So, I debated quite a while about what I was going to post today, and decided I'd organize some old computer files so that I had all my family tree information in one folder, and stumbled across something about my great-grandmother that I felt I had to post. Before this, I was thinking of writing up something about the female lines of my family tree, but that can wait. Though this does fall into that category.
I wrote the prose and poem for this piece for different classes. One was for a Folklore class where we were asked to talk about a family heirloom, and one for a creative writing class that was just something that flowed out of a generic assignment that ended up focusing on her, which I believe was about old photos (I could be wrong). Each of the stanzas of the poem are based on moments or photos that spring to mind when I think of her.
A rose on her grave --
The frail, white-haired old woman,
Who smiled when she saw me.
“I think I’m shrinking as fast as you are growing.”
An elderly woman,
Saying good-bye to the man she loved.
Clattering around in an empty house
After fifty-three years, alone.
A doting grandmother,
Holding three fidgeting children on her lap
Helping turn the pages
As she read.
A proud mother,
Sending her son off to war,
Protecting her remaining family
The mother of four,
A child in her arms,
And three at her feet,
Building castles in the sand.
A young mother,
Holding her baby daughter
Clinging to her skirts.
The bashful bride
Of a man who traveled
Halfway round the world
To find her.
A gold sunburst necklace
All that I have
Of a woman I called “Nain”
- MKB, 12/98
One of my most treasured belongings, possibly the most treasured, is a starburst necklace that I got for my twenty-first birthday from my grandmother. My parents were both young when I was born, and I was the first grandchild on either side of my family, so I happily had two full sets of grandparents, and even three great-grandparents for about the first ten years of my life. Of these great-grandparents, the one that I recall especially fondly is my grandmother’s mother, a woman I called Nain (pronounced nine). Nain died in the early eighties when I was about ten, and her belongings were split among her children and grandchildren. I believe that this is when my grandmother came into possession of the necklace. When I reached my twenty-first birthday, my grandmother thought of giving me the necklace, since it had originally been given to her mother for her twenty-first birthday, and I was the only grandchild who recalled her, she thought that I should have something to remember her by.
My great-grandmother was born Eliza Anne Howells in 1885 in Southern Wales, the fourth child of a coal miner. Shortly after her birth, her father decided it would be better for his family if he found a healthier job, so he moved the family to his brother’s farm in Alberta, Canada. They lived there for a few years until the pressure of having two large families in a small house became too much, and the family moved again. This time they moved to the west coast—Vancouver, British Columbia. There he set up his own farm and became moderately prosperous. On Eliza’s twenty-first birthday, the family had a necklace made, and engraved with her initials, EH.
When I received the necklace on my twenty-first birthday, I was thrilled. I had nothing that reminded me of her except a picture or two, and those only showed her in the last years of her life. I have since become one of my family’s historians, and I know far more about her than I ever did before. This simple necklace, not expensively made, meant as a gift to a daughter who had just become an adult has since become much more as well. To my great-grandmother, it became a reminder of the family she loved. To my grandmother, her daughter, it was a way to recall the mother she had lost. For me, the necklace is my link to a woman who I adored, and a link to her past; a past that I am learning more about every day. The necklace has a place of honor next to my bedroom mirror, where I can see it each morning, and recall the woman it was made for.
- MKB, 2/2000
The necklace is the old-fashioned sort, that was made to give the owner other options in wearing it aside from as a necklace, so the pendant is also a broach. To have my great-grandmother close to me during my wedding, I pinned it to the inside of my sash on my wedding dress. It no longer hangs near my mirror, but has a special place of honour in my jewelry box along with my few other treasured pieces of jewelry. It’s still one of my most valued possessions.