Amy Frances Gomm: (b.1899): Habits, Culture & Beliefs – Writing Lives

Amy Frances Gomm: (b.1899): Habits, Culture & Beliefs

‘Three stirs and a wish for everyone’ (Gomm, 43)

It is not unreasonable to conclude that Amy was definitely a family oriented person. Her memoir reveals that the majority of her social interactions are in fact with family. Throughout the 163 page memoir the significance of family traditions are frequently brought to the reader’s attention. In the first few pages Amy reveals fond memories of how her Uncle Ned would return home from ‘the smithy at the end of a days work’ (Gomm, 9) and would place Laurie and herself on each of his knees. She speaks endearingly of how he would sing old folk songs to them, stating that ‘the concert would begin. He was the programme arranger, and the soloist. We’d join in the chorus – sometimes’ (Gomm, 9). The particular folk songs that Amy speaks of, ones such as ‘Uncle Tom Cobleigh’ and ‘Bryan O’lynn’, can be traced back to the 1800s. The songs revolve around the cultural life of the working class, and speak of hardships and the resilient get-on-with-it attitude.

An Oxfordshire church school class of 1900-1910. Find this picture

Amy stresses the importance of Sunday traditions. Without going into too much detail about religion, she makes us aware that the Church was of some significance to her family by stating that they would attend the morning Church service every Sunday. After the service, she and her siblings would then attend Sunday school where they ‘had to be there at 2pm’  (Gomm, 27). Amy recalls memories of Sunday afternoons, where her brothers would receive a telling off from their father for singing songs that they were not taught in school:

‘if you did sing on a Sunday, it had to be hymns’ (Gomm, 27).

The traditional Sunday family dinner was of great importance to Amy’s family: ‘This was the only meal we had when all sat down together, and dad’s Sunday off made it special’ (Gomm, 27). She talks of how her family had the habit of being too boisterous over dinner, everyone desperately trying to have their voice heard; ‘everybody talking together about what they’d been doing, what they meant to do… So much to say, so little time to say it all’ (Gomm, 27)

Amy clearly cherishes the time she spent with her mum, mentioning a few times throughout the memoir special things that they would do together. She speaks of the Dandelion tea they would brew together, a tradition that had been passed on in her family. She states ‘stories were told of our parents great great somethings – Aunts and Uncles perhaps who’d been miraculously cured, their lives saved by drinking its infusions’ (Gomm,23). She further expresses the excitement she would feel when she had hospital appointments as her mother, as a treat, would take her to the ‘creamery’ where they would both indulge in a variety of cakes, bread and butter and tea. Amy reveals ‘the thing that kept me going was the thought of what waited for us outside; the creamery… this was our treat mother and I. Only the two of us… having mother to myself’’ (Gomm, 78).

There is no specific mention of friends by name in Amy’s memoir, however she does reminisce of her early days as a child when the local children would gather and make what she calls ‘spanish and water’. Amy states that the ‘big boys’ would buy the ‘spanish’, which she describes as being a block of licorice, from the grocer and the children would get together to slice it up and brew it in hot water. She talks of how each child would fill up their bottle with the mixture and set off after dinner to play in the streets;

‘there would be other children around our age. Girls of course, who wanted boys? We would talk and sip and walk a bit and sip and talk and sip again, tasting each other’s brews to compare the quality’ (Gomm, 24).

This comment about not wanting to play with the boys appears again a few pages on in the memoir, with Amy recalling how the girls and the boys would not walk to or from school collectively but rather go out of their way to remain apart. ‘The boys and the girls didn’t mix on their way to and from school… after a day’s cramming the boys would hang around until the fair sex had a good start on them’ (Gomm, 33)

An illustration of a mother carrying the Christmas pudding, 1800’s. Find this picture

A pleasant section of Amy’s memoir is the recollections of her families Christmas traditions. Again, music is a prominent feature. She reveals how her family would all sit around and sing Christmas hymns together and talks about her experiences carolling. She mentions how she knew which houses to avoid, as the ‘big boys’ would play tricks on her and her friends by heating up the pennies over a fire before dropping them in their hands as a donation. A specific tradition Amy mentions is how her mother would make Christmas puddings every year. She states that she would make enough for everyone, even those who ‘having the will to make, mightn’t have the wherewithal’ (Gomm, 43). Every year when Amy’s mother would make the puddings, each member of the family would take their turn stirring the batter and making a wish; ‘three stirs and a wish for everybody’ (Gomm, 43). Amy tells us that every year she would wish for a doll, despite not being particularly fond of them. ‘It was traditional for girls to want dolls, and I wasn’t the one to break tradition’ (Gomm, 43).

A thing that reoccurs from beginning to end of Amy’s memoir is the emphasis on how her home was always open to visitors. Not only her family home where she lived with her mother and father but also her various homes later in life which she shared with Laurie. She reveals at the beginning of her memoir that ‘there were no invitations people just came. All were welcome’ (Gomm,30). People would just ‘drop in’ and that ‘even if it wasn’t near a meal time, mother would get the teapot out almost as she greated them. The kettle must have always been on the boil’ (Gomm, 30). Amy recalls the ‘dough cake’ (Gomm, 30) her mother used to have made when they knew they were having visitors, she speaks of how her and her siblings would drop the ingredients off at the local bakery and the baker would make the cake for a small charge. Even in Amy’s early adulthood, she keeps this tradition alive, she reveals how the extended family would come and stay with her and Laurie for long weekends and holidays; ‘we were, and always had been, a family that folks dropped in on’ (Gomm, 150)

Little is mentioned in the memoir about organised social events that took place where Amy lived, but she briefly mentions that ‘there was a local ‘do’ about once a year’ to which her dad would attend. It was acceptable for men to go without a partner but for women this was unheard of. She reminisces on the times her and her sisters would get her dad ready for the dance, revealing that ‘getting dad ready was a breathtaking affair’ (Gomm, 80). She talks of her dad being a good dancer and says that Laurie followed in his footsteps. She then makes lighthearted jokes at her own expense expressing that she was not so good at being able grasp the rhythm.

‘If I tried to trip the light fantastic, I’d find I had too many feet all going the wrong way’ (Gomm, 80)

When Amy was in her early adulthood and resided in Oxford, she had the chance to take trips and holidays. She shares with us that with the introduction of more bank holidays came the chance of longer trips to Charlbury; ‘there was no question about where we’d go…nobody went to the seaside in those days… even if we had a wide choice, it would have been Charlbury for us’ (Gomm, 140). She talks of the introduction of the railway lines and how they’d all gather and watch the rich individuals getting on and off the trains going about their business. She also mentions how during the war time social gatherings were difficult to come by; ‘social occasions bristled with problems. There was no cake in the larder to offer’ (Gomm, 140). Amy recalls memories of the town crier, she states that this is how everyone kept up to date with the goings on whether it be ‘a lost or found item or an event’ (Gomm, 146)

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