My own History Teacher

Being married to a retired Senior School history teacher has some great perks. We are currently enjoying as many travel experiences as we can. He researches the places we visit and tells me, in the unstuffy language of leaving the classroom behind, of the events, the people and the background to the places we visit.
Last year we visited Krakow. An inspiring and sad place. Beauty and the beast, mingled. We visited Auschwitz and Birkenau while we were there. My husband taught the history of the last century for 40 years and, on retirement, felt he had a need to find out more and pay our respects.
It was a truly unforgettable experience.
Words cannot convey the many emotions. It was encapsulated, for me by the Jewish youngsters, walking back from a service led by their teacher, waving their Star of David banners and singing sad songs. They were walking along the tracks that led from the gates to the ovens at Birkenau. It was an unforgettable moment. A defiance, mixed with a whole world of respect.
So many questions crowded into my mind, so many emotions, thoughts, so many images. It was an overwhelming experience.
I believe that all bigots and racists should be taken there.
My neighbour is a German woman, aged 90. Her first husband was in the SS, he was cruel to her and they divorced. She is now happily married to an English ex-RAF man. My neighbours……..I know that for many of the ordinary German people, the rumours were not believable, they say they didn’t know what was going on. Who am I to judge? What would we do in their place?
Tomorrow, my History teacher and I are off again, to Berlin for a few days. It’s going to be another learning adventure…..the best way to bring history to life. I will post more impressions when I return.


Gather the Memories…. while you may

We went today to see an old relative, and her husband.
Old friends, relatives of my husband’s, the only ones left from the previous generation.
Fancifully named Aurora, she remembers three generations dead and gone. She remembers house names, addresses, pet names and relationships.
Aurora, throwing light on the shifting patterns of darkness
Mysteries of family gone.
Remembrances of shapes and sizes,
Of where the graves are,
Of turns of phrase.
We return to the family home.
Search through musty boxes,
Hidden shelves.
We find the images that give shape to the stories
The search goes on.
We hope Aurora does too.

Times Forgotten (2)

A heavy silence lingers over the house. As always, I feel strangely disconnected on this day. Good Friday. I have to state immediately that my Christianity is of the lapsed variety, but it is in my DNA, my vivid memories, my history. Oh, I know all the epistemological arguments….it all comes down to faith and feelings in the end. Sometimes fear, too.
From the age of nearly 3 to around 14 years I always spent Easter with my grandparents. It was my yearly holiday… chance to be spoiled, appreciated, taken out for treats. I was always bought new sandals (Start-rite or Clarks). The first of the year. I always wore short white socks for the first time in the year on Easter Sunday.
On Good Friday I was always told we had to sit quietly, read, be calm, don’t disturb the grown-ups. There was always fish pie for dinner (at lunch time) and always church.
The church, Emmanuel, was a red-brick Victorian edifice. It has since burned down. It was a short, quiet, respectful walk from my grandparent’s house. Once there I was transfixed by the huge swells of the organ music, mournful and minor-key. The hymns gave me a taste for words and their power. ‘My richest gains I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride’, ‘Can death thy bloom deflower?’, ‘Did e’er such love and sorrow meet….’ All sung in the saddest of respectful metre, all in the minor key. Even at the age of around five, I was aware of the mysticism, the strength of the sounds of these unknown words. The day was pervaded with a heavy, funereal tone. The shops were closed. My grandfather took me for quiet walk to the key side, calling in on my great-grandmother on the way back. All very fitting and respectful. As far as I’m aware, my grandparent’s faith was not a very central part of their lives. It was how most families lived then.
To this day, the ghosts of my grandparents shape my use of time on Good Friday. I sit quietly, I do not go to the shops, I listed to J S Bach’s powerful St Matthew Passion, Mozart’s majestic Requiem. I feel restless, disconnected.
I am still wondering about what faith means to me. I am still not convinced by the stories, I believe in honesty, in treating my fellow man and woman as I would wish to be treated, the central tenets of so many religions.
The sounds of the old Anglican hymns re-echo still inside the fibres of my being.
‘Love so making, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.’
Where is that love from?

At My Mother’s Knee

Red's Wrap

Showing up after ten years’ absence when your mother is ill with Alzheimer’s Disease and having her look at you and say, “I never thought I’d see you again,” and realizing that if you had waited, like you wanted to, for another six months to pass before coming home, she would probably forget who you were, all of this is a very big deal. And it’s an important story to tell even if I don’t know exactly how to tell it.

I’d been warned by my father about my mother’s deepening Alzheimer’s Disease or A.D. as he called it in his letters. Our written correspondence had been going on for over a year, the melting of ten years’ worth of silence into drops of questions and information. I told him about his grandchildren, one of whom had been adopted during our estrangement and whom he had never met. I told…

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The surprise is

When I was young, I was sure that only I would understand what it was that I was feeling, right here, right now.
When I was in my first decade I was sure that grown-ups were a race of people who didn’t know what it was to be young.
When I was in my teens I knew, just KNEW that those same grown-ups wouldn’t understand anything about my world, my fears, my hopes, my dreams.
When I was in my twenties I was busy building……..relationship, marriage, home, career, image. Too busy to wonder about the nature of these things.
When I was in my thirties I was consolidating, feeling grown-up, yet strangely feeling just the same as I had always felt inside the very centre, the core, the essence of me. I had entered the world of the grown-ups. Yet I was just the same as I had always been. I was waiting to feel really grown-up.
When I was in my forties I made progress in my career, experienced more countries, grew my circle of involvement in activities, felt that I was in the most influential phase…..yet I was still the same me.
When I was in my fifties, I was seriously ill, faced cancer, redundancy, recovery, relief, awareness of the importance of family, wonderful husband, friendships, survival. Even though I was buffeted about by circumstance, I still felt the presence of young girl that I had been, unchanged in so many ways.
Now I am in my sixties, that girl is still here within me, I catch an expression sometimes in the mirror that reminds me of who she was. In the same mirror that shocks me with how she has become…….
The constants are the real surprise. The ageing process is the ephemera of the progress of years. The constants are spinning shards, spiralling shifts, fractured, captured moments that share the girls delight in nature, landscapes, music, clever words, poetry. Everything changes yet nothing really does. That’s the surprise.

Feeling drained DPchallenge

imageAwoke early this morning, alone. Dagger piercing my temple (metaphorical, of course).
Dragged myself to the shop, elderly neighbour needs his daily paper.
Messaged my friend….’Can’t go to class’.
Messaged my Mum, ‘May not make it tomorrow’.
Messaged my husband ‘Don’t ring me just yet’
Hate the unreliability bestowed by migraines.