As you probably know, it was Valentine’s day on Monday. If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll probably understand the level of excitement I felt realising that the next one I will be a married lady! Me, the one who had a blog reader who used to refer to me as ‘Bridget’. Hell, I used to refer to me as Bridget. (Until she ruined it, and got married, and could no longer be my role model). My engagement ring is from the 1920’s or 30’s and I spend a fair amount of time wondering how it’s previous owner lived and what her life was like. I love escaping down little historic wormholes…
Back in the present time, yesterday was a looking after Mum day and I was met with the announcement that she has started knitting a cardigan again – something she used to practically do in her sleep but since her stroke is now more like following directions to build a space ship while tying soggy spaghetti together. We spent a long time talking the pattern though, explaining where she was on the picture, talking about the fact that no, it wasn’t too big and yes, she was following the right sizing…and she was only fifteen rows in.
After some fun and games looking after Mum last week, Dad had left out a bag of old family photos for us to look through to entertain us and keep the peace, so after setting Mum off on the next steps (‘ten more rows, exactly the same’), I took out the photos and while Mums needles clack-clacked, I drifted….
It might have been helped by the fact that for our Valentines evening I’d treated us to dinner on the Golden Arrow – a stream train made up of restored Pullman carriages – so the night before we’d been in the first class ‘Fingall’ carriage, originally built in 1924 and while the train chuff-chuffed it’s way through the Sussex darkness, we were served food in stunning surroundings with the whiff of steam making its way in through the window, transporting us back in time.
We wondered what people who had sat there ninety odd years ago would have talked about, thought about. Whether those with the means to travel first class would have day to day worries or whether conversation would have been about the ‘frills’ – dinner parties and hunting. I realised about then that my limited insights into the possibilities had mostly been brought to me by Downtown Abbey…
So looking through the photos with Mum it was slightly spooky to find this photo:
It’s my great grandmother who was born in 1900. She would not have been from the same class as those people who travelled first class on the steam trains of the era, but she had a hell of a life. I knew her as she outlived all my grandparents and made it to around 98 when I was in my teens. (I say around 98 as there was some confusion over her actual birthday. She was a woman who created a lot of confusion in her life based on some of the documents I’ve started to pull together!).
Anyway, Nina, or ‘Nin’ as I knew her (or ‘Maude’ according to her passport 😬) was clearly beautiful, so perhaps it’s no surprise that men featured a lot in her life.
This photo had writing on the back:
‘I said goodbye, 1917 Clapham Junction England
Met again Sunday April 14th, 1963, Easter Sunday at Uplands Ottawa airport
After 46 years’
In with the photos was Nins’ passport, stamped as passing her medical and immigration to enter Canada on 14th April 1963.
The story goes that in World War 1 Nin met ‘The Canadian’ – one of the troops sent over to England. Aged 17 she had apparently waved him off as he went back to his life in Canada and got on with her life here in the UK. She married a few years later, and when he died, she married again. When her second husband died (and there is a whole heap of stories within those two marriages), she emigrated to meet up with the Canadian soldier and ultimately married him.
Just as a side note, when he died, his brother proposed…. but Nin came back to England. Clearly even she had some limits!
Nin would have just started her first marriage when the train I sat on for Valentine’s evening started ferrying passengers around the country. She wouldn’t have had the means to travel like that, but if she had, I wonder if her thoughts would have been filled with the excitement and new-ness of her first marriage, or the longing for her Canadian soldier.
We’ll never know. But there are more photos and some more documents Dad has found and I’m going to try to put some meat on the bones of her story. Sometimes we get caught up in the now, don’t we? And it’s easy to forget that all the things we’re going through – good and bad – have been experienced and survived by generations before us. And those things shouldn’t be forgotten; they should be remembered, celebrated, and smiled about.
And yes, that does say ‘pyrotecknist’. She worked in a fireworks factory from the age of 14. Of course she did. :o)
Another fun read! Thank you for inspiring the rest of us to revisit family photos!
Thank you for taking the time to read it. My top tip is to revisit and make notes – there’s only my Dad left of that side of the family now so a lot of stories and details are lost, but we’re going to pull together as much as we can while things aren’t fuzzy for him!
What a beautiful story. Nin sounded like such a courageous and energetic woman. Thank you for sharing this story.
She certainly knew how to live life! Thank you for taking the time to read it :)