Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reaching Back with Old Photos

Here are more photos from my mother's collection. All of these, with the exception of one, were taken during her childhood and teen years in the area around Caldecote, England. Mom's teenage years were defined by World War II, and her future was decided by the placement of an American air base at Steeple Morden.

My mother is the baby in this photo from 1927 (the year she was born) or 1928. I'd guess 1928 would be more likely, because she was born in June and she looks fairly grown in the picture. I don't know who is holding her--Aunt May, her oldest sister, perhaps? or her mother?

At three years old--look at those cute little shoes! The coat and hat look very similar to one I wore in photos from my childhood.

Mom with a favorite pet, Sunshine, in 1936.

And swimming at "Skig Ness" in 1936. I have not been able to find where this place is (but "ness" is surely in Scotland, isn't it?) , but it looks like a beautiful place to swim.

The road to Caldecote in 1944. This would have been the road Dad followed when he tried to find the red-haired English girl he met at a Cambridge tea shoppe. Here's the story:

Dad was a young American soldier stationed near Cambridge with the Army Air Force. He visited a local tea shop on leave one day. My mother and her mum were in line with him, and he started up a conversation. To hear Dad tell it, he fell in love immediately. They invited him to have tea with them; he accepted. Afterwards they went shopping, and he was invited to go with them--and he went, of course.

I asked him one day what they were shopping for, and he said, "Oh you know, ladies undergarments and things like that."

"In front of YOU?" I was stunned.
"Oh no, no," he said. "I mean they were looking at things..."


Anyway, Mom told him about a dance that night in Caldecote, her village. Would he like to come?

Dad was so excited he said yes immediately, and returned to the base on cloud nine. He got cleaned up that evening and headed to Caldecote. It was about that time he realized he didn't know the name of the girl he'd met. He went on into Caldecote, determined to find her. As he entered the village, he met a man and asked, "do you know where a beautiful redheaded girl lives around here?"

"Oh yes," the man said. "Turn right, and it's the last house on the left." Dad hurried down the road and followed the man's directions. When he reached the last house, he knocked confidently on the door. He'd found his English beauty!

But the lady who opened the door...well, she was no lady, or as Mom would say, she was no better than she should be. Dad made hasty apologies and beat a retreat. He was forlorn. He had no idea how to find the girl he'd met.

As he retraced his steps to the main road, he saw her. She was coming down the road with her mother, on her way to the dance.

What intervened to bring them together, I do not know, but come together they did, on August 5, 1944. Their lives changed forever from that chance meeting.
This is the place my mother grew up, a cottage on a few acres called Ashlyn. I do not know how long they lived there; it is where they lived when her father died. They owned the cottage and the land. Her father had been the manager of a "pig fahm" as Mom would say. After his death, her mother became the housekeeper for the farm owner and they moved to the farm, renting out Ashlyn, as I understood Mom's story. I'm sketchy on the details of those years.

For example, my granny was a single mother, raising four children. How did they survive? Mom did not tell stories of great deprivation. She told me once that Granny received money from the government, and perhaps some insurance money? I do not know. What Mom told me sounded like she grew up very happy and enjoying life in rural England.

Mom is on the left, Granny in the center, and an unknown child on the right in this mid-1930's photo. I am surprised my Granny did not remarry for so many years; I think she looks lovely here. But she was 63 before she met George Swindells and married him. I remember when they came to visit us after they were married. I believe I was 12 or 13. He was a happy man who seemed to enjoy being around our large family; he had a thick accent and I would have to interpret for him when we went shopping. Clerks did not seem able to understand that "strawbry ahyce" meant strawberry ice cream.

The back of this photo says "raising money for the Tommies, 1945." I suppose it must have been some sort of play? The X is over my mother's head. At this time, she was already married to my father.

And last for this series, the young couple honeymooning on Skyline Drive in Virginia in 1946, after Dad returned from Europe. How young and happy they look here! Skyline Drive was always a special place to them, and to us as we grew up. When I look at this picture, I seem them as they last were together, old and suffering from many ills, but still just as much in love as they were in 1946.


City Mouse said...

This is freaky that I know this, but seeing as I'm a serious Anglophile ...

There is a place called Skegness in the UK, and it's on the shore. Northeast of London by a few hours, probably.

Cathy said...

You have some beautiful family history. Thank you for sharing.

Lucky13 said...

Hi Sis, The first picture is definitely Mom with Aunt May, sorry I didn't put that on the CD, but I only know that because Mom told me some years ago and my uncertainty at the time kept me from putting down possible incorrect information. These photos are great. Did Dad tell you that at the end of that first day together Mom was holding his hand? I remember that part because that was a naughty thing to do back then unless he was your beau. Our parents had an amazing love story, how lucky we are to have been a part of it. Julie

Granny Sue said...

Thanks, Mouse. I'll look that up; interesting that you knew that!

Cathy, I have wanted to post these photos for a while. They have much meaning for me, and for others they provide a peek back at a particular time and place.

Thank you for the verification, Julie. I thought it looked like Aunt May, and she was about the right age in the photo--unless Grany was a very young-looking mother! I appreciate that you scanned these for all of us. Our scanner still isn't working; i need to take the time to call HP and work out what the problem is; I have a lot of old photos still to scan.

They did have a beautiful love story--like all good stories, lots of drama, highs and lows, and enduring love.

los cazadores said...

What a beautiful story, Granny Sue. I adore those pics.

Thanks for your comments on my blog. I think it would be amazing if sometime my husband I took our son to one of your storytelling events. It seems like you're very talented!


Jason Burns said...

GSue - looks like performing runs in your family!

Nice photos. And great stories - from you I would expect nothing less!

Granny Sue said...

Thank you, Jason. That's high praise, my friend. We are a fammily of liars--make that storytellers!

Cindy, I've been enjoying your blog. I am glad you stopped by again to read this story.


Wonderful pictures for a touching love story. family memories are gold aren't they. So important to tell the stories.

solsticedreamer~laoi gaul~williams said...

fantastic! swampy and i camped near caldecot last summer~its not far from where the battle of hastings took place.

'skig-ness' could also mean 'shearness' which is about 37 miles from caldecot~it could be skegness but this is about 184 miles away

Granny Sue said...

You are right, Ellouise. Our family history wasn't discussed much by our parents, so finding the old photos and letters has been like finding family jewels. Mom talked a great deal about her mother and sisters and life in England as a girl, and a little about her grandparents, but beyond that I know little.

laoi, you might be right about that. It seems odd that they would have traveled 200 miles at that time; 37 seems more likely. But there might have been family near Skegness; those are things I don't really know.

Mom did not have much interest in history and didn't understand why we were fascinated by it. She grew up with old things all around her, so it was something she took for granted. But most of her 13children are intrigued by the past, into antiques and now finding out our heritage. It has been an interesting trail of discovery.

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