I was the child of my Father’s second marriage; he was fifty when I was born and my Mother was twenty. His first marriage had been to a young woman who was at least a class or two above him. I understand that her parents weren’t pleased at their daughter’s choice so it was all a bit romantic – a quick marriage before he went off to fight in the First World war. He came back and used his severance pay* to go to medical college and became a GP. His wife died quite young of a cerebral hemorrhage during the second war and then the rather handsome and charming doctor met my young and pretty mother. You know, I’m not sure there was much questioning about whether this was a good idea. Her parents were Dutch and both came from large, aristocratic families but no longer had much income to support aristocratic habits. They were very sure of their value in their social world all the same. They lived in England during the war and were patients in my Father’s practice. Mum was a nurse in Croydon. Her two sisters were already married and I suspect that Groetmoeder and Groetfader were very happy to have the third daughter safely married off to a man they liked, trusted and respected even if he was more than twice her age. And he was certainly besotted with her. And she was completely charmed by him, though I wonder if she had any idea of what marriage to, really an old man, would mean. (Apart from the obvious)
Then I look at the photos and I can see that thirty years didn’t look like a big difference even if it meant they came from completely different eras.
My half sister was a year older than her and had been managing my Father’s household for five years when he remarried. I understand that this was not a completely happy situation. It was another whirlwind affair and my half-sister’s nose was well put out of joint and her feelings were trampled on blithely by both my parents. But Mum had never run a household and didn’t even know how to cook (so my sister tells me) and had to learn what was required of a Doctor’s wife from her older step-daughter. I can hardly imagine how difficult this must have been for both of them and I don’t think Dad knew how to deal with it either. I know that when my sister married ten years later, there was a huge sense of relief from all concerned. Indeed, once my sister was living far away and had her own household to run the two women became very close (though distant) friends. They had a lot in common apart from those early years running the household together – my sister had suffered from agoraphobia for many years and Mum had what was probably post-natal depression which never left her. Both were intelligent and articulate women and both were creative – my sister was very good pianist and my mother was a sensitive amateur artist. And both were very attractive women. That jealousy, at least, was not something either of them had had to deal with! (As far as I know – neither of them ever suggested it to me)
When I was nineteen , my Father died and a year later my Mother was married again to her brother-in-law. Her sister had died several years earlier of cancer. This was at first, a very happy new beginning for Mum but she brought with her the intractable depression which eventually led, via sleeping tablets, barbiturates and alcohol to an early death, aged fifty.
Even when put baldly, it’s easy to see that the number of marriages and deaths was unusually large! In some ways, my family is like a badly put together jigsaw. All the pieces were very lovable and good people but they were all in the wrong parts of the jigsaw.
*I’m not sure if this is the right expression – it was what they were paid when the left the army. A sort of back wage for the years they were fighting?