Beloved dead

As I explained in my previous post, ancestors don’t have to be family members who have died – they can be people you feel connected with through place, community, and religion.

Harold James Aburrow – family ancestor

My grandpa originally came from Petersfield in Hampshire. The family story was that we are descended from, or related to, the cricketing Aburrows of Hambledon, but family history research has not found any direct connection. Nevertheless, Aburrow is an unusual name, and is very concentrated in and around Hampshire when you look at the maps for the 1881 and 1991 census, so we may well be related. My great-grandfather was a grocer in Hambledon, and had a van which travelled around the area; the family joke was that he was a barrow-boy, but his grocer’s van was a little grander than that. My grandpa had a painting in the stairwell of his house which was done by great-uncle Allan and was a copy of a painting of lions thought to be by Edwin Landseer (the guy who made the lion sculptures in Trafalgar Square). Many years later, I saw a copy of the Landseer painting in a pub in Lancaster. The pub was called the Golden Lion, but was known locally as the Whittle (as that was its original name).

In the one photo that I have of my grandpa, he is in the garden, holding a tray of seed potatoes. I think he liked gardening. I remember going with my grandparents to collect leaf-mould from the common woodland. I used to sit in the kitchen with him and play Hangman (the word game). We used to run round the house singing “Yeah, yeah, yeah” in imitation of the Beatles. He used to share his Trebor Mints with me (you can’t get that kind any more, sadly). One of his sayings was “waste not, want not”. And I have a very dim and distant memory of sitting on his lap and being told a story. My grandparents had a coal fireplace and I used to like to watch the blue and green flames of the sea coal. They had a tabby-cat called Smokey.  I remember high tea at my grandparents’ house, with Marmite, and watercress, and malt loaf, and Battenberg cake. Possibly not all in the same meal.

Why so few memories of my grandpa? Because my parents grew up in the Exclusive Brethren, and left that group in 1976. This meant that my grandparents were forbidden to have any contact with us after we had left. I only found out by accident in 1996 that my grandpa had died. I wonder what he would have thought of this blogpost. A few years after that, I had a dream of my grandpa and grandma among mountains, in the Summerlands. They seemed happy. I have also thought of them many times since at Samhain.

Ursula Fanthorpe – ancestor of spirit

There is a wonderful eulogy to Ursula Fanthorpe from her life-long partner, Rosie Bailey. I feel connected to Ursula Fanthorpe for several reasons – being a poet, being LGBT, and having lived in and loved some of the same places – I have lived in Bristol, Oxford, and Lancaster, and she spent time in all three. We both also gave up teaching. She wrote a wonderful poem about Stanton Drew, where I have spent many happy times. She also wrote a great poem about Pomona and Vertumnus, which is one of my favourite stories from Roman mythology. Her poetry was that rarest of things, popular with the public and critically acclaimed. And some of it is very funny, like Reindeer Report and her other Christmas poems.

Thomas Bodley – ancestor of place

Oxford would be a very different place if Thomas Bodley had not founded the Bodleian Library. I have always loved libraries – they are like ocean liners bearing the freight of knowledge across the dark sea of time. Bodley was a Protestant and a childhood friend of Nicholas Hilliard, the miniaturist. He loved languages and learnt Greek and Hebrew. He revived Duke Humfrey’s Library (which had been stripped and abandoned during the Reformation) and encouraged friends to donate books to the library by inscribing their names in a handsome vellum book; he also formed an agreement with the Stationers’ Company to send him a copy of every book they printed; this was the origin of the idea of a copyright library. If you visit Oxford, be sure to include a visit to Duke Humfrey’s library, part of the Bodleian.

Madge Worthington – Wiccan ancestor

I was lucky enough to meet Madge Worthington at her 90th birthday party. It was a lovely occasion and she was clearly enjoying herself. The photo in the linked-to page was taken at that party. As well as being a great witch who loved the Goddess of the Craft, Madge loved animals, was active in the Green Party, and loved to dance. She also had a great fondness for Battenberg cake, so I always think of her when I eat it. I have always liked it too. There are many strands of the Whitecroft tradition all around the world. The one I belong to is quite interested in folklore and folk tales, and I think Madge was too.

Ancestor Remembrance Project

This post is part of an Ancestor Remembrance Project, and I am partnering with Aliza Worthington from the Jewish tradition, and both of us are remembering our grandfathers.

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