I have spent some time researching my family tree, not so far back but widely, it is a sprawling, ungainly, thing; more like an unruly hedge than an oak. What it shows that my family is rooted in Swansea, but that the disparate branches arrived there from Ireland, Scotland, the Upper Swansea Valley and West Wales, at various times during the Industrial Revolution.
The youngest of my grandparents’ children, Esther, died this week a huge, personal loss to my cousins. “Oooh that’s strange,” my sister said when I phoned to tell her. “Why? Were you thinking about her too?” The phone line fell silent. We don’t ‘do’ premonitions she and I.
“Well that’s odd!” my mother’s sister ( the same age as Esther) exclaimed when I told her. She said, “I was peeling potatoes and thinking of your dad’s brother and I found myself praying, for all the Jones children, their wives and husbands, and for your grandparents, Mr & Mrs Jones, too.”
I did not know my aunt very well. She was closer to my sister in age. I was the last but one cousin born out of the twenty one or so, and so closer to the younger ones than to the generation born in the late nineteen forties. But it was with considerable sadness that I learned of this death. It brought to mind Arosfa a house I never visited, but have imagined often. My grandfather bathing in a hip bath after his shift, my grandmother, wrapped in a pinny, redfaced shepherding children around the table. Three boys, four girls. Vegetables growing in the long back garden, and chapel on sunday with welshcakes for tea. Welsh speaking inside the house, English outside. Opposite, the farm where my dad was a labourer, and the long road with the bend at the top that stretched from Llansamlet to Birchgrove and Heol Las a hamlet in between.
And I thought of my grandmother, her bold, audacious and enterprising house move. How I’d have loved to hear that conversation. “yes, I’ve bought the house. I bought the one next door too.” I wonder if my grandfather choked on his tea. So that her brothers lived next door and she looked after both houses. Tenacious hard working woman it took its toll and I know her children adored her. I wonder what her dreams were. I wonder what their shared dreams were. I suspect he was a gentle person, quiet but with the final word. She was the smacker. “Eh Price, dere ‘ma.” she’d say to my dad . Using his middle name, was a sure sign of trouble for my dad. She’d wag her finger at him, and yet he never told me the story without a smile , a sure sign of their love and affection.
Eight children, the eldest born in 1919, the youngest born in 1933/4.One, a daughter, died in infancy but I’m unsure when. The family straddled the inter war years, the depression years and a tough time they had of it. Now that their youngest has died,”the last one” as John my cousin messaged me sadly from New York,it feels like the end of an era. She was the last link to our grandparents, and her own grandparents who came from Llanon and were illiterate and who had a tangible link to rural uprisings , the last tangible link to the woman who made the best jugged hare and was a serving girl in the house of the Earl of Jersey. We never did learn why he left her a house for her lifetime.
Aunty Esther was the last tangible link. But John we have our own links: shared holidays, memories,squabbles, rivalries quarrels, teasing and affection. We have our shared losses and the shared sense of our grandparents’ love for each other and for all their children. Heol Las is our shared thread too. The road that links Birchgrove with Heol Las runs in our blood. We have our grandparents and parents to thank for that.
Cysga’n dawel Esther, oddiwrth Anne a’r plant xx