Hello to my followers and readers! I hope that you have enjoyed reading stories of my ancestors, as much as I have in writing them. The #52Ancestors challenge is one method for getting ideas, topics, and prompts for ancestral stories. I have followed the prompts from Amy Johnson-Crow so far in the first 7 posts for this year. However, in Week 8 I am diverging from the suggested theme of ‘courting’ to write another episode of The Mary Letters. This post is more about ‘mourning’ and how the bond between sisters grows stronger in moments of shared grief.
Recent conversations with cousin Sylvia, after publishing the first set of Mary Letters, have led me to make some adjustments to the timeline of events in the story that is emerging from the imagined letters between my grandmother Mary Jane and her sister Edith Mary. It was not until Grandmother Mary Jane had her triplets, that Uncle Frank was sent to live with Great Aunt Edie.
The Mary Letters: Part Two
March 1903: Dear Mary, congratulations on the birth of your daughter. I am just delighted to know that you included my name as her second. Winifred Edith will be a godsend to you. How lovely to have a daughter? I still miss my Alice – I visit her grave each month – and I spend a little time with her that way. So glad you are back in Kingston and closer to me.
April 1903: Dearest Edie, my little girl Winnie, is pure delight. She is calm and quiet and growing well. I am glad you liked the idea of giving her your name as a middle name. I hope she will become close to you over the years. The twins are running around like little monkeys, and they can be quite a handful. I think the household gets too noisy for my Charles; he is often away from us for long periods of time. I know he is busy with the tailoring business and he travels to visit his father often; for advice, I think.
January 1906: Dear Mary, Just a short note to let you know that Daniel Howells, Charles’ father, died and we will travel to St Hilary’s for the funeral this week. His eldest boys, Thomas and William will still manage the farm and look out for their mother, Mary. It devastated my Charles. He thought the world of his old dad. I know it will be a challenging time for him. I need to be by his side this time.
March 1906: Dearest Edie, I was sorry to hear of Daniel’s death; I hope the funeral was not too painful for you. Big News! My doctor has confirmed that we are having triplets. I am excited but scared about another multiple birth! Everyone else in the family is well and my Charles sends his condolences to your Charles on the death of Daniel. Did you hear about that suicide in Glory Woods, Dorking? I read about it in the West Surrey Times on February 10. It was a chilling report of Mr. Charles Archibald Hughes Blakiston, the well-known London Journalist. Shocking news! My doctor has ordered plenty of rest, so I have time on my hands to read the newspapers.
October 1906: Dear Mary, I am in awe. Congratulations on the birth of your triplets. I hope you received some recognition for that? The Queen Victoria award for multiple births, perhaps? Two boys and a girl. Your family is growing stronger and larger in just a few short years. We will be delighted to attend their baptism in November at St Paul’s in Kingston Hill. I love the names you have chosen for your threesome; Ronald, Violet, and Harry.
November 1906: Dearest Edie, Thank you for attending the christening on the 11th, it was a very special day. It was a busy day for the curate too. Imagine that, baptising a set of twins and triplets on the same day. We got to meet the Howards later and their twins, Phyllis Mary and Edward Cecil. The triplets are a real handful for me now. The new house on Gloucester Road is lovely: bigger and has more space for them to roam in safety. But I think you could help me if you would take Frank to live with you. He is a lovely little boy, the quieter of the twins, and he is a happy child. We will always be able to see him, of course, but I would love to see you complete your family with a child.
December 1906: Dear Mary, Little Frank has grown quite chubby in the last month and is happy with us. His presence has made the world of difference to our small family. It was most thoughtful of you to give Frank into my keeping; I know you were trying to help me more than yourself. However, lately, he is missing his brother Reginald as I see him looking in the mirror and reaching out to the child on the other side. We would love to have you all come for Christmas dinner this year. It will be a special treat for Frank to play with Reginald. And I look forward to seeing little Ronald, Harry, and Violet.
February 1908: Dear Mary, What a sad day that was to say farewell to our father. I found it very emotional, being in my ninth month. It was grand that the Railway Inspectors came to pay tribute to his passing. His death will leave a gaping chasm in our family. It will impact our dear mama. I have invited her to come and stay with us and stay as long as she likes. She will be a comfort to me.
March 1908: Dearest Edie, I too was very moved by the tributes for our father. I am still receiving condolences from my friends. Just one month on and now I am delighted that little Hilda Mary has come into your life. Congratulations on her safe arrival. I will visit in a couple of weeks as soon as I can arrange for Elizabeth to come to stay with us and look after my brood. Reg and Winnie have now a really strong bond – she is wise beyond her five years and he is a very attentive little seven-year-old. They both try to help me in their own little ways, especially when I am struggling to keep up with the triplets. Ronald and Violet are strong and healthy and running around now, but I worry about little Harry, he does not seem able to keep up with them.
May 1908: Dear Mary, my heart is so heavy, I can barely breathe. My little Hilda is not strong and I fear for her life. The baptism will be at St James on 17 May. I have made her a special christening gown and she looks so sweet in it.
May 1908: Dearest Edie, I understand your challenge with your little girl. No need to write back. I could see she was struggling; the strain on you is so great I weep for you. Baptism in May will be the right thing to do.
August 1908: Dearest Edie, I was glad to be there for you at the funeral of Hilda Mary. It was a lovely service and a beautiful farewell to a little soul. I know you were comforted by having Frank beside you, and it was good to see him and Reginald together. These two little men are a godsend to us both. This is such a sad time for you and your family. I am inviting you to come and join us this year at Christmas, away from the sad memories of Croydon. We are all going up to Edmonton to stay with Elizabeth and Ernie; in one of his cottages in Southbury road. Will you come?
November 1908: Dear Mary, I finally have the strength to write to you. It has been a hard few months for me – and I don’t think Charles knows how to comfort me. He does his best. We would love to spend some time with you and the family, but not this Christmas. Charles is taking me down to St Hilary’s spending time at the seaside and visiting his family. He says it will do me good to get away from the sorrow surrounding us here in Croydon.
December 1908: Dearest Edie, We have just finished our Christmas dinner with Elizabeth and Ernie. It was a magical feast. Elizabeth cooked roast beef and made her famous Yorkshire Puddings – that recipe from Mrs. Beeton is a winner. The children were happy to run freely in the fields and woodlands surrounding the cottages here near Ponders End; and they loved their gifts, especially the scarves you sent for them. It is bitterly cold here, but the children don’t seem to notice it as much as I do. Harry spends most of his time indoors with his train set Ernie made for him – he is quiet and thoughtful.
January 1909: Dear Mary, I loved our little holiday in Wales, and it was great to be with the Howells. They put on a magnificent feast for us. We had roast turkey with all the trimmings and a wonderful plum pudding for dessert. All of Charles’ brothers and sisters attempted to come and see us during our stay. Their mother, Mary, was still missing her Daniel, as were the children. I was delighted that she took the time to share some old recipes with me in her kitchen. I will make a Welsh Rarebit for you next time you come to visit. 3rd September is National Welsh Rarebit Day.
February 1909: Dearest Edie, Our little Harry has passed away. We are in mourning and I am devastated. He was the smallest of the triplets and he struggled. Ronald and Violet don’t yet understand. They keep asking for their brother. It pains me. The funeral will be on March 3 at All Saints in Kingston-on-Thames. Will you sit beside me? Will that be too much for you? I now know the pain of losing a child, and understand more fully how you must have grieved for little Alice and little Hilda.
June 1911: Dear Mary, Congratulations on the birth of Doris Elsie Grace. What a lovely name you have chosen for her. I think she will be full of grace. Just like the old nursery rhyme: Mondays Child is fair of face and Tuesday’s child is full of grace.
July 1912: Dearest Edie, Your joy was glowing on your face when you christened your lovely little girl, Evelyn Mary, at St. James on the 7th of this month. Congratulations on this major achievement in your marriage; I know you and your Charles were just about out of hope.
The Mary Letters are my creative writing of how I imagined the bond between my Grandma Mary Jane and my Great Aunt Edith Mary. The title became obvious as I noted the plethora of Mary’s appearing in this story of two sisters: a name that bridges the heartbreak and joy in their lives between 1901 and 1912.
There will be more to the story of the sisters, in another episode of #52Ancestors in the weeks to come. However, I am now researching further into the life of the twins born to my Grandmother Mary Jane in 1901; my Uncle Frank and Uncle Reginald.
Come back soon to catch up with the stories of my ancestors in the Cutting Line!