Tuesday, 15 November 2011
My people humble people
This photograph hangs on the wall in my parents' dining room. The man on the left is Charles Stevens, my maternal grandfather. He died of pneumonia at Christmas when my mother was sixteen (my mother has hated Christmas ever since). I know that he was a skilled carpenter: I have a table that he made, which is carved, polished and delicately jointed. I know that he worked as some sort of clerk, somewhere in London, and whenever I read 'The Waste Land' I think of him. My mother has told me he was intelligent; my grandmother used to say he was kind and that they 'never went to bed on a row.'
I don't know who his friends were. I don't know his regiment, or in what year, or even what decade the photo was taken. It's probably the early twenties: my grandmother was born in 1903, so I don't suppose my grandfather was old enough to fight in the First World War.
Of course I could ask my mother to tell me more about him. I could have asked her last week while I was staying with her. I wonder now why I didn't, especially as I avoided the subject quite consciously and asked her instead about other mysterious relatives in other photos. Perhaps I'm scared that if she were to tell me time would run out for her too; and of course I'm terrified that I too will one day be just a photograph, if that.