National Grandparents Day

November 3rd, was National Grandparents Day. Sadly, mine are all gone. My mum’s father, John Westwater Campbell, died before I as born, and her mum, Maud Elizabeth Campbell, was bedridden when I was born, and although I’m told I used to toddle around her bed talking to her, I don’t remember her at all.

My father’s parents though, I do remember. John Francis and Leah Ward lived in Belgrave, Leicester.  A fairly short bus ride away from where we lived in Birstall and for my dad, a walk of about 1.5 miles – it seemed much further as a child. We didn’t own a car, so we travelled everywhere by bus, or walked. I think I probably did walk it at some point with my dad, but if mum was with us, we would have definitely taken the bus.

Mum was quite snobbish. The only reason I think she had this opinion of herself, is that she went to a private girls’ school, and her parents lived in their own home, which my grandfather had built. Although detached, it wasn’t a house on its own, in its own grounds.   When it was built in 1936, I assume it was how roads developed, because by the 1950’s, it sat in the middle of an entire road of detached and semi-detached houses, all different designs, but within the style of the late 30’s.

My father on the other hand came from a working-class background, where his parents lived in a two-up, two-down terrace. You gained access via an entry between two houses and walked through the neighbour’s garden to get to my grandparent’s garden and back door. We never entered through the front door, which opened directly into the front room, only used for extremely posh occasions. In fact, the only time I remember it being used was when my grandad was laid out in his coffin.

I know very little about either of my grandparents’ past.  I know that Grandad Campbell, worked as a printer, could speak French fluently, and during the First World War he worked as a translator. They had moved down from Manchester to Leicester, just before Mum was born. Grandma Campbell was a home-maker, also having to look after my mum’s brother, Ken, who we think was damaged at birth. Grandad, went to a lot of business ‘do’s, and because his wife had to stay with Ken, when Mum was older, he usually took her with him. When Mum’s parents died, their home, became hers, because by that time, sadly, her brother had also passed away.

Grandad Ward, I think, might have worked on the buses, but I only ever remember him being retired. He volunteered for the St John’s Ambulance Service, and held the Order of St John’s medal. This is awarded to people who have 10 years of service, working for a minimum of 60, voluntary hours a year. Quite rightly, he was very proud of this medal. Once, he took me to the Headquarters, where they had a dummy to practise taking care of and bandaging. He told me her name was Lizzy, which I don’t believe it was, but he obviously wanted to make me happy.  He also used to tease me a great deal. The other thing I remember, was that his kisses were always sloppy, wet ones, and I would quickly wipe my mouth. Yet something else for him to tease me about!

He and my dad used to regularly trick me at meal times. As we sat at the table eating, usually during pudding, one of them would say, ‘who’s that coming down the garden?’ I’d turn to look, and when I turned back to continue eating my pudding it had disappeared.  I never learned, I got caught out every single time!

Grandad died when I was ten. I can still clearly remember his funeral, well, before the funeral, as at that age, my parents decided I was too young to go the ceremony. In fact, that would have been the less upsetting situation.  As I mentioned earlier, Grandad was laid out in his coffin, in the best, front room.  Everyone was going in to see him, and Grandma asked me several times, if I wanted to see him. Each time, I’d said ‘no’.   Then, craftily, she asked me if I wanted to see the flowers. Of course, I said I did, and when she took me in, she whipped off the cotton cloth that was covering his face, for me to see Grandad. He looked like a plastic version of himself. He had been made up, and his cheeks looked far pinker than in real life.  It wasn’t my Grandad, it was an empty husk that looked like him.  That event stayed with me for a long while, and when my mum died, I didn’t want to see her. I wanted to remember her as she was alive.

The other amusing thing about the situation was that Grandad’s sister went in to see him, and when she came out, said the immortal words, “Eh, he looks just like on his wedding day.”

I began to giggle, and was trying hard to contain myself. Mum thought I was upset and crying, until I told her about the comment – then she laughed too.

Grandma Ward, was a tall, slim lady. Her hair, like mine was very fine. At the front, it looked short, and curly, but the back of her hair was actually quite long. She used to roll it on a dolly-peg, into a large curl that she pinned into the nape of her neck.  I don’t know what she had for a job, if she had worked before having her two sons.

I wish I had asked my parents more about my grandparents, but as a child, I didn’t.  Due to my mother’s snobbery, she rarely talked about my dad’s family and if she did, often in a disparaging manner.  My paternal cousin has traced back some information on an ancestry site, but it’s hard to find out much without being very committed and travelling around to churchyards and seeking out local birth and death registries to find more. Plus, the fact, that often people named their sons after fathers. In fact, Grandma Ward, called her husband, Frank or Dadda, and my dad’s brother was also called Frank… and Dad’s middle name was Francis. All very confusing.

A lady I know, who is a grandmother and is a history buff, regularly talks to her grandchildren about her life, and the life of her parents. She takes them to visit places linked to family, and they have created a family tree together. By the time they are adults, they will have a strong sense of their ancestors for several generations, thanks to her interest and desire to share the family history. Hearing about her conversations makes me regret not asking, even more.

What do you know about your family background and history?