I made a comment to my other half this morning about a pain in my knee, and immediately I heard my father’s voice at the back of my head saying, ‘Ah, well, that’s because there’s a bone in it.’
Pop had a quip/saying/motto for every occasion, which I heard multiple times, and his teasing tones often echo through my thoughts. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the comedian Eric Morcambe and shared much of the same humour – an inveterate punner with a vast store of christmas-cracker jokes for all occasions. Mention even everyday items such as fish and you could be bombarded with a welter of quips for ten minutes or more – until you begged him to stop or just ran screaming.
This was in such contrast to my somewhat dour Welsh mother that I often wondered… how and why did those two ever get together? The proverbial chalk-and-cheese, but who were married for over sixty years and seemed to rub along together well enough. They led fairly unremarkable lives, beyond some anecdotes from their war years, and perhaps represent the vast majority of people in the world.
I read a blog post on Authors Electric recently by an old writing friend, Debbie Bennett, about the book Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah, and how the context of that book struck chords with her own family history. Another writing pal, Misha Herwin, helped her mother to write a memoir of being a Polish refugee leading up to and through WW2 in We Were Lucky.
The thing that both of my writer friends have said about setting family history down for future generations is that there is never as much time as you think.
My own past has nothing nearly so exciting. So far as I am aware none of my recent ancestors have had to flee their countries, or abruptly lose contact with family with no notion of what happened to them.
Or is that the case? I have tried many times to trace my Grandfather’s roots and failed. Why? Mainly because I started from nothing. All I had was a place of birth and a name: which, just to make it interesting, was not the name on his birth certificate. Alice, my great-grandmother, married PC John Graham (that’s him in uniform) some ten months after grandad Fred’s birth, so I can’t lay claim to having a murdered policemen in my past history with any certainty.
Years of digging has brought up the whisper that Fred wrote left wing political columns under a pseudonym, and quite probably left the coal fields of Northumberland when his secret identity was revealed and he was no longer able to get work in the pits. He did not keep contact with his family and passed away when my father was a small child, so any facts that might have been useful died with him. The trail just ends. All I have is one picture labelled ‘Fred, Alice and Daisy.’ Who the child is I have no idea. I don’t even know that this is truly them. Time has long since erased any fact.
The moral of the tale? If your family has an interesting past – write it down.
That being so – perhaps I should keep a notebook of all those aphorism and puns that were the essence of my father. There’s a book in that all on its own.