Home and Family – Florence Powell
Home and family are difficult factors to identify in Florence Powell’s memoir. Although her experiences of both were somewhat unconventional, her memories of them are nevertheless, just as important and sentimental as anybody else’s.
Although her memoir shows no experience of a traditional family life, it is undeniable that Powell placed a great deal of value on the idea of family and the home. From the very beginning of her memoir, she recalls being taken to the orphanage by Miss Holmes, reflecting fondly that: ‘I must mention that Miss Holmes was very kind to me. I kept in touch with her for many years. She always remembered my birthday and gave me a present at Christmas’ (p.2) Although this may seem like a small gesture to readers, considering the context of Powell’s life, it is clear that something as simple as having her birthday remembered and celebrated each year was an important representation of the family values she longed to experience.
The simple moments of appreciation that Powell describes seem to represent her loneliness and longing for a more homely, family life. Powell recalls being invited to the home of a family from church, describing that ‘the homely kind of atmosphere always left its mark with me.’ (p.18) Powell’s use of ‘homely’ to describe her visit to somebody else’s home seems particularly striking, as it reminds readers that the orphanage, no matter how attached she became to it, could never have had the warm ‘homely’ feel that a real home possesses.
However, one biological family member that Powell does discuss in the memoir, is her Grandmother, who came to visit when she could afford to travel by train. Powell writes lovingly of their time together, describing in precise detail that they went to the cinema to see “Curly Top” starring Shirley Temple. Coincidently, the film is about an orphan who is adopted by a wealthy man.
She also describes the music played in the intervals by the organist, describing ‘other sounds that the organ played were train noises, chimes, tambourines, symbols and chirping birds.’ Powell’s description of musical noises seem to almost echo the childhood she describes in her memoir, such as the train visits from her Grandmother and ‘sing songs’ by the piano with the other girls. Whether this is intentional or not, it complements the stories in her memoir very well.
While reflecting on this day at the cinema, Powell concludes: ‘I wish that this built-in nostalgic would come back, it was so haunting’ (p.21). This is one of the few moments in the memoir where Powell expresses deeper feelings about her childhood. The use of ‘haunting’ projects a more sinister light on her experiences, suggesting that the days out with her Grandmother were held in such high esteem partly due to the contrast with everyday life at the orphanage.
However, one figure from the orphanage who seemed to really affect Powell’s experiences both as a child and as an adult in later life is Miss Loveridge. Powell describes her as ‘the one person that helped me the most. She managed to get me enrolled in nursing’ (p.19). This suggests that in her own way, Miss Loveridge took on a parental role for Powell, by advising her and helping her plan a future.
Powell goes on to write, ‘I certainly have a great deal to be thankful for, besides being interested in me at the beginning, she kept in touch with me until she died’ (p.19) Powell shares that as an adult she planned to go and visit Miss Loveridge at her home in Cern Abbass with her husband, yet she died before they had the chance to visit. However, she reinforces the eternal sentiment of their relationship by concluding:
‘Her friendship will always be important to me. She helped me to realize that people did care’ (p.20)
Powell, Florence, ‘An Orphanage in the Thirties’, duplicated pamphlet,pp.26. Illustrated. Brunel University Library
Clip from Curly Top (1935) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fElh8TKLiYM