Looking back to know how to go forwards

Maybe it’s something that comes with getting older but I’ve become intrigued with my family history. I never heard many stories about my Dads side other than the bare minimum, for example I knew that my Grandfather was involved in WWII he taught dispatch riders how to repair and ride their bikes. I only found out most of the facts that I do know once my grandparents had passed away, they had all gone by the time I was 12 years old so I had not reached the point of wanting to know where I had come from by the time they had all gone.

I tell my Dad that he should write down his memories before he forgets them completely or he is gone and those stories are gone forever, adding to him that I wish he had told me those stories about his childhood when I was younger rather than repeating the same old stale stories time and time again then I might have shown more interest! Anyway…I’ll get to the point, I’ve realised that my memory is not good and I should really write down the little tales he does spin, when he tells me them, as boring or mundane as he thinks they are.

Today we were discussing his childhood, I mentioned that I had been looking at pictures of the area he grew up in after reading a blog post by another writer about the area he grew up in. It set off his memories and as sparse as they are they linen housesmade me smile, made me sad, gave me a connection to his past that I’ve not had for some time.

My dad grew up in Northern Ireland, a post WWII baby boom child with three older brothers. The family owned and ran a linen bleaching Mill that is actually documented in a book about the Linen Houses of the Bann Valley (scary to think that I come from such stock as common as I am living on a council estate). I never hear many memories from my dad about he and his family from that time so the little stories tend to stick.

As young children my Dad and his one brother that was still at home by the time he remembers, would play at the mill watching the linen being laid out on the green meadows to dry in the sun. They would run around the mill playing around the machines and probably pestering the workers in the same way that I did with anyone who came to the house when I was a child.

Older than my dad but the same sight he would have seen on a regular basis
Older than my dad but the same sight he would have seen on a regular basis

They would get the men who were piling up the rolls of dried linen to help them make forts out of the rolls, creating the biggest temporary fort any child could want. With gaps to use as doors and windows they would play in it until the rolls were collected to be taken to another factory, pretending to be soldiers and such as the factory worked around themFormer_Cowdy's_mill,_Banbridge_-_geograph.org.uk_-_260516

The Mill has seen much better days now and I'd be surprised if it's still even in this good a shape
The Mill has seen much better days now and I’d be surprised if it’s still even in this good a shape

While looking into the family tree I found a document that even my dad didn’t know existed. It’s a ships boarding record showing my Grandmother, Dad and uncle all going to South Africa back in the 1950’s to visit my Grandmothers family. I’ve found quite a few od them now and will be willing to pay the websites annoying fee (I’ve gone past the free period now) to print them off so he can see them. It saddens me that those boarding lists show that my Grandmother would take her younger children with her to visit the family in South Africa, leaving the older children at their boarding school and my Grandfather to run the business (or so I assume).

Leaving for months at a time due to the journey length on a boat, separating the family that was already emotionally distanced from each other. She trained as a home economics teacher so surely she must have know that the relationships that children have when young are important? I guess that unfortunately at this point in history it was seen as more important for young boys to be strong, to be trained to be independent and able to cope with the horrors that their parents had lived through. Discipline was everything and caring, loving them would always come second if not last.

What shouldn’t have surprised me was how few memories my Dad has of his grandparents. They lived in a house down the road from them but the only thing my Dad could tell me today about his Grandfather was that they used to see him on a Sunday on the way to church, where he would give them a mint imperial. His Grandmother even lived with them after her husband died but he couldn’t tell me much about her at all, the true legacy of an upper middle class family, no warmth, no connection between the people who are supposed to be bonded by blood.

I heard so many times in my childhood that ‘Blood is thicker than water’, that family is important and you ‘Should’ do this and ‘Should’ do that….I have now accepted that what my old therapist said is true…’Should’ is a bad word for me, it’s one of the reasons why I feel so appallingly guilty for so many little things. I try not to use it in my vocabulary too much now but it’s damn hard.

This whole ‘family’ thing confuses me a lot and always has done, especially since my fathers side classes people as cousins and ‘close’ family who I’ve never seen, barely talked to or in most peoples eyes would not really be part of their family. Third cousins, second cousins twice removed….in other words so far away in the blood line that marrying them would be completely legal and not result in deformed offspring, people I shouldn’t care about at all.

The digging into the past will continue, my Grandmothers side is intriguing and a post may follow about hers but more and more I realise my parents have improved on what theirs did to them, it’s just that they didn’t improve enough to avoid my emotional struggles.



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