Thursday, 26 December 2013

Perhaps the most precious stocking stuffer ever

 Yesterday morning, I reached into my Christmas stocking and out came an old address book. In the inside flyleaf, dated "18/12/19""from Ada", is my grandmother's signature as I never saw it before, because I always saw her sign as a married woman.  She had also written out her initials: KAG.  I have linen marked KAL.

On December 18th, 1919, my grandmother turned nineteen.  It had  been a tough year.  Nine months earlier, her elder and only sister Dorothy had died in one of the waves of the great Spanish Influenza pandemic that swept the world after the First World War.  Gran told me of being summoned from work in downtown Wolverhampton, a long and anxious tram-ride home.  When she got to her sister's bedroom, her sister was struggling to speak to her husband of six months, but her lungs were full of fluid.  It was February 19th.  Dorothy Beatrice Saunders née Griffiths was twenty-six.

Just a couple of years later, Kathleen went on a seaside holiday to Aberystwyth with her mother.  A university student had his digs in the lodging house where they were staying. His best friend was a classmate, a red-haired Welshman from Whitland, Carmarthenshire who took note of the dark-haired young girl with a Welsh surname and a Wolverhampton accent.  He asked to be introduced, and when the time came for her to return home, inquired if he might write to her.

His name and address appear four times in her address book. The first is his family home, the next two are places he lived while completing his undergraduate and master's degrees in zoology at the University College at Wales in Aberystwyth. (I'm not sure about the fourth -- I'll have to do some digging to see if it was university-related or perhaps a relative's home.)

After some hesitation on her part -- she was a pretty girl with a good job and plenty of male admirers -- Aneurin Lewis insisted on a commitment and they were engaged four years before their marriage in 1928.

However, she had no knowledge of that when she received this address book in 1919, although a seaside fortune teller once told her that she would travel far from her home and "live to a great age". (Very true -- two of her children were born in Kenya, and she died, at age 91, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.) In the meantime, although I can find no evidence of Kath's Griffiths and Stokes aunts, uncles and cousins, I did find her future sister-in-law Edna Redman. Edna married Kath's brother Charles in 1922 and bore him five children before he committed suicide in 1932. That tragedy destroyed family connections and Edna disappeared from my grandmother's life, along with Kath's niece and nephews. It was only a few years ago that one of Edna's and Charles' grandchildren got in touch with me through Ancestry. He is now a Facebook friend, and we look forward to meeting him and his wife sometime this year.

Another in-law: William Saunders, her widowed brother-in-law who had watched helplessly while his bride succumbed to the flu the previous February. Apparently, he eventually asked Kath to marry him. She refused, but the two addresses she had for him on this page indicate that she stayed in touch for some years.  In between his addresses is Muriel Silvester, who would be Kath's maid of honour in 1928.

A last sad little treasury in the end paper of this address book: the dates of the deaths of my grandmother's immediate family, along with the clipped obituaries for her parents. My great-grandfather Harry Griffiths passed away unexpectedly in his sleep; my great-grandmother Clara awoke in the morning to find him dead next to her. As a child, my mother had startled her mother by remarking: "Granny Griffiths is going to get run over!" Mama had been the witness of several close calls. A few months after her husband's death, Clara was hit by a bus (or an army truck). After months of being in traction, she died of pneumonia. Kath, unable to return to England from Kenya due to the war, was devastated. Below the clippings, the deaths of Kath and her husband Aneurin are noted in my mother's handwriting.

So, my little holiday miracle: my mother was going to throw this out, but thought the better of it and passed it along to Father Christmas. Thank goodness!