25. My Mother was born at the end of the Second World War when she was 28. (For the record my Grandfather was one of the few men rejected for military service during the war as he had advanced farming skills for the time and so was given an exception)
My Grandmother was a remarkable woman in so many ways. She was possibly the kindest gentlest soul I have ever had the experience of spending time with. She was funny, in fact she had a slightly wicked impish streak to her, and despite her dismal lack of formal education she was very bright. Her handwriting was a victim of her sight and her spelling whilst often incorrect showed that she was no dummy as her errors were often phonetically correct. She was also a very good artist, painting amazing pictures often relying on her memory of how a place looked to her when her sight had not been so poor. She tended a garden that was quite frankly one of the most beautiful I have even seen in my life, kept chickens (wringing their necks when required) and nurtured not just her own family but a whole small rural community. She was a loving wife, dedicated to her husband and nursed him tirelessly during the final years of his life when he had emphysema and lung cancer. Refusing to allow him to be taken to the hospital but instead respecting his wishes to die at home with her by his side. She was a loving Mother and a wonderful Grandmother. She taught me how to bake, how to skin a rabbit, how to pluck & gut pheasant, how to make Jam, but most of all she taught me what it meant to be a peaceful, gentle, loving person. She died suddenly in her early 70’s (when I was 21) and I still miss her to this day. I named my daughter after her.
She often says of herself that she does not come from working class stock but that she comes from peasant class stock. Post war rural lives where tough but I refer you back to my Grandmother because my Mother was bought up in a loving nurturing environment by a strong capable woman. My mother failed her 11+ exams but that didn’t stop her and after securing herself a whole host of top grade O’levels transferred to the Grammar school to sit her A’levels. She then did something that pretty much no other girl in her village had done before. She left home and went to Brighton University where she studied dress design and from there onto London and a good job with a fairly prestigious design house. Her peasant class status had not held her back. She met my Father (a longish story, maybe for another time) he is older than her (maybe that is where I get it from) and they eventually got married and bought a house together in Kentish Town, which was nothing like it’s now gentrified self. It was the house I grew up in and they still live there to this day.
My Mother endured the pain of multiple miscarriages before finally having me. What she didn’t know then was that there had probably been a reason for these miscarriages and that reason was locked away inside me and would slowly manifest itself throughout my early childhood resulting in a fragile sickly child and her being labelled by doctors as neurotic. Eventually, once I got sick enough, that changed and when I was 6 I had my spleen removed as a cure to my condition. My Father is not good with sickness and hates hospitals and so my Mother took on pretty much all of my care. I was in hospital for extended periods of time and she never left my side, sleeping in a tiny little put you up bed that the hospital found for her (this was in the days before parent sleeping spaces in hospitals existed) After my surgery I was a changed child, I started to grow and the constant round of illnesses pretty much vanish but I am fairly sure the effect of staring her own child’s death in the face remained with my Mother for many years and as a result she was often over protective of me. This is not a criticism of her at all, I understand why she was the way she was. I can’t image what it must have been like to come so close to losing the one child she had finally managed to have and her desire to keep me safe came from a place of deep profound love.
My Mother is fiercely independent to the point of stubbornness at times. She is definitely the strong capable one of my parents (this is not a negative statement about my Father) like her Mother before her she is an exceptional cook and talented gardener. She is a dedicated lifelong learner who set about making a whole new career for herself in her 40’s that eventually saw her teaching at a University. Even now in her early 70’s she continues to study and has for the last few years been going to a weekly French class. Her strong belief in the power of learning and never giving up is one that has most definitely rubbed off on me. She is also a voracious reader. My childhood was surrounded with books and I have fond memories of hours spent in both the local book shop and library with her when I was young.
My Mother and I have at times had a fractious and tense relationship. I have come to learn that is often the way with Mothers and daughters but after some particularly turbulent years we have finally reconnected in a way that makes me very happy. I am an only child, my parents and I have wonderful happy shared memories. They are hugely important people in my life and have shaped the person that I am today but my Mother is the woman who raised me to be the woman who I am and I love her very much.
And so we arrive at the future for that is what she is. She carries forth not just snippets of all our genes but also and maybe most importantly of all those precious intangible things that are passed from Mother to daughter, combining us together in one unique remarkable human being.
I count myself lucky in the children stakes having managed to produce one of each variety and I am hugely proud of both of them but for the purpose of this post I am focusing on my daughter.
When I was pregnant the first time I was delighted to learn that I was having a son, when almost 4 years later I got pregnant again I really was not bothered about the gender of my child until the moment they told me it was a girl because all of a sudden it just felt absolutely right that that was what she was; my daughter. She emerged into my life rather early, a tiny little bundle of life, who right from the get go refused to be held back by the disadvantages that a premature birth was supposed to have dealt her. I was told that it would take at least 5 years for her to catch up with her full term peers and even then she may continue to be behind. Just writing that makes me laugh. Clearly they had no idea who they were dealing with. She was a little late to walk and talk but apart from that, and her tiny stature she ignored those warning. At 4 and half I taught her to read, it took me 3 weeks to cover the basics and she reading short novels independently by 5. She could do simple Maths problems by then too. By 8 she had a reading age of 14 (the highest the test they gave her assessed for) like her Mother and Grandmother she is a voracious reader. In fact she puts me to shame, as she reads at speed and can easily get through half a dozen book for every one that I manage.
She is 12 now, soon to be 13 and every day she delights and amazes me (whilst also driving me nuts) Like her Great Grandmother, whose name she bears, she is a kind, gentle, loving soul and like her Grandmother she is independent, strong and has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. She is inquisitive, articulate, thoughtful and funny. She is highly observant; sometime to the point of being nosey (apparently she gets this from me) Lots of people say she is just like me but the funny thing is, she is rather like the woman I am now, but nothing like the child I was. I was shy, timid and quiet. She has her moments of being shy but mainly she is bold, brave and utterly determined; if those things have come from me then all well and good. I have no idea what the future holds for the beautiful creature that is my daughter but I have a feeling that whatever it is she will stamp her remarkable self all over it.
So there you have it, these women are not famous, but to me they are my heroes who are powerful forces of inspiration and love that have nurtured me from birth to my current ripe old age of 43 and yes I include my daughter in that too because although I am her Mother she is just as much of a key female figure in my life as the other two are. I am aware not everyone has the benefits of relationships like this and I am very privileged in that regard. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am very lucky and deeply blessed to be part of this amazing group of women and today on International Women’s Day I honour them because without them I am fairly sure my life would not be what it is today.
I wish I had an image of myself with my Mother and daughter but sadly I do not. However writing this has made me realise that I need to rectify that oversight at the next available opportunity so watch out Mum, I know how much you hate having you photo taken but I am coming for you. In the meantime I offer you Me and mini.