We’ve now had a whole week of the Family History Writing Challenge. How is it so far? Well I have stuck to my pledge to write at least 250 words and am moving rapidly towards my first 2000 words. I quickly realised that my original idea of doing an A-Z was not going to work for this, as I got too deeply into my first story. So instead I am going to focus on covering the lives of two or three key women in much more detail and from different perspectives. I still like the A-Z idea – maybe I’ll make it a series on this blog – but not for this challenge.
I’m planning to finish my first version of Alice’s story over the weekend – I will post it here. Then I am going to attempt a “fictional” version from her perspective so that I can explore the emotional side more closely.
But today I am taking a break from Alice. The prompt from the Family History Writing Challenge today asks us to think about someone we regret not talking to more when they were still alive. For me this was my grandmother, Alice’s niece, Margaret Evelyn Campbell Brodie.
She lived in the same house as we did from the time I was a small child, occupying one half of the big Georgian terrace that my grandparents had bought, while we lived in the other, let to my parents for a peppercorn rent. My grandfather died in my first year of university and my grandmother became increasingly frail. She clung to routine, needing her meals at set times, so on vacations at home I would go downstairs to have afternoon tea with her at 4pm prompt, to allow my mother (her main carer) the chance to have more than a few hours out of the house.
Physically frail she may have been, but her memories were in tact and we did occasionally talk about her family, prompted by the Brodie silhouettes that hung over her fireplace, or a letter she had received from one of the cousins. Once she wrote out a fragment of her family tree on a scrap of paper, a treasure I still have which helped me get started on my genealogical journey.
But I didn’t appreciate the opportunity I had to really listen to Grannie and get to know her. I wish I had asked her about her family, about what she knew of her father and mother and their fathers and mothers, and of the mysterious Henrietta Campbell, whose name she still carried. I wish I had asked about her experiences as a young woman in the First War and whether she really did design dazzle camouflage for battleships; about her art and her writing; about why she went to Canada to teach in the 1920s and what it was like to make that journey alone. I wish I had asked her about how she met my grandfather, about their life together and the love they shared; about how she had felt living through a second war, this time with her own daughter to worry about. I wish I had asked her about the books she had read, the places she had been, the people she had known, the events she remembered.
But I didn’t. I was young, impatient and full of my own interests and so I let slip through my fingers the opportunity to truly get to know this remarkable woman, who was my grandmother.
An important lesson learned the hard way. If you have older relatives, take time to call them or visit. Talk to them. While you can.