Today I am excited to be posting the fourth of the Guest Blogs that I’ll be sharing in the run up to the release of Listening to our Grandmothers in September. For the guest blogs I have asked a number of wonderful women to reflect on their experiences of Grandmothers or elder women in their lives. This post, about Kathleen her maternal Grandmother ,is by Beverley Glick. Beverley has been telling stories for a living for more than 30 years- first as a music journalist and pop magazine editor, then as a national
newspaper superwoman and now helps individuals and business owners dig for the personal stories that will change their lives and change the world. Beverley and I are working together to launch The Story Party later this year.
Who were you, Kathleen? What were your fondest hopes, your most cherished dreams? How did life treat you? Did it unfold as you wished?
I’ve often pondered these questions, especially when looking at the only photograph I possess of my maternal grandmother. It was taken at my parents’ wedding in 1949 – a formal portrait of both sets of grandparents standing behind the newlyweds. Their expressions do not convey the joy of the occasion:
Kathleen looks stern, stony-faced and much older than her 49 years. There’s a slightly haunted look in her eyes that has always saddened me. But perhaps that’s because I know how her story ended. Less than two years after that photograph was taken, her life was cut short by a brain tumour that was discovered just two weeks before she died. Shortly afterwards my parents moved to London, lugging a suitcase full of grief and leaving most of their relatives behind in Swansea.
Even at 86, my mum is still angry about what happened to her mother. She has told me many times that Kathleen was an intelligent woman who married beneath her, who could have done so much better for herself, who might have lived longer had her life been less arduous.
Kathleen was born in Deptford, south-east London, in 1900, firstborn of Edwin, a glass bottle packer, and his wife Sophia. She met my Welsh grandfather, Bert, while they were both working at the munitions factory in Woolwich Arsenal during the latter years of the First World War. By all accounts he was a bit of a charmer and persuaded Kathleen to marry him, leaving her nearest and dearest behind to move to South Wales in 1920.
According to my mother, Kathleen lived a life of unrelenting domestic drudgery, raising five children almost single-handedly on a bare minimum of housekeeping money while Bert went to work – and the pub. Like many breadwinners of his generation, he rarely lifted a finger to help.