26 July 2014

Cousins

Auntie Irene (1922-2014)
On Thursday, I travelled over The Pennines to what we Yorkshire folk often call "The Dark Side". Its real name is Lancashire. I was going to the funeral of a ninety two year old lady - my Auntie Irene. The funeral was held in the northern suburbs of Manchester in a place called Middleton. I had never been there before and I only ever met my Auntie Irene once - at my mother's funeral in 2007.

My mother only had one sibling - her brother Derek - who married Irene McGann shortly after World War II. Times must have been hard for them because when my own mum and dad returned from India - where they themselves had married in the last year of the war - Uncle Derek asked if he could borrow some money. By this time Irene had had a baby daughter - their first child. They needed to borrow £50 which was an enormous amount of money back then - equivalent to about two month's salary for an average worker.

Mum and Dad had very little spare cash and lending this money was a big sacrifice as they themselves began to settle back into civilian life. As I understand it, Uncle Derek was unable to repay the debt by the promised time. A big argument ensued which resulted in my Dad wanting to cut off all contact with Uncle Derek and Auntie Irene. This must have happened in 1946 - just before Mum gave birth to my oldest brother - our late and much missed Paul.

Anyway - the years passed - with Uncle Derek and Auntie Irene living life and raising a family in Middleton while Mum and Dad lived a parallel life in East Yorkshire. Irene bore five daughters and Mum bore four sons. On Thursday I learnt that Irene had in fact had a son too but he had died before he was a week old. Co-incidentally my mother also  had a baby girl but she was stillborn.

So five daughters and four sons grew up. We were and are of course cousins but we didn't know each other. Having five girl cousins could and should have been something that enriched our lives. My peers in our East Yorkshire village all seemed to be in touch with their extended families and I remember feeling quite envious of this. Isn't that how life was meant to be? And isn't the true meaning of "family" something richer and more extensive than the modern core nuclear family which is too often developed in geographical  isolation.
Middleton Parish Church - its origins can be traced back to the ninth century
The funeral had three phases. First there was a well-attended memorial service in Middleton's surprisingly wonderful and ancient parish church. Irene had nine siblings and so the McGann side of her family was numerous. She was a much-loved matriarch and had many friends, living life to the full right up to the end.

Next the funeral moved to Boarshaw Cemetery for the interment - witnessed by a crowd of perhaps a hundred. And then we all went on to Middleton Cricket Club for food and drink and conversation - marking the passing of Auntie Irene. And it was there I managed to snap this picture of my five girl cousins - now mature women of course with children - and in three cases - grandchildren of their own. I wish I had known them with pigtails I could pull, hide and seek and picnics on beaches, ghost stories and giggles, sandcastles and caravan holidays - growing up together - part of the same big family. But sadly it never happened.
My cousins - from left to right - Rene, Karen, Gaynor, Pam and Sandra

11 comments:

  1. Do you think you will stay in touch with your cousins now YP?

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    1. Carol - it feels as if the boat sailed a long time ago but I will meet up with Gaynor as she has requested. There should be lots to talk about - but in a way there won't be as they are like strangers to me now and you can never reclaim those years.

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    2. Perhaps don't focus on what you missed out on. They missed out too. That was your parents' business and families are funny things when it comes to money. I could tell you a story or two. You are all adults and it might be nice to get to know them as adults. Take it slowly and do what feels right.

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    3. P.S. I think it was lovely you paid respect to an Aunt you never knew, for your Mum.

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  2. What a pity you missed that association YP. My childhood memories of times with my cousins are things I cherish and even though we have drifted apart as our own families have grown, we have that basic knowledge of each other to build on when we reconnect -most often sadly at funerals but occasionally at weddings. Happily I am finding that as we are getting older we are all feeling the urge to reconnect and get to know the adults we have become.

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    1. Do you know Helen - I think I partly had your own "cousins" post in mind when I wrote this. It was clear that you had known those cousins in your youth - family members of your own generation - something I never knew.

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    2. My family is so large YP. I have 50 first cousins on my mother's side and grew up seeing quite a lot of many of them. Didn't always like them when we were kids but find I like most of them a lot more in old age!

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  3. I can't imagine life as a youngster without cousins although I had a couple I would happily have done without. I didn't have older brothers and did not appreciate being bossed around by older boys. I hope you enjoy your future meetings with your cousin.

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    1. Thanks for dropping by Pauline and appreciating that because of the absence of these cousins there was a gap in my childhood.

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  4. I like to think that your Aunt Irene was smiling down on the six of you - her five girls and their cousin, finally meeting for the first (but hopefully not the last) time in their lives.
    To me, family means a lot - no matter where they live these days, although I must admit I am much closer with the Yorkshire part than the Provence part, and I have not been in touch with any of my relatives in northern Germany in many years. Nothing "happened" to keep the north and the south branch of the Hölscher family separate; we just drifted apart, it seems.

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  5. When I was young the world was a much larger place than it is now and both my paternal uncles emigrated: one to Canada and one to Australia. I have never met my Canadian cousins. I have no maternal cousins. I have quickly gone from a large family in my parents' youth to a very small family now.

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