Ever since I can remember, Candlemas has been inextricably linked with the death of my grandmother, who I never met and who died on 2nd February 1961. My father was only twenty, my uncle only seventeen. Their mother died very suddenly collapsing in Kirkgate, Thirsk from a heart attack at the age of 58.
As a result, Candlemas has always been special and we’re lucky always to associate her with it. In fact, as she was the great absence in my childhood, and my first conception of death, it has meant that I have always associated death and the hope of an afterlife with candles. Many do, I know, but I’m lucky to have it cemented in my head through these fastly bound associations of my early years. My conception of heaven or any afterlife was shaped by the the idea that my grandmother was already there.
My Granny was a devout RC, her maiden name Harrison coming from a very old Catholic family from Lancashire. All her brothers went to Stonyhurst and so did her father, her grandfather and her great grandfather. A few years ago my father, myself and my children were invited to go and talk to Mr Knight, the archivist at Stonyhurst who took us around and up to the school’s archives where we found records going back a very long way. The Harrisons seemed to be there at the opening of the Lancashire college and there was even a look in the books from before the 1593 move to Stonyhurst – in tiny little leather bound books from St. Omer! There was one Harrison but it seemed to be a false name for a recusant priest.
Of course this is lovely but I still never met my grandmother. My father and my uncle are full of stories and I’m supposed to bear some resemblance to her. Here are the things I know about her.
Her name was Mabel Josephine Harrison but she was known as Jo or Josie.
She was born on 2nd October 1902. My uncle was born on 1st October, so he was “her birthday present”!
She smoked heavily = heart attack.
She could do handstands even in her fifties.
She was very kind and gentle and funny.
She was a bit absent minded and one Christmas kept running out of stuffing for the turkey and made several fresh batches only to notice afterwards that there was a hole in the other side of the bird and a whole lot of stuffing had gone through it and onto the floor!
She was pretty useless at housework. She had grown up in Africa where, quite naturally for the age, they had had servants.
She was very artistic and iced cakes professionally. Chaos would reign around the rest of the kitchen, but at it’s centre a perfect, immaculate creation! (This is a little like me when I get into a piece of work!).
She had a baby girl called Mary who died shortly after being born. I’m named after her. Partly.
She was one of eleven children.
She was educated in a convent in Lancashire and one of her sisters was so naughty she was almost expelled.
When wrapping up my Dad and Uncle in (much disliked) knitted woollen hats that tied under the chin for their cold walk to school from the farm just outside Pickering, she would pull my Uncle’s tight and joke that he was “Sister Mary Rosebud”. I do this to my dog with his towel.
She loved the theatre and when she first came over to live in the UK spent all her money on West End shows.
She loved my grandpa very much.
She “would have loved” me; this is something I’ve been led to believe as a definite. I hope so.