Memories of flower and bird and wind and world, and all the living and all the dead.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
In the mid 1870s, Evan and Jane met. They were both in their twenties living on the coast. North Cardigan bay where the salt marshes make a boundary between the sea and the mountains. He was a younger son of a local farmer and Jane was the youngest daughter of a prosperous adjoining farm. Not quite the Montagues and Capulets, but not much love lost between the two families. They married in the summer of 1878.
Jane’s father carved out a portion of land for them to farm. Evan loved the land and Jane was capable and organised. The first son, Robert came along in 1879 followed by Lewis in early 1881. Hugh was born in 1882 just as Summer tips over into Autumn and warm days give way to cool nights. A combination of cold nights and warm affection saw the next decade filled with babies. John was born in 1884, Evan in 1886 and David in 1888. At last a daughter arrived; Ellen was born in 1893. They were comfortable and settled but the land was not theirs to hold and would never be passed down to their sons. Robert left in the late 1890s to search for work in South Wales, taking two of his younger brothers with him. Hugh stayed home on the farm but by 1901 his parents’ health was failing. His father was now a farm worker for his brother-in-law and Hugh worked the horses on his uncle’s farm. By the mid 1900s, both parents had died and the sons dispersed. Evan loathed the industrial south and became a shepherd for his uncle, living the rest of his life in a tiny cottage on the top of a hill with his lovely wife, Mary, who never quite got English. Lewis went to India and David went to work for his farming uncle. Robert took Hugh under his wing and returned south to look for work in the burgeoning construction industry.
A hard worker with a serious view on the world, Hugh quickly found that he was respected and trusted by his employer and by twenty-six he was a foreman. Social life revolved around the chapel where he could relax out of formal workaday English and be comfortable in Welsh. His passion was singing and attendance at chapel was for the hwyl and companionship of singing as much as the observance.
Hugh hated hypocrisy and double-standards. Chapel was part of his life but, when the minister asked an elderly member of the congregation not to sing because his lack of a tune was spoiling it for everyone else, Hugh argued that a tuneless voice was raised no less in praise of God than a tuneful one. When the elders of the chapel demurred, he left, proclaiming that his sort of God was rather different to theirs.
Robert married in 1905 and Hugh lodged with them. Good looking with a head of neatly flattened curls and sea blue-green eyes, he was quite a catch. His new sister-in-law was determined to introduce him to a suitable match but he’d spotted his girl. Heavy dark hair was wound into a complicated up-do. Dark brows and eyes made gave her an intense look and she would follow his gaze and then look away under dark lashes. His sister-in-law wasn’t impressed. Ann was only the shopkeeper’s daughter but they were bowled over by each other.
Walking out together took them along a country path and a stile was a favourite place to stop, hold hands and kiss. He would lift her up to sit on the stile and they would spend sweetly tender minutes there before he walked her home. An infamously dirty old man used to wait for courting couples so that he could spy on them. One day, they overheard a noise in the bushes and knew it was the old man. Hugh put his fingers to his lips to signal to Ann to stay quietly perched on the stile while he sidled around the edge of the bushes. She heard a couple of swift blows and saw the Peeping Tom running away. Hugh came back to her grinning to himself while slipping something back into his breast pocket. Ann demanded to know what it was. He pulled his jacket open to reveal a knuckleduster. It was never seen or mentioned again.
They married in the Autumn of 1909. A love affair for the rest of their lives.