Secretly Scribbling

My mother’s younger sister, Aunt Joyce, died recently and on Monday I went to her funeral - a beautiful Humanist ceremony conducted in the hall just over the road from her home and attended by all her friends and family.  Afterwards we all had tea in her favourite tea-room.  It was as good as funerals get, but also rather sad because she was the last of my mother’s generation.  There’s no one left now to answer all those ‘do you remember?’ questions; no one to tell us who that strange woman in the hat was at the back of that photograph in 1935; no one to explain what happened to the uncle no one talked about.  And we, the next generation of family elders, were very conscious of our new roles as keepers of the family story, sharing memories and – sometimes – secrets.
Joyce and her older sister Ella - the blonde and the brunette
My mother had the reputation of being the bookworm of the family – addicted to books, she kept a record of her reading for almost 60 years, loving both poetry and prose. She never tried to write anything herself – not even a line of poetry, though she could recite reams of Shakespeare and Tennyson.  Mum’s younger sister liked to read, but wasn’t known for being ‘bookish’. So it was quite a surprise when, after her death, her son found an exercise book among her things called ‘Poems and Thoughts’.  Inside were all the poems she’d written over the years, secretly scribbling.

My mother's notebooks
One of them was a poem about my mother – the older sister she envied for her dark curly hair and her academic ability.  Joyce was blonde in a family of dark Anglo-Italians and never settled at school.  There was also a moving poem about nursing a husband (who hadn’t always treated her well) through Alzheimer’s.  They are very good poems – one of them read out at her funeral. How sad that she couldn’t share them during her life-time.

Poetry is a safety valve - something we turn to for emotional release. How many people scribble secretly?

PS - I was intrigued to discover that Aunt Joyce had read my novel The Sun's Companion - which included childhood memories of my grandmother and some of her friends - and she had recognised everyone. Not quite as fictional as I'd intended then!


  1. I found this so touching Kathy and yet again found resonances in my own experience. I have always thought that language and story-telling and the love of reading and writing are like genetic markers in some families. I look backwards and forwards in my family and also see those signs. I love the idea of a funeral tea in a favourite tea-room. And Aunt Joyce reading The Sun's Companion.unbeknownst to you. All touching. Wx

    1. Thank you Wendy - yes, there seems to be a kind of bookish gene in the family. And my grandfather (half italian) was a wonderful storyteller.xx


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