Friday, 18 October 2013

Looking At My Past - An Inspirational Woman

Looking at my five children, I so often see familiar expressions and resemblances between them.  Since the birth of my grandson and my great nephew, this recognition of family traits has become even more poignant.  I look at the two new additions, a whole new branch to our family tree and I am overwhelmed by the sense of belonging and kinship, knowing that the genes we share dictate who we are and how we look.

I think it is probably due to this that I have started to look retrospectively back into my own past.  Discovering photographs that depict the people who came before me, with whom I share a bloodline.  It is an amazing feeling to study the faces of long dead relatives to see traits of myself and my children. Each of these relatives has a story to tell and I intend to document as much of their lives as I can so in the future their memories will be preserved for the generations that come after me.

Hearing the stories that my own parents remember has given the photographs so much more meaning and I am able to feel a strong connection to my past. I feel more real than I have ever felt before, knowing that my roots run deep and strong into my family's history.  This is where I came from.  These are the people that I honour with my very existence.  

Eliza Jones nee Cole

My paternal grandmother.

I remember Nan Jones, the strong woman with the Black Country accent.  We used to visit her home in Birmingham when I was a child.  It was in Mushroom Hall Road...a place that sounded like something out of a fairy story. We didn't visit much because back then, Birmingham seemed a very long way away from our home in Slough.  We didn't have a car for years and then when my dad did start driving there was no motorway like there is now.  But I do remember those occasional trips.

I remember her big pantry, her metal nutcracker shaped like a dog, her outdoor toilet and the sterilised milk she drank in her tea.  She used to sing, in a loud, operatic voice that everyone stopped in their tracks to listen to. She had a fiery relationship with my Grandad.  There was lots of dramatic shouting, but also a very deep love.  She was registered blind and fundraised for the Guide Dogs for the Blind charity.  A silver guide dog model that she had been presented for service to the charity took pride of place in her living room.  

She died on this day 29 years ago.

But there was so much more to my Nan.  She was an amazing woman who lived her life for others.  If there was a birth or a death it was Eliza who was summoned to help.  If people needed food she would feed them.  She became the carer to her brother Jack to keep him out of an institution and he lived with her and my Grandad until the day he died. She was a fiercely protective mother who never let her family go short even in the era of wartime austerity.  She worked hard and was a proud woman with inner strength and dignity and a heart of gold.

Sadly she suffered a devastating loss in her life.

Eliza had two sons born before my dad, James and John.  This photo was taken in about 1930 of my Nan and her twin boys.  It is devastating to know that both boys died at 11 months old, four days apart.  They said that the first twin died due to complications of teething and the second twin died four days later from a broken heart. We'll never know the real causes of death, but whatever it was it cruelly took the lives of the boys who could have been my uncles and my Dad's older brothers. It's hard to imagine what she must have gone through losing not one but two seemingly healthy and robust children within days of each other. This picture is the only one of Eliza and her sons and is a precious piece of my family history. It is battered and worn but thanks to the computer I have managed to salvage the image as best I can so John and James won't be forgotten.

Hop picking was a big part of life in the Black Country.  They would do it every year, the family turning out together to pick the hops for the breweries.  In this picture, Eliza is with her mum Granny Polly a woman who was known for being tyrannical and formidable. Everyone was scared of her.  She dressed all in black and wore her long hair in a thick plait that snaked down her back. She appears in a few of the photos I have unearthed and she always looks really scary.  But her cheekbones look like mine.  It's odd to see my bone structure looking back at me in photos that date back to the early part of the last century.

Black country, hop picking

I remember going hop picking with my Dad and Nan one year when I was a little girl.  I got shouted at for picking flowers from a pub garden...whoops!  Nan made us fried bacon butties and I'll never forget just how crispy she made her bacon.  Apparently she dreamed of running her own cafe and was renowned for her cooking.  I only remember the bacon.

My eldest daughter's middle name is Eliza, in honour of the great grandmother she never met.  I think Megan also has a lot of my Nan's spark and drive.  Like her, she is a strong, proud woman full of character who is fiercely loyal and extremely proud.  A wonderful legacy in flesh and blood.


I am so pleased that someone took all these photos and that my family have taken care of them across the years.  They are telling me so much about my past and about the family members and their lives.  I feel so blessed to have this window to the past!


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