It has been a rare privilege today to re-connect with many of the Barrow family at the funeral of one of my Dad’s 4 siblings – Ethel Broome.
Her son-in-law Peter shared with those assembled a short history of her long and well-lived life, telling us of her early childhood, adventures as a singer with a dance band (we arrived to the sound of the Glen Miller Orchestra), hardships during WW2, life in working class Manchester, raising two daughters in Longsight, just a few streets away from my own parents – and a holiday trip to Australia in the early 70’s that turned into a 30-year residency in a Sydney suburb and the construction by husband Frank of a dream home by the beach.
After Frank’s passing in the late 90’s, Ethel returned home to live in our area and became a close friend and fellow traveller with her younger sister Brenda Nolan.
In the 60’s, the 5 adult Barrow siblings would regularly congregate on a Saturday evening at their parent’s (Joss and May) council house in Wythenshawe, South Manchester.
The living room would be blue with cigarette smoke, beer and Babycham would flow freely and marathon games of cribbage would take place – the evening usually ending with a sing-song (even a dance or two).
New Year’s Eve was always at Joss and May’s house and legendary.
I was one of 8 cousins who would be taken along – supplied with lemonade and crisps and despatched upstairs to play until we slept, to be eventually carried out to cars in the early hours.
Mavis, Catherine, Johnny, Audrey, Jean were the older cousins (teenagers), myself, Christine and Paul, the younger kids, frequently at the receiving end of some friendly victimisation by our elder cousins. David Nolan was not yet born.
Christine Nolan and I were born 2 weeks apart in 1953 and quickly became joined at the hip on our nocturnal adventures and Barrow family car outings on Bank Holidays to such far-flung and exotic places as Trentham Gardens, Blackpool and Lyme Park.
Although my father was a serving police officer at the time, I’m sure that he often drove us home in the early hours with a skinful inside him – not attractive but common in those days.
Today my Aunt Brenda told me today that she was at Ethel’s side when she passed on 5th December.
Ethel had been suffering from dementia in the latter months of her life and, in the final hours, Brenda sat at her side, holding hands and just being there.
As the final few minutes approached, she began to quietly sing some of the favourite family songs from those Saturday evening gatherings.
Ethel opened her eyes at the sound, looked at Brenda with clarity said just two words – “happy days” – before smiling, sleeping and passing peacefully within a few minutes.
Happy Days indeed.
Today I had the opportunity to take Annie and my son Jon to meet some of these family members for the first time.
Some of the old cousins were able to be together again for a few hours.
Audrey, Jean, David – it was lovely to see you (and your children!).
Christine – you are a soul-mate. Its 6 years since we last met (at my mother’s funeral) and we just picked up and carried on laughing from where we left off.
You would not believe some of the stories we shared about what family members have been up to – if I wrote a book it would be considered too far-fetched.
We were never a quiet family and today was no exception – I think some of the mourners at the reception may have considered us a bit too jovial?
I know Ethel would have been delighted.
She would have laughed along with us and occasionally replied to a request for a drink with “I’ll have a half.”
As my Mum used to say “you are a long time gone” and today was a timely reminder for me to re-connect with my extended family more often.