Saturday, October 31, 2009

Grandma Ruby

My father spent his life as an only child. His mum, my Grandma (and Ellanor Ruby's part namesake) had a very tough life. To cut a long story short, she spent time in an orphanage after her mum died (pregnant with her TENTH child, but only the 4th one that Grandma ever knew about) and her father couldn't look after the children. She and her younger sister, Joan, raised themselves into young women and had a grand time around wartime London.

When they were evacuated from Folkestone up to Chester, fate created my father (with her boss). Grandma raised Dad on her own for a few years, until she met and married my gorgeous Granddad, who adopted Dad and created a new life with them, for them. Their attempts to conceive were dashed, several times, resulting in awful losses (that we never knew about, as a family, in any great detail until the day when Grandma told me over the phone - I had called to tell her I lost our first baby in 2000 and it all just came spilling out of her).

After that conversation with Grandma, I felt kindred with her. She wasn't an exceptionally loving woman, not demonstrative with it, anyway. Hers was a gruff affection. She was gorgeous with it but it was also really confronting and didn't feel like love - not the love I wanted from her, anyway, as a kid.

Grandma died about 5 months after our phone chat. She died of a heartattack, right in front of me (and Steve). Utterly profound experience, especially given my new connection with her.

Then Dad began to really get into genealogy and researching his Mum's family. He spent his life believing there must be more cousins out there for him to meet (he had one that he knew of, a boy who was, allegedly, killed by a gunman at university/college in the US.... but there is a slight suspicion it may have been suicide). And lo and behold, with the world getting smaller as it is these days, Dad has uncovered countless family. Cousins (the children of his mother's long lost siblings, people she herself didn't know about, some of them half brothers/sisters but a couple of full blood relations).

Grandma's younger brother's name was Frank. He died a relatively young man - if I remember correctly, he returned from the war a very changed man and ended up stumbling, drunk, into the path of a bus in London. A goner, instantly.

This brother, Frank, had children. One of these children, a girl (I can't remember her name!), is one of these long lost cousins of my father's. She sent a few photos recently, from her father's collection. Photos of a young girl they didn't really know anything about, but were told it was someone called Ruby.

We've grown up only ever seeing one photo of Grandma before the age of about 20. No other baby or early childhood photos of her, because she herself didn't have any. Imagine only having one photo of yourself, your whole life, and not even having anybody who knew and raised you around that time to fill in your missing blanks. Anyway, when Dad's cousin sent these photos through, it was unmistakable, undeniable, to us, who it was.

Little Ruby.

I touched up the photo for Dad and the result brought the old picture, taken in the early 20's, to life. I plan to have it and another enlarged for hanging on the wall. There is something so incredibly poignant about seeing this photo, which Grandma may never have seen herself (she and the two brothers she knew of became estranged as they had to fend for themselves, so it was just her and Joan, really). My heart swells with love and sadness and connection when I look at it. She looks so much like "one of us". It is so much easier to see our place - my siblings' places - in the family likeness when I look at this.

And I feel pangs for that little girl in the photo, who had already lost her mum and was about to have the most horrendous sexual abuse inflicted upon her in a foster house where she was supposed to be safe and cared for (it could actually have been going on during the period this photo was taken).

She was a cracking spirit. I never realised just how much until after she died. Ruby is a major part of the book I am writing, for I feel a kinship with her over our losses (albeit for different reasons) and am so very relieved I was able to be that release valve for her to tell at least someone in her family before she died.

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