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My 17th birthday present

Posted by on April 16, 2013

My 17th birthday letter from Granny Jennings 1973 131060001

In November 1973 I had my 17th birthday.  I was at boarding school and my grandmother wrote a letter to me there, (my birthday always being in term time).  I have it in front of me now and on the envelope there is a stamp depicting Princess Anne and her then husband to be, Mark Phillips, in celebration of  their forthcoming wedding on 14th November that year.  It was and is a letter I cherish, as it was a wonderful insight into the world that my grandmother inhabited, being herself 17 in 1908.  I am, in particular, thinking about it this week, as my own daughter, Amelia, died 14 years ago this week, on 15th April 1999.  She was 17 too, and had reached that wonderful state of grown- upness, as my grandmother so memorably describes it, that state where one is about to fly and find out for oneself all that life has to offer.  I only link the two things as a way for myself to link my own daughter with the grandmother I loved, and the way through to that is my own mother, who was an equally-loved grandmother to Amelia, just as her mother was to me.  The letter and its associations are a small illustration not just of what life was like for a certain class of seventeen year-olds in 1908, or what they bring to mind from my own experience of life in 1973, but as another of the ways we can weave our lives and experiences into something that forms a valuable part of our own family histories.  For me, the letter prompts me to think again of the grandmother who I have written about here before: the one who went to Egypt with her wedding dress and cake in her luggage, who later  sailed with another wedding dress from America to England and who, so the letter tells me, aged 15 had to leave school and look after her mother who suffered from a variety of ailments that afflicted Edwardian women and that we would doubtless ignore today.  I am only glad that Amelia, aged 17, was looking forward to a university education and a career and that, tracing the line from her great-grandmother, who was born 90 years before her, opportunities for her had widened so immeasurably.

5 Responses to My 17th birthday present

  1. Nicola Stevens

    Oh Clare that is a lovely piece – thank you so much for giving me a glimpse of the Amelia & the intrepid DNA that runs through the veins of yr family’s women. I wish the women of my family had taken the time to write words of wisdom to me!

  2. Diana Devlin

    Why, for those of us of a certain age, is it so much more precious to receive a handwritten letter than an email or a Facebook post?
    The blue notepaper – perhaps Basildon Bond – and the ink – perhaps Quink Permanent Blue – really bring back memories. Interesting that she chose to write on your 17th birthday, when nowadays there are great celebrations for the 18th, but I think she was right, as I do remember feeling special, and for you it is a wonderfully poignant connection with your Amelia. Lovely piece.

  3. Barbara Selby

    Such a lovely piece, both sad and hopeful at the same time. My 17th birthday was in the summer holidays between the lower and upper sixth. The time when the decisions I was making set the path to my future life. I can still remember the anticipation as another university prospectus hit the doormat.

  4. Susie

    A letter is such an immediate link with the past, and the hand of the person who wrote it. You are lucky to have a collection of letters and photos in your family – they give a rich insight into how life was lived at a particular time and place. I was able to enlarge the page of your grandmother’s letter and see every detail of her handwriting – fascinating in itself. I longed to be able to turn the page and read on. Now that’s what makes family history so exciting.
    I seem to have got stuck in my own research and writing project – perhaps a letter or photo will get me going again. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

    • Clare Travers

      Susie, I’ll bring the letter to the next meeting as it is a fascinating description of her life in the early 1900s. I think her writing is so good too, as was most people’s in those days. I do treasure it and a few others from my other grandparents, and wish I had kept more from them all, as well as my parents’ letters. I know the feeling of getting stuck in research and the pursuing of our projects, but feel sure that inspiration will visit you again soon, as what you have written so far on the blogs is always so interesting. Hope to see you in May.

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