Several heartening things happened these last few days. A friend sends me a series of detective novels in the post and a lovely card arrives from my aunt in France. It’s full of good wishes but the bit that’s most striking is, ‘we’re strong women, you can get through this.’
She’s in her eighties and understands suffering – she lived in occupied France during the war, she lost a baby when she and her husband were posted to Libya, she lost her husband of sixty years a couple of years ago and survived breast cancer last year. She’s a woman of deep faith (she unlocks the church every morning) and she’s a wonderful cook and will still put on a feast at a moment’s notice. Last summer it was all made with produce from within a five mile radius : home made farci, mussels, a rabbit that a neighbour had shot, cheese from her husband’s hairdresser and plum tart. Neighbourhood bonds are strong in the village and everyone keeps an eye on her.
But in her card she was talking about different bonds – what we might call genetic ones. The women of my family have had to be strong; my aunt and my mother were the first women in generations not to lose their husbands at war. My great-grandmother, Pauline, would put her knife and fork down after every meal and sigh, “That’s another meal the Prussians won’t get.’ I remember my great-grandmother and her three sisters well, they were ‘coriace‘ – difficult to translate, ‘tough’ doesn’t do justice to the respect in the word. All with terribly difficult lives, they could withstand anything, or so it seemed.
Mum was the first in the village to go to university, leaving a tiny place in the middle of nowhere. The whole village turned out to see her off, knowing that she wouldn’t come back (she met my Dad at university and came to England). When I go to the village I’m still the daughter of the woman who married the foreigner.
Before I got ill, I’d been working on a memoir of those women, the four sisters who just got on with life. They’d be sympathetic with my situation, ask for a detailed account of symptoms and then expect me to get on with it. Time to go back to the memoir. I’d like to think I was ‘coriace’ too, but at the moment I’m more of a blancmange.