A long life……… and a life fulfilled
My first memory of anything is of lying in a cot with a mosquito net over it. Through the gauze of the screen there is the shadowy figure of a woman leaning down over me with one hand extended to part the screen. It is a vague memory indeed but certainly strongly linked with a hot humid place and the sea. Quite why I will never discover but I have always associated this hazy memory not with my mother but with Gran Dealy.
Gran Dealy visited Mexico just twice in her long life. Once when she came to visit family in the late 1920's again in the 1930's sometime shortly after I was born. I guess that my first memory came from that second and last visit of hers and possibly when the family had gone to either Tampico or Veracruz where she took ship to return for the last time to the UK.
I did not see Gran Dealy again until the spring of 1952 some 17 years later and in very different circumstances after the Second World War and in England.
Her link with “family” in Mexico came of course through her younger brother Sydney William Ough who had left his job in 1919 at The Arsenal in Woolwich London after the First World War to return to Mexico and continue work in the silver mining industry of Pachuca.
How it was that Gran Dealy took a trip to Mexico to live there for a time is an interesting story that my mother tells in detail in another chapter. After her long sojourn in Hong Kong and Australia and the death of her two sons in the war she had returned to England with husband Thomas and daughter Margaret to live briefly in Torquay with her own parents before going to live in France. Whilst in England she re-established contacts with her four sisters and two brothers including Sydney William whose own family was also living in Torquay. It was then that my mother Margaret and my father Walter (Sydney's youngest son) first met as cousins.
At any rate, the years 1919-24 were yet another period of family dispersal and change. The Dealy's left for Grenoble, Sydney William went on his own to Mexico to be joined 4 years later by his own family, in1924. In the same year Gran Dealy lost her husband in Grenoble and later returned to England to live as a relatively well off widow with her young daughter Margaret in London and later in Hasting. During the years in France and afterwards, Gran and Margaret spent holidays with the relatives in Torquay. Later in 1928 Margaret was invited by her Uncle Sydney William and Aunt Florence to stay with them in Mexico. Gran Dealy stayed on in Hastings for a time but when Margaret and Walter became engaged she too went to Mexico and lived with Margaret in a rented flat in Mexico City until Margaret and Walter were married in 1931. Gran returned to England shortly after but then returned again in 1934 not long after (check the dates) I was born.
Although it was seventeen years or so before I really met Gran Dealy for the first meaningful time, there were many things she had left behind in Mexico that I associated with her during my boyhood. Probably foremost of these, at least in my memory were her painting stool and the paraphernalia she had left associated with watercolour painting. The stool itself was a strange contraption. It was made of metal, and folded down in some ingenious way into a flat, very portable parcel. Painted black it always puzzled me how such an apparently flimsy thing could sustain the weight of a person, even one as slight as Gran Dealy, and still provide a stable, secure platform.
She had also left behind an easel and paint brushes. These, like the stool, have long since disappeared, but my memory of them is strong, especially as items I was “not to touch”.
I am not sure just how much painting she did during her two stays in Mexico but I guess it was not much as little if any of such work appears to have survived. That is a pity as she was a very good professional artist and produced much in the way of landscapes and rural scenes of the many places she saw especially in France and Hong Kong as well as portraits for which she justifiably had a high reputation. Many of her miniature portraits are exquisite pieces of art and apparently very good likenesses of the individuals who sat for her.
I suppose that by the time she finally returned to England at the age of 63 her ability and urge to paint had waned because of the increasing arthritis in her hands. One of the last things she did to my knowledge was to produce the “Tale of the Curious Cat”. This was a collection of pencil sketches and water colours that she had produced during her travels in earlier years to which she added pictures of a cat to tell a tale of its wonderings around the world as a story for children. That tale is still in the family and copies have been passed on to my own grand children. But it is obvious that Gran had difficulty in drawing the cat as the quality of the pictures of the animal is nothing like as good as that of those to which it has been added to make the collection and the story. The increasing disability caused by arthritis must have been hard for Gran Dealy to bear. Painting clearly was a source of inspiration and satisfaction for her particularly in her youth and married life. It had also to be a consolation, especially in her later years of increasing solitude and loneliness.
Once the war had started in 1939, England was somehow brought closer. There were two agents that gave this impression. The first was the radio. Dad, like all English expatriates in the Pachuca colony was greatly worried not only with what was happening generally in a world increasingly fraught by the spreading violence, but also by concerns over what was happening “at home”. At the outset he had developed the habit of listening to the news broadcasts of the BBC and would sit in his old wooden armchair glued to the radio in the sala almost every evening just after he had got back from work and before tea. The regular news broadcast must have been at about 5 in the afternoon as it always seemed to precede the meal. This became a sacrosanct period during which no one was allowed to make a noise until the broadcast was over. I can still remember the old man shushing the family when he was having a hard time tuning into the short wave BBC broadcast the quality hampered by static an the constant fading of the signal.
Dad and Mum still had many close relatives in England at that time so their worries were both general and personal. Arthur Ough (Dad's uncle and Gran Dealy's eldest brother), his wife Annie and all their children Norman, Bernard and Joan were all in England. Most exposed to danger was Norman who lived in Charing Cross Rd in London and Joan was living somewhere else in the capital….on a river house boat I think. Then here were Gran's sisters… She was living with Marion in Ottery St Mary in Devon, Amy the youngest was in Hastings with her husband, and Eleanor, the eldest sister was in Streatham also close to the areas under threat in London.
As the war progressed, several of the younger members of the British (and later the American) colonies in Pachuca left to join up. One was a close friend of the family. Jack Dwelly who joined the RAF was assigned to bomber command and lost his life over Germany in 1943. Another was John Sever who joined the submarine service and somehow survived the whole war. Yet another was our American neighbour's son Jimmy Neelon who joined the American Forces and was wounded in France late in the war
Dad must have been in a quandary at the time….he was 30 at the start of the war but with a young family and barely into a new job. Having survived the hard times of the Depression the security of the new post with the Real del Monte y Pachuca Company was of great importance to survival in hard times. Being too young to have served in the first war and almost too old to volunteer for the second he had a sharp dilemma to resolve, especially as he regarded himself as a loyal British subject and must have strongly felt the call of duty. In the end he went to the British Embassy in 1940 and asked them for advice. This was to stay put….England was not at that stage calling up men of his generation and circumstances and he was told that it would be more effective for him to stay put and do what he could to support the war effort from Mexico. And so that is what he did, and as the years went by he of course became older and so less desirable for the call up.
Dad and Mum became much involved in supporting and sometimes initiating activities in Pachuca to raise money for war effort. They also sent food parcels to family members in England. The fund raising activities included amateur plays, dances. Dad used to play the drums to accompany Francisco Gil a local lawyer who played the piano. These two aspiring musicians provided the music for the plays and the dances. Empire Day also was used for fund raising activities. The “Fellowship of the Bellows” was the organisation through which funds raised were channelled and members were entitled to wear lapel buttons of various colours to indicate the degree of success.
All these activities were the subject of conversation within the family and constant reminders of England and what was happening “at home”. Contact with specific members of family in England relied heavily on the mail and the service was spasmodic at best. There were no cheap readily available long distance telephone calls or e-mail in those days and most mail went by sea taking at best four weeks but often more, to travel from Pachuca to England, generally via the States. A reply took as much time again. Much of the mail was lost, especially during the early and middle years of the war when the Battle of the Atlantic was at its height and much shipping was lost. So it was that there were long periods when no news came from England, adding to the general worries about the safety of Gran Dealy and all the other relatives still there.
It was a strange business for me as a growing youngster, increasingly aware of affairs and things beyond the home especially of England because of the regular ritual of listening to the BBC News on short wave and the activities to support the allied effort. Yet I found it difficult to picture the place, or the events affecting people and even more so to relate to these distant relatives. Gran Dealy was someone who lived in Devon, a place I found hard to imagine, especially as I had never experienced the lush green of the county let alone the history and orderliness of “home”. Gran Dealy was someone who looked like the pictures in my mother's photo album, but remained ethereal. Even more unreal and distant were the other relatives who remained for me really just names.
I met Gran Dealy properly for the first time in March 1952 six years after the end of the War. At the time she had moved to Sidmouth in Devon and was living in a bed and breakfast holiday establishment run by a Mr. and Mrs. Channon. Mrs Channon generally accepted guests only during the summer months and most came from the middle and northern counties. Her guest house or B&B was at 5 May Terrace near the Church and the town gardens.
Evidently Gran after returning from Mexico had lived for a while in Hastings but then moved back to Devon to live with her elder sister Marion Gibson in Ottery St Mary. When Marion died in 194? Gran lived in a hotel in Sidmouth for a while….like so many other retired elderly lonely people who had sought sanctuary in this quiet Devon seaside town. She then found the Channons who had apparently agreed to have her on a long stay arrangement all year round with her own room and facilities at a rent that was within her means.
I was staying with Louise and Ted Coe in Honiton on the main road to Exeter at the time having just arrived as a raw 17 year old from Jamaica and waiting to join the Army. “Uncle Ted and “Aunty” Louise were really not relatives at all. They were the parents of one of my father's old school friends Kenneth Coe (God father to Charmian) who had agreed to put up with me for the short period between my arrival in Southampton on the Elders and Fyffes banana freighter the SS Ariguani and to joining up.
The journey from Honiton to Sidmouth was a tortuous one. I had to catch a double decker country bus to Ottery St Mary and the change to another one for Sidmouth. I knew next to nothing about England at the time nor of the, to me, strange ways of its people and transportation systems. Imagine the look of surprise and embarrassment that greeted me when I tried to engage in conversation with local people when we had not been introduced! To begin with I had also had trouble understanding the Devonshire accents and locals had difficulty in interpreting my own West Indian accent (with Mexican-American over tones)…….
Anyhow that first trip down to Sidmouth was uneventful and I duly arrived at the central bus station near the promenade. I found my way to May Terrace and found myself near to a traditional thatched white limed cottage and opposite the Village Hospital. The Channon establishment was a narrow fronted brick building that went up 5 floors next to the cottage. The front door of 5 May Terrace was set into a corner at the front and immediately above it was a small balcony with full length windows. A further four windows of a similar pattern rose above that in a vertical line to the slate roof.
In response to my knocking, a short plump lady with a round cheerful face and indeterminate age opened the door. She welcomed me in and introduced herself as Mrs Channon. In all the years I knew her she was never anything else…I never did discover her first name nor was I ever invited to address her or her husband by their Christian names. A stark contrast with the habits of younger folk today who address everyone on first name terms and are allowed to ignore the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt.
Mrs. Channon promptly led me into a passage. This, like every thing else about the house, and indeed so much else that I was seeing in England for the first time seemed small and cramped. It was bounded on one side by a blank wall and on the other by a wall with two doors. The passage ended in a flight of steep narrow stairs that I assumed took one up to the accommodation in the floors above. It also smelt of boiled cabbage and fried bacon, but everything seemed to be spotlessly clean and very, almost depressingly, tidy.
We passed the first door on the right. This was firmly closed and I discovered later that this was the front room reserved only for special occasions and people. I recall being allowed into this sanctum only once and that was many years later when I saw the Channons for the last time after Gran had died.
The second door was open and led into a tiny room that was obviously used as a dining room. There were about 4 or 5 tables and chairs set out and presumably this was where guests were served their breakfasts. But there was hardly room enough to swing a cat. Serving her guests in this tiny place was a miracle that Mrs Channon repeated without a problem for her many years as the host of the establishment.
Gran Dealy was seated at one of the tables and my first and most lasting impression was that of a small, very tidy, very formal lady. She wore a dark dress (she seemed never to wear other than dark and mournful clothes). She wore metal rimmed glasses with round lenses behind which snapped blue, piercing and intelligent eyes. Her hair was combed tightly and close. Her smile was reserved and her distant manner very quickly established the relationship that was to remain unchanged for the rest of the time that I knew Gran Dealy…arm's length and unemotional.
Gran Dealy was aged 80 when I met first her in Sidmouth and I guess she will have had difficulties in dealing with a grandson she had last seen in a cot as a baby of just a few months in distant Mexico. The arrival in her quiet life of a gangling, rough cut somewhat gormless youth still naïve and inexperienced in the ways of the world and woefully lacking in knowledge, must have presented her with more than one problem. In the back of her mind and never subsequently mentioned was that this same youth was about to join the Army and thus about to present Gran with circumstances similar to those which had ended in the loss of her own two sons so many years before. I had at that time little or knowledge of how she had lost her two boys in the tragedies of the last year of World War 1. My mother never talked about them except, when asked saying that she had really been too young to know them. I knew still less about Gran's own circumstances and the wandering life she had been forced to lead after the death of TKD, the grandfather I had never known. I had no real concept and even less understanding of the increasingly lonely life she had led after she had departed Mexico leaving behind her now only daughter to return to England to live at first with he sister in Ottery St Mary and later entirely on her own in this house of strangers in Sidmouth. So I guess Gran had determined from the outset not to get too closely involved.
At any rate the rules of engagement between us were set and cast in stone during that first meeting. As a consequence I never really got to know Gran, nor her how she was situated. To my lasting regret I was never really able to influence things to help her in any lasting or meaningful way. I was too bound up with the excitement and problems of trying to find my feet in a strange land, to really take much notice then of Gran. She was the closest relative I had in England, but when it was clear that our level of contact was to remain formal and distant, I guess I turned away, mentally at least, to the things that were of more immediate concern to me at that time.
I cannot remember the detail of that first meeting with Gran. It certainly did not last long as I had to catch a bus back to Honiton that same day. So we would have had tea together at the Channon's and possibly a brief walk around the town, ending with my making arrangements to see Gran again as soon as my own circumstances had settled down.
Over the next 18 years I went down to Sidmouth to visit Gran many times after that first meeting. The visits were not regular and were dictated by events and the progress of my own life. For long periods when I was on Army service either in camps away from Sidmouth or overseas, my contact with Gran was reduced to a few letters. She always dutifully replied, but the letter correspondence never got beyond the news of the moment and of current family activities. Later after she went into a rest home in 1963(?) rhis correspondence ceased and contact was through the Channons and then only to make arrangements for a visit to see Gran.
I do not recall her ever venturing out of Sidmouth during all the 19 years that remained to her. I suppose the only time was after her death as she was cremated in Exeter(?). Her daily routine was very regular. It involved a reasonably early start to be in time for breakfast where she usually joined all the other guests in Mrs Channons guest house during the summer months. Sometimes. Especially in the winter she would have her meals in her room alone. She spent much time in her room to read or write or just sit and think. At sometime during the day she would take her regular walk and that was quite strenuous. She would take tea somewhere and return to Mrs. Channons for the next meal and the rest of day. The evenings she would spend in here room or with the Channons watching TV or playing a card game. She'd play patience if there were no one else for a game.
Her routine varied for Sundays when she would go to the local Anglican Church or when someone visited her. She had very few friends in Sidmouth, in fact none to my knowledge. Her visitors usually were just me or Charmian, and once in 1955(?) Margaret her daughter came from Jamaica before her own return to Mexico (?). Gran Dealy kept up this orderly but secluded and often lonely life for as long as she was able. She was finally forced to give it up only after a serious operation and stay in the Village Hospital some 10 years later and the onset of memory loss. These forced her to leave the Channons for a rest home.
In 1952 my first year in England I visited Gran perhaps half a dozen times. I had at first to sit the Regular Commissions Board in Warminster(?) and then to enlist if the Army accepted me for a training at Sandhurst. I fortunately passed the RCB in March 1952 and then enlisted at the Army recruitment Office in Exeter Castle later in April, taking the Queen's shilling at the same time. I then had to wait for orders to report for basic training at Blandford Camp in Dorset. So in between waiting for the Army to make up its mind, and then for “Movement Orders and Joining Instructions” I found myself with time on my hands and next to no money. To solve both problems I took a job at the Knowle Hotel in Sidmouth as a kitchen hand. The arrangement was that I was to work in the kitchen on general cleaning and labouring work in return for which I was to receive a wage (my very first) and board and accommodation. The work turned out be mainly drying/wiping dishes and cutlery spewed out by a large washing machine loaded by someone else. Cleaning and polishing silverware were my other duties, but only when directed to do so and under the supervision of some other kitchen minion!
The hours were long, the food second hand, and the pay abysmal. The place was staffed by a variety of people, few of whom I felt I wanted to know and 2 of whom I took a special dislike to. The façade of the hotel and the facilities in the front were impressive and gave the impression of being a well run establishment offering high service and good cuisine. The doorman/commissionaire was a large regimental sergeant like man who wore a grand uniform and ordered his small staff about to receive and look after departing guests appropriately. His wage was small, but what he received by way of tips and backhanders more than made up for that. He was reputed to earn more than anyone else in the hotel, including the Head Waiter and the Chef.
Behind the façade of the front operations that included the Blue Dolphin Restaurant there was a very different story. The kitchens and the storerooms were downstairs in the older part of the building. These opened out into a central cobbled stoned courtyard that on one side was bounded by the building accommodating the live-in staff. The kitchens, washrooms, and staff accommodation were all generally dingy, filthy, blackened partly by the smoke from cooking ranges or the open coal fuelled open hearths. There was little or no natural light. These back room operations were awful to say the least. It is still a source of amazement to me that the food produced under these conditions passed muster in the fineries of the restaurant and its presumably discerning guests.
Needless to say I did not like the job, but felt that I should make a go of it as long as possible, at least until I joined up. However, events were not entirely under my control….I was given the sack by the head waiter only just 2 weeks after I had started at the Knowle Hotel. His reason was that I had broken too many plates in my attempts to keep up with the flow of crockery from the dishwasher. But I suspect he had another reason as I had complained about the awful standard of the accommodation.
Gran never expressed any opinion about my job as a kitchen hand. But it must have offended her Victorian sensibilities and her life time habit and situation of being a person of the “upper class” She must have drawn some stark contrasts between the situation of her grandson working as a lowly kitchen hand and her own sons who had enjoyed the privileges of a first class school, and the company of boys and people of their “own kind”. But give Gran her due, she never ever uttered a disparaging or cruel word to me then or later during all the times I saw her. It was not in her nature to be unkind.
The good thing about my brief and somewhat chastening experience of the “hospitality” industry was that I had earned enough to live on for the few remaining days before I joined the Army. So I stayed as a paying guest at Mrs Channon's. I had no money for much else so I filled the time by taking long walks to explore Sidmouth and on one occasion went by bus to explore Exeter. Of course I also spent time with Gran Dealy. I have already mentioned her set daily routine …….She would appear downstairs in Mrs. Channon's dining room for each meal where she had a table to herself. I often accompanied her on her daily walks and her favourite places included the Jacob's Ladder beach at the Western end of the promenade and the gardens there above the cliff. Often we would have tea at one of the many tearooms and restaurants in Sidmouth. One of her favourites was the one by the Radcliffe cinema, another was a Devonshire cream tea establishment in one of the many hotels on the water front.
Gran really was a very good walker despite her age and arthritis. Her outfit for these expeditions was always the same…….a large overcoat of the same dark, rather gloomy colours as the dresses she wore, stout sensible shoes, an umbrella or stick and a hat of some kind. She would be happy to walk for quite long distances, as long as the way was relatively flat. I was never able to persuade her to climb the hills on either side of the Sidmouth cove. Walking with her was fun, although at a slow steady pace. Our conversation however was confined to the trivialities of daily existence. I was never able to engage her in anything of real consequence, whether it was about family matters, how things were for her or books even. This pattern never really changed and I have often been puzzled and frustrated by my lack of meaningful communication with Gran. She was such an intelligent lady, had had so much experience and exposure to different parts of the world and had so much knowledge about the family and its history, yet I was quite unable to engage her sufficiently to talk about it in any depth. Mind you, I may have been overlooking the fact that she was getting on in years and was already showing signs of a poor short-term memory and Alzheimer's.
But at least in those early meetings with Gran and subsequently she did show me the relatively few things she had kept to remind her of her earlier life. This included her “Box” that contained many of her photograph albums and the memorabilia of the short lives of her two sons Frank and Sydney. There were also a few water-colours that she had done, the drafts of 3 or 4 novels that she had written but had never published, a crucifix, a statue of Au Claire de Lune, and knick knacks from the family flat in Grenoble. Surprisingly, apart from the many photographs, there was not much in the way of memorabilia from Hong Kong or Adelaide despite the many years she had lived there.
In my early years in the UK and the Army I used to visit Gran whenever there was a break in my training or my service appointments. I of course had to pay the going rate for a B&B guest and found it quite hard financially to do that especially on the pay of a private soldier and later as a an officer cadet. In a way this was another restriction on my ability to see Gran. I really had nowhere else to go especially in the first three years in the UK. Most other contacts with the few remaining family relatives were made impossible by individual circumstances or there was simply a lack of encouragement to make further contact after a first meeting.
I met Great Aunt Ellenor (Gran's eldest sister and a great support for my mother when she was on her own in London during the 1920's) only once in Streatham shortly after I had joined up. She poor soul was living alone in a small flat and was in poor health. I recall her as a handsome woman who despite her great age had retained her wit and sense of humour. I never know whether she had offered me “Craven A” cigarettes dating from before the war as a leg pull or whether she had quite forgotten how horrible they were! My next contact with her was to attend her funeral just a few short months later.
Similarly, I met Great Aunt Amy White (Gran's youngest sister) in Hastings where she still lived as a widow with a budgerigar for company. I saw her again briefly when she had been moved into a rest home, and then attended her funeral a short time later.
It was during these visits to stay with the Channons that Gran gradually showed me her albums and memorabilia of times past. Most of the photos and the old records, letters, autograph collections were related to her two sons and especially their time at Stonyhurst and later in the AIF and finally their deaths in 1918.
She never spoke about either in any detail, letting the mementoes tell their own story. During these sessions she would frequently point to the sky and say that both boys were “up there” and she wanted soon to be able to join them. She never spoke about TKD or Margaret other than to mention them in passing. I guess she had been living alone for so long and with the memories of her two dear boys that there was not much room left for anything else especially her present circumstances.
My visits to Gran were spasmodic and grouped. The first lot were after my arrival in the UK for the first time in 1952. I suppose I saw her half a dozen times in my first two months in England. The there was a gap of about 9 months during my early basic training stationed variously at Blandord, Honiton and then Warminster all as a private soldier in REME. I had little or no leave then and perhaps visited her maybe twice in that time. Then I transferred to the RMAS for the full period of officer training. In that intense time there were two periods of leave between terms at Sandhurst followed by commissioning leave in February 1954. I saw Gran in each of these periods, but for very short periods. So there were quite long intervals between my visits. These were difficult times because I began to see the visits as matters of duty rather than because I particularly wanted to be with Gran. Sidmouth had also become a sort of base for me because I had no where else to go during periods off duty. It seems selfish of me to have looked at things in this way, but there was always such a gulf in communications between Gran and myself. There were so few grounds of common interest, and those that existed were about the family and family history and these were so constrained by our mutual inability to talk about them. It was a huge opportunity for me to discover more about her early life and that of the Ough family, but all sadly and irrevocably missed.
Her years of mental clarity were to be limited only for another 5 years at the end of which she barely survived a serious operation and then had to live for her remaining years in a rest home with a declining memory and inability to recognize her visitors. These last five years slipped by before I was able to recognize the finality of it all and that afterwards it was too late. I spent a year of that time on service in Korea. On return I was sent and to undergo further training at the RMCS, the REME training establishments at Arborfield and Bordon and factories in Switzerland (Wyssen Skyline Cranes), Ipswich (Ransome's and Rapier), Southampton and Basingstoke (Thornycroft's).for another 4 years during which time I had the good fortune to meet Minnie and got married. Opportunities and time to see Gran inevitably became few and far between. When they did occur, the routine was the same, a stay with the Channon's during which we would go for walks and talk and perhaps go through her albums again, but always at arm's length and sadly as a matter of duty.
But it nice to be able to recall that Minnie and I were able to introduce Gran to her Great Grand daughter Helen. Jane was also involved but only just. I have a lovely photograph of Gran, my mother Margaret, Minnie and Helen (and embryonic Jane) taken outside 5 May Terrace in 1959. That was the year of the penultimate visit to the UK from Mexico of Margaret and Walter and it was to be the last time my mother saw her own mother alive and mentally alert. It was also the last year Minnie and I were to be in the UK for a long time. I had then just received a posting to Malaysia where we were to spend the next 3 and ½ years.
Fortunate indeed was I to have inherited my grandmother's photo albums and other memorabilia of her life and times. Without them I could never have developed any understanding of Gran or of her incredibly hard life in her later years. Not that she ever lacked for material things….she was comfortable at the Channons and never appeared to lack for resources to maintain a reasonable standard of living.
The harshness of her life was a mental one mainly finding ways of coping with loneliness, the absence of her own family and living daily in the company of people who were not of the same, background, education, outlook or experience. English society was still divided by the class system and this worked both ways to force her into the cocoon of her lonely life. She coped by maintaining a considerable self discipline through her daily routines, her reading, and her living on her past memories of a life so different from those of her immediate companions as to be for them incredible, almost unbelievable and even at times a source of ridicule. I suppose it is not surprising that she felt reluctant to talk about her past in London, Hong Kong, France and Mexico in case she was seen to be boasting, “putting on side” with the temporary acquaintances who holidayed at Mrs. Channon's, most of whom had never been outside the UK and whose horizons were limited to annual holidays by the sea at places like Sidmouth.
It was not long after I had left England for Malaysia that Gran must have gone into hospital. I have only a hazy recollection of those events and what happened subsequently. What is certain is that by the time I returned to England in 1965 Gran was by then in a rest home where she had been placed by the Channon's . All communications about Gran and arrangements to see her had inevitably to be through the Channon's. I cannot imagine what would have happened to Gran without their kindnesses and support. Mrs C was the main stay and it was she who managed it all, including the transfer of Gran's things either to the rest home or into store. I got some news from Mum during this period, but it was all a fait accompli by the time I got back to the UK.
From then on I continued to visit Gran at intervals, but of course by then the ability to communicate with her had long since gone. Physically I usually found her alright. She was nearly always up and about when I saw her in the rest home, but she rarely recognized me and her damaged memory prevented her from recalling what she had said a few minutes earlier, and so our conversations were highly repetitive. It was awful to see such a mentally alert lady reduced to that state and there was nothing one could do for her.
Finally Gran passed away in her 98th year. It was a merciful release for a much respected lady. Minnie and the two girls were able to be at her funeral in Exeter, the only others there being the Channons. A small group of mourners indeed, perhaps symptomatic of her last lonely years. A sad time indeed but she had fulfilled her life and was at last able to join after 51 years, her two sons “up there”. Hopefully she had finally found the eternal peace that eluded her so in her years on earth. RIP
© Copyright M.& M.M.O.Dealy
This page last modified on Thursday, July 10, 2014