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My Days – a Labour of Love

David Brown, Kathleen’s son, reflects on the emotional journey he took into his own heritage when he discovered his mum’s memoir, ‘My Days’.

 

IN SERVICE

I was brought up in Lincoln, came to Sheffield University to study physics and never left. I taught for three years after graduating then worked in IT for British Steel. My section became semi-autonomous and was sold off to Capgemini, for whom I spent the last ten years of my working life as an accountant. Both Pam and I took early retirement 12 years ago and we’re loving it. From our home, the Peak District is a five-minute drive and Meadowhall a 20-minute tram ride. We make the most of where we live and get outdoors most days. I’m not sure how we ever found time for work.

When I started secondary school in Lincoln, mum returned to work, mainly cleaning for people. One of her clients was George Barnes of Barnes Removals for whom she cooked, cleaned and cared. I remember Mr Barnes showing us a place at North Hykeham where they stored entire homes for RAF personnel. His father had started the family firm with a horse and cart so they’d really come a long way.

Mum spent most of her life in service in one way or another and she loved it. When she lived at Stones Place, she was always uncomfortable being ‘done for’ despite her age and poor eyesight. Mum certainly wouldn’t have understood or coped with lockdown. She was a chatterbox and a hugger and was rarely poorly. She spent the last six years of her life at Stones Place, which is a wonderful home with wonderful staff. They loved her and mum loved them. She regained her sense of fun there.

My dad was an aircraft fitter during the war and continued his trade in peacetime. He worked on RAF bases including Scampton, Waddington and Coningsby in wartime, and worked for A.V. Roe after the war. He started his career on Lancasters and finished on Vulcans. He was always nostalgic about Lancasters but didn’t talk much about the war, which was normal for the time. He may well have been close to many aircrew who took off and never returned.

David & Pam Brown / Bert Brown

Images above:

  1. David & Pam in Alaska
  2. Dad
  3. David & Pam celebrating their ruby wedding anniversary

 

LOVE & LOSS

I’m quite proud of my mum’s story. She’d never have seen any of this coming and would have been stunned. When she started writing, she was determined that nobody would see it till she’d gone. After my dad passed in the late nineties, we all wondered how she’d cope. She relied on him for practical matters like the finances. But she was resourceful and she got to grips with everything. She was also lucky to have great neighbours, especially Evelyn Fisher, who saw mum every day and encouraged her to write down all the stories she kept telling.

In the early days of my marriage, mum was real fun when we stayed over. When dad died, she gradually lost her sense of fun. Over time, she went downhill to the point where her neighbours were worried. Seven years ago, out of the blue, she said she wanted somewhere nice to go for a rest. Up to that point, we’d been taking her away once or twice a year but she began to find travel a trial.  We did some research and formed a very positive impression of Stones Place. Mum initially went for a week, but extended this to three weeks after only two days there. Ultimately, she decided to stay and never looked back. She recovered her sense of humour and gained a new lease of life.

We had to sell mum’s house to cover her fees. She came with us to sort out her belongings and we came across the exercise book in which she’d penned ‘My Days’. She claimed she didn’t remember writing it, but she may have just been modest or embarrassed.

Evelyn / Stones Place carer / Adrian Massingberd-Mundy

Images above:

  1. Mum with Evelyn
  2. Mum with a Stones Place carer
  3. Portrait of Adrian Massingberd-Mundy in later life

 

OLD FRIENDS AND NEW

When mum was in her 70s, she happened to hear that Anne Massingberd-Mundy was in hospital in Lincoln. She got a neighbour to take her there and Anne was delighted to see her. Mum happened to bump into Adrian Massingberd-Mundy too. She hadn’t seen either of them since she left service in 1941. From that point on, she and Adrian became firm friends and they kept in touch by phone.

In the early 1990s, mum got a call from Adrian’s partner, Sarah Percival, inviting her to a Christmas lunch at South Ormsby Hall for past and present estate workers. We took mum to two or three of these lunches, but they ceased when Adrian’s health declined. Despite this, Adrian would invite us for afternoon tea once or twice a year. When he and mum got together, a light was switched on. They reminisced about the tricks he’d played on mum as a child. When she entered service at the Hall, mum had been 17 and Adrian only five. She’d been a strong presence during his formative years, and in later life they developed a real emotional bond, with humour, banter and care.

I happened to do a little work on Adrian’s family tree for Sarah Percival. After Adrian’s passing I kept in touch with the Hall’s Housekeeper, Jacqui Rhodes, who told me that the new owner, Jon Thornes, was interested in my research and mum’s memoir. A meeting was arranged between mum and the Hall’s Heritage Interpretation Manager, Caron Ementon, and the two formed a close bond. Before mum’s 103rd birthday, Caron and Jacqui narrated part of the memoir describing mum’s service days onto a CD, which was presented to mum with a CD player. Whenever the carers played the CD for mum, she was filled with wonder and asked where on earth the story had come from.

Mum often said she’d like to see South Ormsby Hall again. For her 104th birthday and as part of Stones Place’s ‘Seize the Day’ initiative, she got her wish. We took mum to the Hall in a minibus for afternoon tea (at lunchtime) and mum absolutely loved it. The taxi driver spent the whole day with us and the firm wouldn’t charge. Mum really wowed Jon Thornes and they got on like a house on fire. Mum held his hand for at least half an hour at the dinner table so he didn’t get to eat much. We ate in the ballroom where mum and dad had married in 1940. Mrs Massingberd-Mundy had paid for the wedding and the cake and laid on the Hall and a chauffeur. We were determined to get mum onto the Hall’s steps to re-create her wedding photo.

 

Jacqui Rhodes / mum at South Ormsby Hall / Caron Ementon

Images above:

  1. Mum with Jacqui Rhodes
  2. Re-creating mum’s wedding photos, 79 years on
  3. Mum with Caron Ementon

 

AN ENDING

In early 2020, mum slowly slipped away. She received excellent end-of-life care, being kept comfortable and on very little medication. Pam read her memoir to her and while she couldn’t chat, she responded strongly, particularly to memories of her childhood days – going to school and playing in the snow. I think this convinced me to transcribe the memoir.

Stones Place is run by the Methodist Homes Association, but the residents are of any faith or none. Their chaplain, Geoff Gilbert, had a wonderful relationship with mum and they had such fun together, not least on trips to the seaside. She would often take him into the garden to, “get away from the old people.” Geoff did a superb job of conducting mum’s funeral service, leaving everyone, himself included, in pieces.

I can’t praise the staff at Stones Place highly enough. We’re hoping to hold a celebration of mum’s life at the Bentley Hotel, Lincoln, on 26th May 2021 – a date picked so that as many as possible of Stones Place’s staff can join us.

My mum didn’t read a book and barely read newspapers, but she had stories in her. Her mum liked getting letters from her as it was like having a conversation. At mum’s funeral, numbers were limited due to Covid but many joined us online. I based my eulogy around her life story and this generated a lot of interest and excitement. I needed no more persuasion to share her memoir.

 

REFLECTING

Mum was born in May 1915 and passed in March 2020. She lived through a lot of history, including two world wars and almost two pandemics. It’s hard to know for sure what she made of the changes she saw. She might have said that her generation was a lot more caring, as she came from such a tight-knit rural community. When she first moved to Lincoln she knew everyone, but by the time she left her house she only knew a few.

She knew real poverty too. In her childhood, her family didn’t always know where the next meal was coming from and relied on their close community for a sense of security. Despite that, her memories of childhood were defined by fun and laughter. I think Stones Place was such a joy for her because it resembled the world she’d grown up in – a small, cohesive community in which everyone knew and looked out for each other. Her only regret at Stones Place was that they wouldn’t let a centenarian resident help with cooking and cleaning.

After mum’s death, we made a positive decision to do something with her memoir. I found the process cathartic and it made me reflect on my own life and times. It gave me a strong sense of who I am and where I come from. To my mum, her life wasn’t special. To others, it has proved both special and illuminating.