Tuesday 23 February 2021

May's Story, by Heather Redman: Sue Purkiss

 I've written on ABBA before - many times! - about the writing class/group I run in Cheddar. It started off as a class, but it's morphed into more of a group, I think; especially since the beginning of the pandemic, when we went online. I set up a blog, Let's Write, and I post a task there each week. Then we meet on Zoom and read our work and discuss it - it works really well: except that a founder member of the group, Heather Redman, who is in her early eighties, can't access it because she's never got to grips with the internet, though she does use a word processor.

Heather is not very mobile, so she really has been stuck at home. Undaunted, during the first lockdown she decided to get on with a project that's been at the back of her mind since she first started coming to the group, which must be nearly ten years ago now. She has always said that she wanted to write her mother's story - and so last summer, she got on and did it.

Heather's mother, May, had a difficult childhood. Nowadays we would call it deprived, and so it was - as were the lives of so many working class children. But May's was worse than most. Her father, Henry, had moved from Bristol to South Wales when he married to get a job in the coal mines. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had four children, of whom May was the second. But the fourth birth was too much for Elizabeth, and she died.

Henry now had four small children to look after and a hard job. He looked around for a new wife, and found one: but his choice proved disastrous for the children, especially when war broke out in 1914 and Henry enlisted.

May felt it was up to her to look after her younger brother Harry. She was in anguish for him. He wasn't as quick-thinking as she was, and so she kept a close eye on him at all times - but especially when they came home from school, when their stepmother might be ready with a hot iron poised ready to be dapped on him as he walked through the door. On days like this, May would grab him and run to the mountains until hopefully the danger would be past. The stepmother had a painful brain tumour, but the children knew nothing about that - all they knew was that she was the only adult in their lives, and they were terrified of her.

Fortunately, Henry was sent back from the war early when it was discovered that he'd lied about his age. The stepmother died when May was nine, and as her older sister Lily was deemed to be the clever one and destined to carry on at school, May became the housekeeper. And this really set the pattern of her life: she was always to be the caregiver. But tragedy continued to stalk her: death, accidents, and a husband of whom Heather has nothing good to say. But May carried on stoically: an unsung heroine.

Heather told me that this was the only picture she could find of her mother where she was laughing.

Heather clearly loved her mother dearly, and wanted to tell her story so she could pass it on to her family. Over the years, she's written short pieces about her, but now she's written the whole thing, and we've published it using Amazon. It's short - Heather has always been a very concise writer - but there's a great deal in it. It reminds us of how difficult life was for working class families in the early part of the last century, and it's a very moving testament, not just to Heather's mother, but to all those unheard heroes and heroines who just kept on keeping on, no matter how hard life was. I'm very glad I was able to help her to get it into print.

If you'd like to buy it, the link is here.


Joan Haig said...

Gosh, the extract is quite something!

Sue Purkiss said...

Yes, isn't it?

Joan Lennon said...

Oh Sue! That is a story that needed to be told - huge congratulations to Heather, and to your group generally!

Penny Dolan said...

How wonderful that Heather has now been able to write and to publish "May's Story".

Even more wonderful is that Heather's book might not have happened without the help, encouragement and support of you and the rest of your writing group.

And, possibly, the quieter pace of the introspective time we've all been living through.

Lynne Benton said...

It sounds fascinating, Sue. Congratulations to Heather - and to you for your encouragement!

Nick Garlick said...

Your post sold me on May's Story completely. But when I tried to buy it - I could only see it listed as 'Currently Unavailable'. Perhaps it's a glitch; I'll keep trying.

sara gethin said...

Thanks for the link, Sue - I'll be ordering a copy of Heather's book. Sounds very interesting, if heartbreaking!

Odette said...

Such an interesting story Sue! It's great that you were able to help her to get the story published.