Things do come in threes.
Once there was a king and he had three daughters.
There was an ewe had three lambs and one of them was black.
There was a beautiful young woman and she had three suitors.
Reading through my mother’s reminiscences, I realise I haven’t told the story of how my grandmother chose her husband. She was brought up on a farm called Llanwensan, between Peterston-super-Ely and Llantrisant in the border vale of Glamorgan. Even at the end of the nineteenth century, the children of farming families didn’t marry early: they tried to save up enough to put down on a farm tenancy if they could. So my grandmother was in her early twenties, a beautiful young woman (you can see her picture, with the man she eventually married, at http://heritagetortoise.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/reminiscences_of_farming_life_in_the_1920s1.pdf), and an accomplished housewife. She was particularly known for making cheese.
Choosing a husband in the farming community means choosing a business partner. Blue eyes and rippling muscles are all very well but what you need is a capable farmer. She had three suitors, and how could she choose?
So one Sunday she invited all three of them to tea. She set before them bread of her own baking, butter of her own churning and cheese of her own making, and she sat and watched what they would do.
The first young man took his knife and cut the rind of the cheese. She thought ‘I won’t have him – he will always be wasteful and extravagant.’
The second young man ate the cheese, rind and all. She thought ‘I won’t have him – he will always be mean.’
The third young man took his knife and scraped a little of the rind off the cheese, and that was my grandfather.
I am writing while sitting with my mother and listening to her shallow breathing. She has said she wants to go, and she is now completely sedated and pain free, but something within her still refuses to give in. It’s the same stubborn determination that took her to grammar school and university, through the war and the difficult years after.
One flew east and one flew west.
Our family are scattered all over the world now but Mum’s final days have brought us together again: we have had emails from cousins in Australia, New Zealand and France as well as all the family in England saying how much they loved her, how good she was when they were young, remembering holidays they spent with her, looking for fossils on the beach at Southerndown or playing on the farm where she spent so much time with her own cousin Lynnus. Their memories are her memorial.