Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Granny wasn't always good

I was brought up in a rather puritan home which was very much under my mother’s influence. I was the elder of two girls and she struggled to let me grow up in any way. I always maintained my sister had an easier time of it: by the time she came along our mother's barriers had been worn down a little by my battles. I was the bad one, the black sheep. I had to fight for everything, any clothes that could be described as grown up, wearing make-up of any sort, going out with boys. Even my reading was watched over.

Part of the problem no doubt was that we were largely brought up in fairly remote parts of Africa where there were often few other people, let alone children (I feel a Poisonwood Bible review coming on!). Communications weren't then what they are now. There were no fashions to lead us. It when we returned to Europe that the problems started, when we children realised how far behind the times we were while it seemed to make little or no impact on our parents.

But that wasn’t the whole story. My mother was born not long after the first world war in a town a fair distance away from her family’s home town. The date announced to, and subsequently celebrated by the family was two months later than the actual date appearing on her birth certificate.

Obviously nowadays this wouldn’t cause the least bit of embarrassment but for my mother as a child in the 20s it must have been painful. I know there was one particularly bad occasion when the school authorities accused her of lying. That was when she first found out she had “official” birthday which was different from the one she believed. It continues to be painful whenever she has to explain; it still happens from time to time.

Her Italian father disappeared from her life when she was about six months old. The story goes that he died but I gather he had been trying to persuade my grandmother to return to Italy with him. She refused, wanting to stay with her family. I suspect he went back to Italy alone.

But my mother’s anxieties didn’t stop there. My grandmother never remarried and went to work to support her daughter, which meant my mother being left for long periods. I know she felt very lonely. Then grandmother started an affair with her boss which was to last many years. He provided for them both by buying her a small business of her own, paying for schooling. It caused huge resentment within his own family needless to say, and to this day my mother feels some sort of obligation to them. Bear in mind this was the 1920s. It was a racy style of life for those days.

No doubt the pendulum swing helps to explain why she was so very rigid and conservative in her views on what we were or were not allowed to do. It didn’t help though, when I was the odd one out at school and it left me feeling awkward for a very long time. Still does to some extent.

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