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ABCD March 2021

April 4, 2021

We zoomed on the 27th with a strict agenda. Having chosen a female forebear born in the Victorian era, each of us had already completed a single album page and sent a photo of it to Thalia, who showed them to us in a Powerpoint presentation. Each of us had a few minutes to introduce our ancestress. Then came the serious business of agreeing on a title. This was achieved by a Quakerish/Greenham-Common-ish process of arriving at a consensus without leaving a disgruntled minority.

I haven’t many photos to share this time. Here’s Judith’s “Granny Buttons” in Chaplinesque mode.

Jane has chosen her Bloomsbury playwright grandmother Laura Pendred, but this is a photo of “My great grandmother, born in 1856. Widowed in her 20s with 6 very young children she emigrated to Vancouver in 1900 and later to California. She sent this photo of herself to my grandmother in the 1940s. On the back she has written “Just home from snake hunting, 2 snake skins over my arm”! She died just before her 100th birthday, a daunting lady to the last.”
Note the Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia) in the background – possibly more poisonous than the snakes!

Here is my own grandmother Phyllis Cundell, born in December 1894 about 50km SE of Moscow, with her older sister and their grandmother (born in Manchester in 1835.) See this post for Phyllis’s letters.

On my album page I have hinged a poem printed on tracing paper over my grandparents’ wedding photo, obscuring my missing grandfather. I confess to being influenced by the unforgettable last line of a poem about a saw by Dave Bonta.

In my grandfather Freddie’s defence I will say that he was not yet two years old when his mother died. By the age of 8 he was already at boarding school (’nuff said.) He survived the horrors of a war in which his step-brother was killed at Ypres. His father had shot himself in 1915, and Freddie and his stepmother didn’t get on. Since he was living in Canada before the war, it seems unlikely that he would have met Phyllis until he came back to England after the war. He was captured in Guyencourt in northern France 27 May 1918 and taken to a PoW camp in a fortress in Graudenz (now Grudziądz in Poland – on the river Vistula), about 1500 km away, getting there six weeks later, via Karlsruhe. The camp was evacuated at midnight on 13 December 1918. This gives only a few months before their wedding in April 1919 and suggests a whirlwind romance.

Next meeting: May 8th (postponed from May 1st.) I hope there will be more photos and stories to share. Meanwhile, here are the sweepings from memory’s floor, aka my notebook.

March Dove-droppings

the flying botanist
discovered the truth
a ring and a basket

fifteen children
not allowed to be christened
died on the kitchen table

prospecting in the Yukon
he ran off with a barmaid
it was love at first

things that are half-lost
stories in a box
disable you

on the first of May
a long time ago
I was ritually sacrificed

Posted by Ama Bolton on 4th April 2021

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 5, 2021 9:18 am

    “fifteen children
    not allowed to be christened
    died on the kitchen table”💔

    I’m amazed by the fortitude of women who have lost (and continue to lose) so much… My grandmother, also born in the 1890s, had nine children and lost six of them in infancy and one more in his twenties… She never learned how to spell properly and ended every sentence in her letters in a question mark. I remember laughing as a foolish eight-year old. My father got upset. He never said anything but I can’t forget one of my first wrongs.

    • April 5, 2021 5:19 pm

      Thank you Romana for taking the time to read and comment. The lines you quote are from three different stories, fortunately. You are right about the women’s fortitude. So many were widowed or abandoned, and many of them from that era died young. And oh the innocent offences we commit as children and remember all our lives!


  1. Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 13 – Via Negativa

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