Friday, 5 June 2009

Two Heroes

The June NaBloWriMo theme is Heroes. When I'm asked to think of personal heroes off the cuff (as I have been on occasion) I never seem to be able to come up with many at all. Certainly not 30.
But I've decided to give it a go, although I won't be posting every day, but will attempt through the month of June to mention a few of my heroes.
I feel compelled to start with my own family. I think of my great-great-grandparents, how they left their own countries and its familiarity for an uncomfortable journey by ship to an unknown country on the other side of the world. Or of my Maori ancestors centuries before that, who left Hawaiki by canoe to make their migratory journey to Aotearoa.
And even farther back, the hordes of ancestors who lived their daily life of ordinary toil, who died having babies or fighting wars. (Some of my ancestors most likely fighting each other, such are the peculiarities of history.) It is a little naive to call them all heroes, because there would be a fair share of fools, scoundrels and cowards among them.
I need to go back to the ones I knew a little more personally. I have heard very little about my great-grandfathers, but have been told a little more (although sadly still not a lot) about two of my great-grandmothers; my mother's maternal grandmother, Alison Butler (nee Riddell) and my father's maternal grandmother, Agnes Reid (nee Barlow). Both fairly ordinary woman I suppose in the eyes of the world, but with admirable spirits. Alison, a Presbyterian, whose parents came from Peebles, Scotland. Agnes, a Roman Catholic, who came from Northern Ireland.
Alison had three sons and a daughter (my Nana.) Her husband (a Cockney named Joseph) died when Nana was three years old. Later she lost two sons in the First World War. She lived a long, quiet, dignified life, spending her last few years in her daughter's home. Her grandchildren remember a calm, church-going woman with a lovely face and long, silver hair; a good woman, a good mother, a good grandmother. Patient, principled and beloved by those close to her, the portrait of her on my auntie's wall shows that she retained her beauty well into old age.
Agnes (married to Michael from Derry) bore eleven daughters and one son (or maybe two, I'm a little hazy on this.) One story my Dad remembered was when the grandchildren were asked to pick up grass clippings after the long lawns had been mowed (by scythe.) They were told that they would be paid by the sackful. They thought this was going to be really easy money. However their hope quickly turned to despair, as each time they brought a sack of fluffed-up grass to her for the money, Granny Reid would press it down, packing it in tighter, saying, "Just a little bit more my jewels, just a little bit more." She and Michael made one return trip back to Ireland in 1911. Agnes visited her village in Ireland (Aghadowey, I believe) where it is rumoured she divined water for a well and became more famous than Lloyd George. (Or so she said when she got back to NZ.)


Catherine said...

I often think that it is the women who worked under difficult circumstances to keep their families going who most deserved to be remembered as heroes.

Becky Willis Motew said...

I can't wait to hear more of these stories. Can you imagine having eleven daughters? Eleven anything? Good grief.


Kay Cooke said...

Catherine - I remeber our conversation about that very subject at the Circadian Rhythm!

Becky - I know!!!

Penelope said...

Interesting isn't it, how our interest in the female ancestors is kindled at a certain stage. Well, that's my experience: decades of indifference (or preoccupation with my own life) then they creep or burst upon our consciousness.

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