The topic for one of my writing groups is ‘My life… so far, but as with all our topics it is merely a prompt to creativity, and the stories others have already shared prior to getting together are wonderful and varied. I’ve mentioned here before that I’ve tried many times to write my history – and most of my attempts have been awkward, stilted, and not engaging at all. A brief summary of my life would be born and grew up in Cambridge, went to school, did a lot of swimming, moved to Weston-super-Mare, moved to Manchester, worked at the airport, became a teacher, moved to Oldham, married, had kids, moved back to Weston, writes a lot, have always enjoyed going to pubs. So I am not going to write about me, but about another person, reflecting on her life in a letter to her daughter.
My dearest Ida, today will be, I hope, the happiest day of your life, and from this time onwards, I sincerely wish and pray that happiness continues to shine upon you and you have a long and fulfilled future. It is my continuing sorrow that your father hasn’t been with us while you have grown from a child to the beautiful young lady you are today. He was a wonderful man and a wonderful father to you and your brothers, and I mourn him each day that I live.
Now that you are leaving me as a daughter to become a wife to Reginald, and I hope a mother in the future, I feel that I must tell you certain things about my life. You may have guessed, you may have heard things from your older brothers, or your grandmother and uncles, or other people. Today, the beginning of your new life, I want you to know some of my life.
You know that I was born in 1853 and that my maiden name was Penney because you have it as one of your names, as do Nelson and Edward. There were reasons why George and Horace don’t carry it too, but that is not important now.
I was born in a small village in Rutland; my dear, you would be shocked and surprised if you were able to visit that small country cottage where I arrived in the world. We had a pump in the yard – can you imagine it, and we had no help for my mother, only my four big sisters, Georgiana, Mary, Martha and Sarah. My elder sister Matilda sadly died before I was born, and poor Harriet died when I was only a baby. My mother’s name was Martha Ann Quenby and my father, a basket maker by trade was Charles Penney.
You may be shocked by my humble beginnings, but I sometimes find it hard to forgive myself for trying to pretend my dear family was different. I had younger sisters and a brother, like you my brother’s name was George, and I had two little sisters, Anne and Elizabeth. If you were to meet my brother George now you would be surprised at what a grand and successful man he has become. My father’s trade of basket making grew through George’s vison and industry, and he now has several factories in the northern town of Mansfield. Sadly I no longer know him, and he might pass me in the street and we would not recognise each other.
You have four loving brothers, and it grieves me that you only know one of my sisters, your dear Aunt Sarah. You see, my family no longer ‘know’ me; when I married your father I was cast adrift from them. My dear mother had died and father had married again – in the same year that your brother George was born. In fact you have a half-uncle and aunt from my father’s second marriage a similar age to George and Horace!
Part 2 tomorrow!