on those who went before

tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday, it really is a quarter of a century since she arrived, peacefully and without any fuss into a home full of boys.  It meant the world to have a baby girl, I understood her, having also been a baby girl, and a teenager girl, and a new adult finding my feet in the world, girl.  Every step has been familiar to me, each milestone bringing my own memories flooding back.  She has never disappointed, she is a beautiful human being.

Tonight, looking through photographs, taken over the last twenty five years, I have come across other photographs, of women from our family, all now dead, they have left us with their history, a shared belonging and lives lived across centuries, each connected to us.

There is a very old picture of a stern looking woman in a hat.  She has the look of someone you would not want to argue with.  I think she is my Great Grandmother, and she lived over a hundred and fifty years ago.  Family legend says she fell in love with a boy and together they ran away.  No one knows why, but it seems they married and her baby girl grew to be my Grandmother.  Dad’s Mum lived in poverty, too many children, not enough food, shoes were unheard of and yet those children grew to have strong families, a good sense of self and of fairness in the world.

We have a photograph in the dining room of my Nina, Mum’s Mum, named for her Welsh roots, and she was a huge figure in my life.  She was the first born daughter of a young wife, who was widowed within three months of becoming a Mother.  They moved from Wales, with her new husband, and over time three other siblings joined the family.  One of these was my Aunt Sally, who I have fond memories of.  She worked in a Children’s Home, when I was a child,  and for all the talk had a tricky marriage, and no babies of her own.  None of that mattered to me.  She was LaLa, and hearing her come into the kitchen,the world suddenly became a better place.  It would be years after her death that I found out her story.  She was the first woman Trade Union representative in a large factory, I have a photo of her, taken in her twenties, probably a hundred years ago  she was fighting for workers rights and standing up to be counted.  It makes me proud.

More recent strong women, include my Mum, and my Aunties, who all found their way in a world that was built for men.  The did things together these women.  One learned to drive, they all learned to drive.  They worked in unison, they were a unit that wrapped all us cousins up in love.  Holidays together, in tiny caravans, gas lights and learning to play cards for halfpennies, drinking hot chocolate and laughing until we cried.  My Mum had the biggest handbag in the world, she needed it, for in that bag, was everything you would ever need.  A sewing set, plasters, scissors, paper and pen, string, you name it Mum had it.  She was perpetually prepared for life’s eventualities.

So by the time my girl arrived, I was well schooled in what a woman could be.  I knew my place, and it was never going to be the place people expected me to be.  I understood the importance of a big handbag, although in truth I have never actually been ‘that woman’.  Instead I made my own path, walking on the side of the street I liked the best and probably gave all my relatives quite a challenge.  Over the years, the family gave up expecting me to conform, and instead, took pride in my difference.  I also had fixed ideas how to bring up my girl.  From day one she knew who she was, and alongside the pink, and the ballet dresses, we also had the discussions on history and the importance of being herself.

She is exactly that my girl.  The sum of all the women that have gone before her, she is from good stock.  She moves around the world, using friendship, fairness and fun to navigate every situation.  She makes me proud every day.

Having your twenty fifth birthday in lock down, some people would be feeling sad, not my girl.  She is beyond excited, at all the packages that have been arriving for her, cards and gifts from those who love her, the inventive ways people have been in touch.  She will have an amazing day, and as she laughs her way through these tricky times, I am sure the women who have gone before are standing at her side, as they have been always at mine.



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