‘I still like my own home…’ (7).
In this second post of Mary’s home and family, I wanted to focus on her adult home and family life as opposed to her earlier childhood years. What I first noticed about Mary’s writing in her later years is she lived alone and felt rather lonely. She often mentions her loneliness, shown through comments in her memoir such as, ‘life has often been lonely’ (7). Whilst Mary’s earlier years appear to be full of family memories and events, the later years of her life seem to have been spent dealing with the loss of her family members. In particular, Mary talks about the sadness she feels about losing both her husband and son in the late 1940’s. Mary writes about the close proximity of their deaths: ‘my son was killed in a road accident in 1946, age 33, and my husband died in 1948’ (6). I found this part of Mary’s memoir particularly upsetting, as I couldn’t imagine the grief that she must have endured at this time.
It is clear through Mary’s writing that the loss of her son really affected her and her husband’s life. Not only does she mention that her husband never ‘got over’ (6) the death of their son, but the omission of his name and the lack of details about his life reveal perhaps that the memory of her son was too painful to talk about. Whilst Mary does mention his work and college achievements but the lack of other details suggests that Mary did not wish to remember him as it would have upset her. Similarly, Mary does not go into much detail about her husband. This could show one way in which Mary dealt with grief in her adult life, by simply omitting her feelings. Although Mary tells us that her husband never got over her son’s death, she herself says nothing about how she dealt with this loss. Much as Julie-Marie Strange finds, ‘most working class autobiographies seemed to omit discussion of private and emotional feelings’ (Strange, 2005, 10).
Unfortunately, losing close relatives was all too common within Mary’s life. The first instance of loss that Mary encountered was her own parents: ‘My father died at the age of 76…Mother lived 7 years after his death we all felt very sad & lonely when they had both gone’ (12-13). Although Mary suffered the grief of losing both her parents, her memoir does not dwell on their death but rather celebrates their lives as she thinks of them through happy memories. By talking through the memories of her family members, Mary is able to stay connected with them, which allows her to deal with this loss through her adult years. Living alone, she relates how writing her recollections is ‘like having company, almost as if the family were here with me’ (27). As Julie Marie Strange describes, ‘Remembrance could adopt a timelessness which not only enabled the bereaved to maintain some form of relationship with the memory of the dead, but which could also represent healthy adaptation to loss’ (Strange, 2005, 195). Mary appears to deal with her grief and loneliness through reconnecting with her family memories, remembering them as opposed to grieving over their loss. She describes her joy in being able to tell her family story, as she reveals she is ‘the only one left’ (26) to tell it. Mary writes, ‘Id often wished I could tell the story of my grandfather and my father’s wonderful conversion also to pay tribute to my mother for all she did to find the rest of my grandfather’s family’ (32). Telling these tales of her family, Mary was able to keep the memory of her family alive and allow the story to be passed on to a new generation.
According to Mary’s letters she moved from Heanor to Shrewsbury. She talks very little about the home she shared with her husband and children, however she does mention that her friends see it as ‘cosy and comfortable’ (17). Whilst I can only picture the family home that Mary created for herself and her family, her later move to another address in Shrewsbury suggests that she wanted to move closer to her daughter. In her last letter Mary writes, ‘I left the vineyard Longnor on Oct 21st & am very happy to be in Bayston Hill, as now I am only 5 minutes from my daughter & she calls every day to be sure I am alright’ (34). Through this, we get an image that Mary had a close relationship with her remaining child.This is reiterated as Mary says ‘(I) can’t go out & do my own shopping’ (16). Before her move, Mary lived 4 miles from her daughter as she wished to stay in the home she loved, saying, ‘I still like my own home’ (7). This move also hints at Mary becoming older, meaning she perhaps needed extra help with her daily tasks in her later years. Although Mary had a wonderful attitude to her elderly age describing, ‘I am so happy to still be able to do my own work & look after myself’ (34), she was also aware of getting older. As Mary is noted, she was 89 at the time of writing, sand she regrets how ‘one can’t turn the clock back, so I am rather slow at times’ (34).
Although apart in distance, Mary mentions that she spent every weekend with her daughter, showing the closeness of their relationship. She also noted that ‘lots of friends were willing to help with both paint &cleaning material & laying of carpets’ (34) as she moved into her new house. This suggests that although Mary lived alone, she was surrounded by people who cared for her and who she spent a lot of time with. This was a lovely thing to read as amidst Mary’s grief and loss, she had strong and happy relationships with her remaining family and friends.
Before Mary’s move, she talks of the pride she felt towards her home, which is shown mainly through the way in which she speaks about her furniture. As N. J. Pounds notes, ‘furniture and furnishings came pride in their appearance…The desire to show off now became manifest amongst people of the middle and lower sort and their homes become their show case’ (Pounds, 1994, 173). Mary goes into detail talking about her floral tapestry chairs, her sideboard which has ‘a very lovely mirror’ (20), and the dining table she owned which she describes as, ‘very popular at the time’ (19).
Mary also notes the exclusiveness of her furniture, as she talks of her dining table saying, ‘I have never seen one like mine’ (20). It becomes clear that Mary took pride of her home. Not only this, but her furniture allows her home to become a talking point. She notes that her friends talk of ‘how good the furniture looks’ and how her dining table played host to social events, ‘it has had lots of real parties with 12 people seated around it’ (19). Pound further notes, ‘Moveable goods had expressive roles and could be used to draw lines in social relationships’ (Pounds, 1994, 173). This is most evident as Mary’s furniture becomes a social focal point, allowing her to host parties, with her home becoming a place of pride and admiration.
Although Mary’s adult life emanates one of sadness as she deals with the loss of her family members, her resilience shines through. The most intriguing thing I found was the pride she felt for the furniture she owned, showing the appreciation she has for all things she has in life, and how her home has allowed her a place of comfort and pride in her adult years.
Pounds, N.J.G. The Culture of the English People: Iron Age to the Industrial Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Strange, Julie-Marie. Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, 1870–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
1: 719 TRIGGLE, Mary Laura, Series of autobiographical letters, MS, pp.25 (c.4,000 words). BruneI University Library.
Picture of Mary’s adult home: googlemaps.co.uk
Picture of Lawrence’s furniture: google images (originally from vintage selling sites).