Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Blood and Water

It's almost a month into the start of this project and I realise I haven't blogged yet. So far I've met talked to Kate Mathieson, from NOWGEN about inherited conditions and genetic counselling and to Jeanette Edwards a social anthropologist from Manchester University. I've also run a discussion and workshop at Commonword and met with a couple of possible artists.

There's already a lot of material to process. After my conversations with Jeanette and Kate I'm beginning to get a sense of just how important the imagination is in how we view what we inherit, how we make it matter.  But it's not fully formed just yet. 

So, in the meantime one of my stories, about where I'm from, about who my people are.

Hannah and Harry were brother and sister, both unmarried and childless. I and my brother and sister inherited them through my father. When his own parents had been too tired, too preoccupied to care for him he had found refuge with Hannah and Harry, and their mum mother. They provided stability, security and stimulation. They were to become our third grandparents.

I remember little of their mother who died when I was around 6. I know that she was born in the workhouse, father unknown. I know that she was adopted by a couple who ran a sweetshop when she was a little girl - but that she was more helper than daughter. I know that she married a roofer who died of 'red lead' poisoning leaving her with two young children. I know she took in washing to make ends meet. I never even knew her Christian name. She was Mrs Robinson but everyone called her Robin. 

Harry lost a leg as a child. Hannah kicked him with a log and septicaemia set in. His dummy leg with it's leather strap and catch at the knee was a source of great fascination to us. We had no sense then of the tragedy. Hannah herself had a lifelong hip problem, possibly congenital and after a series of unsuccessful operations walked with two sticks.

They were good people. They are my definition of good people. They lived simply and decently and bore their troubles with humour and fortitude. They worked hard. They took pleasure in small things - for Harry this was a small nightly glass of Vintage Port. Hannah was an avid reader of Mills and Boon stories. They did the pools each week, leaving a small pile of coins on the window sill to pass to the Littlewood's lady when she called. They were unstintingly generous, both with their time and what money they had.

Their home had at some point been compulsorily purchased and they lived in a small council flat. This gave them a modest amount of capital which they invested carefully. It was a small meticulously kept flat. Hannah sowed pansies outside, which came up year after year. Sometimes she would remark on the boon of running water.

Their stories, as much as I know them are my stories. They are my link to the past. They are my people. Even now, years after they are dead, I would be ashamed to disappoint my idea of them. They are my plumb-line.

They invested in us - my brother and sister and I, as well as a neighbours child who sought sanctuary - by through their gentleness and wisdom as well as through the buff envelopes of notes that appeared at the beginning of university term times and for first cars, and first houses. They were our first call on Christmas day. They were our refuge in times of difficulty. They are our past. We were their future.

When Hannah was dying I went to visit her in hospital. A nurse asked me was I her granddaughter. No, I said, just a friend. I have no idea where that 'just' came from. I winced as it left my mouth. I think Hannah heard it too. If I could take back just one of the words I have spoken in my life it would be that one.

In any way that counts, they were kin. Love is thicker than either blood or water.

No comments: