Back to my roots

I’ve been thinking about my grandmothers today.

Two women, very different people, a whole generation apart age-wise with the only common factor being that one’s son married the other one’s daughter. I’ve been wondering how my life compares to theirs, how much of either or both of them is in me, both my nature and nurture. I carry their genes and am the product of their offspring both in physical make up and in upbringing, values and ideas.

My Dad’s mother, Beatrice has been dead for about 25 years. I have only wispy, photo-based memories of her. I only knew her as an old woman, infact as she was into her 40s by the time she had my Dad, her only child, he only knew her as a middle aged woman too. Beatrice was English but married a Welshman and moved to North Wales to live with her husband and his mother, a woman who only ever spoke Welsh to her (a language she never understood) and made her life difficult. My Dad was born just before WW2 and lived his early years in a tiny Welsh village that had yet to see electricity. Beatrice raised her son in a house with one room upstairs and one room downstairs. The cooking, washing, heating, drying clothes was all done over the open fire, the toilet was outside. Christmas presents were home made wooden toys, clothes were home made, hand me downs, donated by the church charity. Milk and butter were from the farm cow down the lane, eggs from the chickens in the back yard, veg from the garden grown yourself, the bulk of the meat was rabbits or pigeons trapped or shot by her husband or chickens that had stopped laying eggs.

My Dad was her priority, she took on the only credit she ever had to buy a piano for him to learn to play on, she stayed in North Wales until my grandfather died and then followed my Dad down to Sussex where he had moved at 21. She died, aged 91 having lived through two wars, seen electricity, the telephone, television, man land on the moon and indoor toilets all happen during her lifetime. My knowledge of her is limited to the dim memories of her giving me polo mints and the only time I ever saw my Dad cry on the day she died. My Dad speaks of her with love, affection, admiration and she is clearly his role model as a parent. If I had a time machine and could go visiting someone from the past she is the person I would choose. I’d ask her about my Dad as a small  boy, about the huge sacrifice she made moving to Wales and whether it was out of a grand passionate love for my grandfather, desperation to have a child or some other reason. I’d love to know what she thinks of me, of Dragon and Star her great-grandchildren, of the world today and of our plans to head back towards some of the lifestyle she lived.

My maternal grandmother, Margaret was just 19 when she had my mum and 21 when she had my uncle. She married a man about ten years older than her (my grandfather) and their marriage ended when my Mum was 21. She was evacuated to Cornwall during the war and spent much of her childhood apart from parents and siblings.

Margaret has been an incredibly successful businesswoman. She is a florist and has owned several flower shops, done floral arrangements for all sorts of organisations and occassions, had a deserved reputation in business circles and been chairperson of chamber of commerces and other such organisations. She is 82 now and although not in perfect health is able bodied, lives alone and independantly, still drives and works as a volunteer for charities, attends church and has an active, busy life. She is computer literate and online having always kept abreast of technology as a business owner and then carried on learning after she retired, going to college to learn about computers and getting herself a pc. She has travelled the world on cruises and aeroplanes and kept up with a rapidly changing and progressing world.

Two very different women, two very long and full lives, two very similarly minded offspring in my parents though. My parents are very materialistic, they have worked hard, both had their own businesses and spent time earning money to accumulate nice things around themselves. I know both their mothers are / were proud of them for their big house, nice cars, nice holidays.

I wonder whether there are elements of these women driving me? Is there a spirit entrepreneur and seeing what people might need along with an ability to keep abreast of progress there in me from Margaret? Am I channelling Beatrice in deciding enough is as good as a feast and what matters in life is love, family and simply providing?

In the 70 odd years since my Dad was born our planet has undergone huge changes and leaps forward. In our society we have gone from rations, struggling to have enough and spending time on simply providing for our basic needs to having more than we can ever dream of all laid before us to try our hardest to use up. We don’t need to conserve, preserve, fret about waste, save up til we can afford to pay now instead of later. We don’t need to harness energy from the elements (sun, water, wind) to power our TV sets, laptops, X boxes, chop wood to burn to to heat us twice (once in the chopping, again in the burning), grow vegetables, hunt animals, make clothes, bake cakes…. you can do the whole lot, online, from Tesco, delivered packaged to your door.

I wonder what Beatrice would have made of that? I can picture her, walking the aisles of Tescos, utterly bewildered at the whole business, dazzled the bright lights burning up electricity while she looks in wonder at exotic fruits flown in from all around the world, rails and rails of clothes, shiny plastic toys, a huge selection of equipment with plugs all designed to mop up the free time she will now have on her hands in the name of entertainment now the simple tasks required to meet basic needs are all done for her. Would she be delighted? Would she be amused or confused? How would she feel about being able to send email instead of writing a letter, walking to the post office for a stamp? Would she miss stopping for a chat in the village or talking over the fence to a neighbour while digging up potatoes when she could poke people on facebook or see what was trending on twitter? Would pulling a packet of biscuits and jar of jam from a home delivery of supermarket shopping give the same feeling as tipping a cake out to cool from the oven or serving up a slice of home made bread with home made jam?

Beatrice didn’t need a gym to keep fit, she washed clothes by hand, chopped firewood, kneaded bread, walked carrying shopping. She didn’t need social networking, she had friends up and down the street, she didn’t need Ikea for storage solutions, she had as much stuff as she needed and space for it all, she didn’t need Tesco to deliver her shopping, her food grew in the garden, ran in the fields, swam in the stream, was sold in the local shop or farm.

Progress is mostly good, inventions are amazing, saving time a wonderful thing. But I think we need to consider the true cost of our pre-packaged, home delivery life. I have this sneaking suspicion that our lives may be more convenient, easier but maybe slightly poorer and less rewarding as a result. When was the last time you were proud of something you had done? When was the last time you fell into bed and slept the peaceful sleep of the truly tired having used your body for what it’s designed for? Are hours of your time spent travelling to work, hours more spent in unwinding from the stress of that work? Is your life being sucked away in mindless pursuits? If today were your last what has been your legacy? Will your grandchildren one day think of you and wonder what you’d have thought of their life and just what life and you leaving behind for them anyway?

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