I WISH I’D ASKED, I WISH I’D UNDERSTOOD

Did you know it was Grandparents Day yesterday (October 3)? It is celebrated all around the world, along with specific days, like Grandmother’s Day, Grandfather’s Day.

I was lucky enough to know all four of my grandparents and also one of my great grandparents, although I have no memory of him.  He was Samuel Bune, who died when I was three and he was 97. He was my Dad’s grandad. He was himself illegitimate so that his background was shrouded in secrecy. So, much of our legacy comes from our parents for good or ill and often we can trace back those legacies even further. I fondly remember all of mine but regret not asking them far more than I did. I hope you enjoy meeting them albeit briefly:

Granny Bune, my Dad’s mum – Olive Lucy. A small woman who busied about their rented terraced house in her housecoat. Her life was spent cooking, or so it seemed to me. Cooking in the kitchen or on the old-fashioned oven, built into the wall. She made jams and marmalades with loads of sugar. And she had a walk-in pantry, a cupboard off the living room, which for me was a magical place, with interesting stuff on high shelves. I used to borrow her shoes and clip clop around the back yard in them. One pair was white with silver thread. I never asked her where they came from. She was gentle, quiet and incredibly loving. She could be quite irritating as she never argued at all, she would just say ‘yes dear’ and carry on doing her thing regardless. She passed away when I was 18 and there was so much I didn’t ask her about her life. She was a governess, married my grandad and was pregnant at the time. Her family did not approve of her marrying a lowly coal miner and she was cast out for many years….so many unanswered questions…

Grampy Ben, my Dad’s dad. My first hero, whose real name was, Winston Benjamin Vigor Bune – known as Ben. A former coal miner, a small slight man who had health problems (emphysema), and the sound of his breathing stays with me even now. He also smoked Woodbines endlessly. He sat in his chair, read the paper, did the football pools and used to stroke my arm and tell me to work hard at a school. ‘Education is the only way this family will progress,’ he used to tell me. And I listened. He always called Granny ‘his little lady’ or ‘the little lady’. A quiet, clever man, who taught himself to read having left school at 11. The family were too poor for him to continue in education, so he had to go down the mines. People were attracted to him though. He was the local barber with his Bakelite shaver and men would gather in the kitchen and he’d shave their heads and beards. I had to stay out of the way when they came around. He died when I was 12, my first great loss. What was his early life like? I do believe his marriage to my Granny was a true love match…

Granny Horler, my mum’s mum – Phyllis May. A strong, feisty woman who didn’t let anyone get the better of her. She could be formidable and sometimes quite unkind. She loved her grandchildren passionately and later, her great grandchildren. She had a hard life and the loss of her son in 1950, when he was five years old, shaped her personality – and that of my mum – from then on. There were many lost children at that time. During the war and post war when food was scarce and there was little sympathy to be had, you had to just ‘get on with it’. From that time, she lost her way somewhat and also her marriage in many ways.  I never got the sense she was in a happy marriage, even though they celebrated 60 years together. A matriarch of the family, a force of nature. I wish I could talk to her now with wiser eyes and ears. She died when I was in my mid 30s. I know when she was young she was a servant in several homes in Bath, I also know that if she didn’t like the household, she’d walk out and walk home (about eight miles on foot) usually with a piece of their crockery in her baggage. I believe her marriage was happy in the early years, she was a real beauty, however their lives were hard, money was scarce and became scarcer and there was little support for working class families then…

Grampy Horler – Ernest known as ‘Ern’ or ‘Ginger,’ was a big man who was a coal miner, who went down the pits at 14 years old and stayed there for more than 50 years. He was still working down the mines when I was born – his first grandchild. A big personality, he liked being out in nature, walked miles, helped out on the local farm or gravedigging when not on shift. He went to the pub at the weekends and only smoked at the pub. I heard stories about his younger life of heavier drinking but never experienced this. I know he was sometimes violent in his treatment of my mum and to his wife, my Gran. This was not evident in my life-time. He would bring me posies of violets as gifts which I loved. I remember though that when my cousin Julian was born, he became the favourite. I understood this as he’d lost his own son and that really shaped the pattern of his life and marriage from then on. The story was told that in his grief he blurted to my Granny that Graham’s death was ‘her fault’. I don’t think she ever forgave that and they never shared a bedroom in my lifetime. As I got older I would moan at him for reading The Daily Mirror and not a more ‘intelligent’ newspaper. The arrogance of youth. One day he lost it and told me he read it because he ‘couldn’t read very well’. That shut me up. How could I have ever imagined the life he had led. The choices he had had to make. He passed away suddenly in his sleep when I was 29, having not known a day’s illness in his life. Again, there’s so much I wished I’d asked him and wished I’d understood.

I think most of us wish we had asked our grandparents more about their lives. Have you talked to your grandparents about their history while you still can? Have you sought to understand them since they’ve passed – and thereby sought to understand your own parents and yourself? I have…it’s not about blame, it’s about understanding, breaking destructive patterns and self awareness…

Next week, I’m going to share, why I hate Halloween (this too is related to my grandparents..)