In honour of International Women’s Day I wanted to reflect on one of the most inspirational women I have known. I know lots of fantastic women ,who battle illness and adversity in a man’s world. When I teach history I try to include all the women in history to show our important place in society. But one has always stood out to me.
From my childhood one lady was a constant inspiration to me, my Nan. She was an amazing woman and I loved to hear the stories of her life. Born in the 1920s she was the fourth of eight children. She was training to be a concert pianist until she met my Granddad and her teacher made her pick between boys and the piano. Full of teenage hormones as she was, she picked my Granddad. She always played the piano though, even in the underground stations during the Blitz. I still think of her when I hear Beethoven 5th Symphony or anything classical really. I loved to hear her play.
She remembers seeing Mahatma Ghandi when he visited London in 1931. She seemed to truly believe in equality and love. She talked about living near the Kray brothers and cycling down their street to go visit my Granddad when they were courting. She seems to have lived through so much history.
She went on to join the Women’s Army in WWII and supported a Canadian Airbase in the south of England. She stayed truthful to her engagement to my Granddad, even when Canadian soldiers proposed. She felt she needed to actually help at a time of when her country was at war.
Her family home in Lambeth was also bombed during the Blitz in London. Leaving just the porch and outside toilet, the only parts her father had built. She spoke about loosing every family photograph and her grand piano. It really helped show how material things were just that, memories and keepsakes were much more important to her.
After the war she married my Granddad and had three children of her own, although also suffering many miscarriages in the ten years between my aunts and my father’s birth. Whilst bringing up her own children she also fostered babies and toddlers. She seemed to have so much love to give. She was kind and thoughtful. She listened and cared. She was my sanctuary away from my own mother.
Although to my knowledge, she never did anything to change what my mother was doing, she helped me survive. She taught me to try to accept mum as she was. That anger only festered in myself and hurt me. That you could box up emotions and hide them away to get by. She also gave me hope that I would grow up and be able to move out and away from her one day.
When she died I was 16 to her 82 years old. I felt like my world had collapsed. I knew she had to let go, she was in so much pain from the pancreatic cancer she had to endure. Yet I felt so alone. My support, my love, my surrogate mother was gone. My heart broke and although I put on a brave face I fell into depression.
To have lived through so much change in the twentieth century. Maybe she is why I love history so much. She taught me so many lessons in life. Most importantly she taught me to be a kind and thoughtful person. I think of her everyday in this mental world.