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Bits and bobs about my life in my lovely home, Thatchwick Cottage, Pretoria, South Africa.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Thursday, 9 May: Tribute to my grandmother

New blogging friend at Take A Sentimental Journey kindly posted a vintage photo of my mom on her Mother's Day Hall of Fame. So I have decided to pay tribute to my maternal grandmother on my blog in honour of Mother's Day. Here is Maude Helen Woods nee Wolverton. Unfortunately I did not know her personally as she passed away when I was only three years old. But several of her possessions were passed down to me and a few stories. Again, not nearly enough. So those of you with living grandparents, make sure they share their stories with you before they are lost forever.

But I do know this. Maude Helen was born on 1 January 1877 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England.She had some training as a nurse or nurse aid and only married my grandfather, Henry Freeman Woods, at the very ripe age of thirty. As a local lad from a nearby town, my grandfather must have been something of an adventurer. He had already done a stint in Argentina, a very exotic location for an Englishman. When Maude and Steward married in 1909, he was on his way to South Africa or rather the Orange Free State as this was before South Africa had become a country (Union was in 1910). They must have travelled on a cargo ship to Africa, a far off and fearsome continent, when you were used to the gentility of middle-class English small town life. My gran brought with her an entire set of silver cutlery, silver hairbrushes and ornaments. I have bits and pieces of the collection in my house, all engraved with her initials, MW. They made their way from the coast by ox wagon to the dusty, dry, hot Free State to settle in Thaba Nchu, a dorpie or hamlet, some 80 kilometers from Bloemfontein. Life must have been very harsh in those days. The country had just suffered two wars between the British Empire and the free Dutch burghers and tension, even hatred, was still running high after the suffering incurred by both sides. Dutch women and children had died in their hundreds in the first-ever concentration camps run by the British, many situated in the Free State. But it appears that the English settlers in Thaba Nchu lived calmly side by side Dutch neighbours. The little English community was very much a replica in the wild of the best of English life. My mom told tales of picnics in the bush, jolly outings to climb the nearby kopje (hill),regular attendance at the Church of England church (Episcopalian), swimming in the mud dam and plenty of pranks. My grandmother never, ever saw the fishing boats of Great Yarmouth or her parents again, although some relatives did brave the trip to South Africa. My grandfather almost lost his trading store where he sold farming implements during the Depression and my mother remembers the family furniture being carted away for sale to pay the debts.

I have inherited the gold chain that Maude is wearing in the photo and her name as my second name. And what else, I wonder? What other of her characteristics are firmly embedded in my DNA or have been passed down to me by tradition: grandmother to mother to daughter?

Have a blessed Mother's Day! My girls will not be with me on Sunday but I know we love and appreciate each other as I know your children do you!


Theresa said...

Eleanor , I enjoyed the story of your grandmother very much .Very interesting !

willow said...

Beautiful photo, beautiful tribute. I enjoyed that so much, Eleanor.

(I mentioned you over in my post today, BTW)

Cottage Contessa said...

Wonderful post! Dear Eleanor, I hope you have a very lovely Mother's Day sweetie whatever you're doing!
Amanda (aka Cottage Contessa)

Janet said...

What a wonderful story. I am always amazed by the hardships our ancestors endured. I know with certainty that I could never leave my home and family never to return again.

Enjoy your Mother's Day.


Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

What a family history you've's incredible. I can't imagine your grandmother's that far-off place, in that far-off time. The heat and dust of Africa, being so far from home and family....what an adventurous life.

I see by the photo that she was a beauty---such wide, calm, beautiful eyes.

I'm very glad I popped over here tonight and read your post. Thank you!

Mary said...

An incredible and beautiful story - thanks for sharing on this special day for all we Mums! I just watched "Out of Africa" again, one of my top favorites of course!

Now I know why you are in that amazing country Eleanor - thank goodness your family has preserved such history. Lovely that you inherited several of your grandmother's treasures - know they are precious to you and you will be able to let your girls and grandchildren know of the history. We need to write these things down and blogging certainly helps in the process. I print all my posts and file in binders - my 300th post is coming up so you can imagine how many binders are stacking up already!

A very happy and peaceful Mother's Day to you dear.