Today we are just a little part of history. And we need to make sure that we stay grounded to get us through the next few weeks and months.
This is a picture blog from me. Hope you enjoy some of the things that make me smile and laugh.
I found a book this week while clearing my loft out! It was called ‘Healthier Babies, Happier Parents. A practical guide by Specialists’ First published in 1959, which fits in with when I was born.
What is most poignant about this book, is not so much the book itself, but the fact that in the front cover of the book is a note book with lots of handwritten pages lovingly written by my mother.
How do I know it was written lovingly your probably thinking? Surely each and every mum who is able to – takes love and care over things that concern her child.
There are 3 sets of notes. 5th Months old, 6 month and finally 7 months. It’s really poignant to me as I was adopted at 6 months old, and these notes show that perhaps initially she wasn’t sure when I would be coming into their lives. She wanted to be prepared I’m sure, and be ready for me when I arrived.
When I found the book, it was instantly recognisable as something that had been around me when I grew up, but the note book at the front brought me to tears as it was something I don’t remember and was so very personal.
My parents had always told me that I was a special baby, one who had been chosen from lots of others, and when I look at this snap shot from my young life – I know deep down in my heart I was so very much loved, and they wanted to do their very very best for me!
All the love they showered on me over the years, and the kindness they showed me at the darkest times of my life culminate in this simple book of handwritten notes produced even before I became part of their life.
I’d heard about Doreen long before I’d met her. And I think the Angels of fate allowed this to happen. Let me tell you why I think they were involved.
I’d been going to a relatively local Hair Salon for a number of years, and I felt really comfortable with the hairdresser who cut my hair. Then they closed the salon, and she moved to a different branch, so I moved with her. You don’t give up a hairdresser do you who makes you feel confident? The other branch was based in a sports complex, and was full of young vibrant students who washed hair, and changed the towels, brought the tea and coffee and swept the floor. A busy place.
Then suddenly it started to get quieter, there were less clients there, the Saturday staff became less and less, and the hairdressers were leaving. I was told that salon too would be closing. The next time would be my last time.
I went there with a heavy heart, knowing I’d have to look for somewhere else.
The last time I went there, I think I was the only one there. The young girl who was given the task of washing my hair, I struck up a conversation with her. She said that she did this job as a Saturday girl, but really she wanted to become a photographer like her granny, who had worked for a newspaper, and took photographs of famous people. She was pretty, young and bubby and enthusiastic about what direction she hoped her career would go in. What a pleasure to talk to someone who was so proud of her family that she wanted to follow in their footsteps. I remember saying she should follow her dream – It’s how I think anyone of us should progress in life- if we can. We only have one chance. And I wished her luck.
Soon after this the salon closed, and I found somewhere else. But I always remembered this young girl who was so enthusiastic and vibrant.
A few years later our paths crossed again, but I wasn’t to know it. We were at a New Year’s Eve party at a local club with my two teenage sons. She was there with her friends.
Then one day my eldest son brought home his new girlfriend, Millie. And as the months went on, we found out a little more about her. And lo and behold- it turned out that she was in fact this young saturday girl in the hairdressers, whose enthusiasm had shone through when talking about her granny the famous photographer.
As Millie firmly embedded herself in our family, and our son became a big part of hers, we met Doreen on lots of occasions. I could see why Millie wanted to follow in her footsteps, she had a love of her family and photography.
Oh yes, that New Year’s Eve party! Some photographs surfaced of our sons and their friends, and who was in the background? Millie as if she was always meant to be there!
We have recently said goodbye to Doreen this lovely lady of 92. To most people she looked very ordinary, well dressed, white hair, standing proud and chatty to those who want to stop and talk. But to others she holds a special place in their hearts. During the times of great change in the world, she took on the men in a business that was primarily for men, and put a different slant on it.
She will be missed, but her legacy lives on. Not just in history, but more importantly in her family.
I’m seriously into genealogy. I was adopted, but I know who my birth mother is, I met her a few times before she died at the end of the 1990’s. My father is a mystery – so far.
Last year I took my DNA with Ancestry, and when the results came back, a whole new world literally opened up before my eyes! I had connections – all be it distant – in America, Germany, Israel, Australia and New Zealand. My continued search is another story that I’m sure you will hear about.
Why I’m writing this today, because in the United Kingdom Sunday 27th January 2019 is Holocaust Memorial Day. For many of us, this is something that we have read about, learned in school, and have seen at least one of the films that has been made about the events that happened in WW2.
I opened up an email a few weeks ago from My Heritage. a genealogy site that allows you like many others to build up your family history. Quite an innocuous email, names I didn’t recognise. I clicked on one of the names to see if the snippet of information could lead me to some other information I already held. It said the girl had died in a concentration camp. When I looked at her parents, it said the same. This information was like a jab in my heart. These unknown people who were in my history somewhere had died in the most terrible way I could imagine!
Of course I never knew them, and I have no idea how they are related to me. It was only up until a year ago that I imagined I could be feeling this wave of sadness today.
Our history is so much more than a birth, marriage and a death certificate isn’t it?
Please believe me when I tell you I’m special. not in an arrogant way either.
I was born into a loveless relationship, I have no idea who my father was and my birth mother wouldn’t speak of him. I was born in a mother and babies’ home in Wales, and Wales is where I stayed for most of my young life. I was given up at 6 weeks old. When I say given up, I’m assuming I was. I’m assuming she didn’t want to keep me. Probably not.
I never really asked her when I met her. Her mother knew, but not her father. He was something in the church, so I can imagine the shame of finding out his daughter was ‘in the family way ‘would have been terrible. So I couldn’t stay with her. Perhaps I do her some injustice, by saying she probably didn’t want to keep me. Sounds like she had no choice.
So I was given up for adoption. And this is how I know I am special. I was told by my mam that when I was 3 years of age, we all went out for a picnic together, my mam and my dad and myself. I can imagine the picture in my mind, she would have put my very best frilly dress on, crisp white sock, and lovely red patent leather shoes with a little silver buckle. So that I looked my best. She would have taken time over her appearance, her hair as curly as she could make it, and with a lovely summer dress on too, and a dab of her CHANEL No 5 behind her ear. The very best sandwiches, and I know there would have been a slab of fruit cake and a hot steaming flask of tea. My daddy would have had his favourite red and grey jumper on, and his crisp flannel trousers, hair slicked back, and that crooked smile on his face, that was – my daddy. Those long fingers and strong hands carrying the wicker picnic basket, and the checked blanket. We were probably on holiday somewhere.
She told me what when I was a little baby, all cosy and cuddly in my cot, together with rows and rows of other babies, they went to choose the baby they wanted to take home. And that baby was me. I was chosen out of lots of other little ones, and so I was very special. Apparently I was so very excited when she told that, and kept running round and round.
She kept reminding me of this story when I grew up so I never forgot it. That was their fairy tale, and mine. It may not have been highly accurate, I’m not sure how there would have been such an incredible choice, so many unwanted babies, just lying there for the picking. But I don’t care about the reality of it. I know that my dad was tall and handsome, my mam bubbly and vibrant. And I am a mix of the two of them. You wouldn’t know I wasn’t conceived from their union, I think there is a little bit of both of them in me.
So you see that I was made to feel special. At 3 I wouldn’t have known what it all meant. I wouldn’t have understood about the concept of adoption, to have been left by one mummy and then given another! But a 3 year old would understand the idea of being special, being wanted, loved and cherished. And that’s what it was for those two people who were unable to have their own children.
And that feeling of being special, having a life with two people who loved me very much has carried me through all my adult life. I’m so very grateful to those two people, who took me in and loved me unconditionally, and gave me an amazing start in life.
All I can say is – Thank you.
Our holiday this year has been arranged around two old postcards that were written by my grandmother Elizabeth Williams in 1954 to my mother. She was born in 1887, in a small village in the middle of Carmarthen called Trefeurig. It was a rural area, not many houses, lots of miners lived and worked in the area. Her father Richard Williams who was born in 1860 was one of those miners, he died at a relatively young age of 30 in 1890. At the time her mother had a young baby of 9 months (called Richard), two young sons of 4years old (Luther) and a 2 year old (Thomas) and her daughter Elizabeth – my grandmother.
Richard’s parents were Thomas and Margaret Williams. Thomas was born in about 1813. He married Margaret Williams, who was about 3 years younger than he was, and in total had 5 children. 4 sons, and 1 daughter. This is where our history becomes very confusing. The children were called Elizabeth (19), John (16) Thomas (8) Methusalem (8) and finally Richard the youngest at 1 year old – my great grandfather- Elizabeth’s father. Names were handed down in families hence the same names appearing in two generations of family.
Generally around that time children came along on a very regular basis due to the lack of birth control, normally one a year. So it is probably likely there were some still births in this and many other families, who have not be registered on the census records of 1861 that these details have come from.
The post cards I have kept for many years were written to my mum and dad in 1954. They are of two places that my grandmother had visited on her trip to west wales. It doesn’t say where she was staying, but as this place is so very near to the place her family originated from, it was highly likely that she was staying with some family.
She tells her daughter and her son-in law (my mam and dad) about the places she has visited.
‘having a lovely time out each afternoon, pity dad bach isn’t with me. I have all the places on a paper. went to Aberystwyth yesterday 10in the morning. Called at ^^^^^^ bungalow 9 of them there, very nice. a scorching afternoon after the rain, and returned Newquay we intend going to Tenby tomorrow. St Dogmails is a lovely place you get town and country here. Sat will soon be here now hope you are both feeling good.Let us know what time to expect you home on sat. hope you have good digs I will not write again now. Kindest regards from Elfyn and Mena. fondest love mam xx and in the margin .our church marked with a spot (dogmael) ‘
I have had these postcards in my possession since my grandmother died in 1978 when she was about 92. I’ve never taken that much notice of what they were, they were just two sepia postcards, that she had written. 4 years ago I started researching my family tree, and they became a big part of the jigsaw. She said that she was with Elfyn (her son) and his wife Mena. I had found that they lived near to his place. And in fact Elfyn had died the year I was born in 1960, in this area. On the card she makes reference to dad bach, her husband, or in those days the husband was known as dad. He had died just before this card was written.
So why am I telling you all this? Well – we decided that our holiday would be a great opportunity to visit this village where the post cards were from. We researched a local hotel, booked the break, and this story is built around the postcards.
The Cliff Hotel overlooks Poppit Sands in Cardigan. The Teify Estuary leads out to the Irish sea, Poppit Sands is on one side, and the Cliff Hotel is on the other side There is a coast guard station there, a café that does the most amazing Bara Bryth. a selection of Holiday homes, and a YHA (Youth Hostel Association) place to stay. We drove round the estuary, and parked the car in the little car park. We had a coffee in the café, and then walked onto the beach. The wide expanse of golden sand, peppered with little flecks of black and tiny pebbles and discarded cockle shells. Although it was a damp day, it certainly didn’t deter the dog walkers, dogs don’t mind the rain or the wet as they jumped in and out of the waves.
My heart soared, as I thought that this was a beach that my grandmother (or nain as she was known to her grand children) had walked on. Of course I’d been to many places with her as I grew up with her and she lived with us until she passed away when I was 18. I could imagine her with her son, and daughter in law travelling around in a little car, looking at the same view I was looking at. Maybe sitting in the same sea side café, and if I know my nain, eating the same cake I was eating, she had a sweet tooth! Probably where I get it from. Of course I’d been to many places with her, she had lived with our family from when I was 8 so I grew up with her until she passed away when I was 18.
I’d like to think that she went there to gain some comfort from family, having recently been widowed. And although back in the mining communities of the early part of the last century, you appreciate that death was a part of their lives – mining accidents, and child mortality being a more regular occurrence than today – I don’t think they were so hardened to it that they were void of sadness and distress.
We then went to St Dogmaels. A quaint village perched on the mountain side. Winding streets with little houses brightly coloured cling to the mountain, and tumbled down the hill. The 60 year old picture on the post card looked nothing like the village of today, and it was difficult to find out anything that appeared on the card, so we went to the ruins of the Abbey with a little heritage centre that has a lovely café inside.
I kept this post card in my hand trying to find any reference to anything we had seen. Then when I looked for the umpteenth time, it was like a light bulb moment. There on the post card in the middle were the ruins. I had never seen them like this before – I thought they were houses. It all fell into place, and although the village on the card didn’t look like the village in 2016, the trees were more overgrown, and there of course were newer properties in the sight line I could see the village of 1955.
What an amazing day, I look some pictures of the houses in the village, as a reminder of our trip. We walked through the car park to the banks of the estuary, we saw a heron trying to catch some lunch for himself, a young man getting ready for the St Dogmaels market which is held on a Tuesday, where sellers and buyers travel from near and far.
I will go back, and visit this magical and historical place again.