What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) from Four Quarters IV 1942
September has been my favourite month for as long as I can remember. It still comes with the frisson of excitement, the anticipation of a new academic year, in which everything will start afresh and full of potential. The sun is back, after the inevitable wet August Bank Holiday, but the air is as clear and sparkling as Spring.
But the September sun casts long shadows in shortening days. This is the end of Summer. There will be a last flush of flowers, but it will be surrounded by the death of the Summer garden.
Many of us start our life as family historians with an ending. A house is sold, marking the end of a life, and we inherit photographs, letters, objects which come with a yet to be discovered history. A generation is dying, and we scramble urgently to capture their memories. Our working life is winding down, so we seek comfort in the security of a certain past.
From those endings, we take our purpose, start our quest and forge our new identity. When we started to research the past, did we anticipate that our discoveries would so subtly change our sense of who we are?
This September, I shall despatch my mother’s ashes to New Zealand for burial.
I didn’t intend to do this in September 2014 specifically. The event is long overdue, as she died four years ago. However, if I had been seeking a significant date for an important act, I might have consciously chosen this month and this year.
On September 27th, it will be exactly 85 years since the New Zealand Steamship Company ship Rangitiki set sail from Southampton with 400 emigrants on board. One of them was Ivy Myrtle Webb, just turned eighteen, a ‘Domestic’ from Leytonstone in Essex. From Mum’s account, the process for starting her new life in New Zealand in 1929 was much less bureaucratic than the process for transporting her remains back there for the final time in 2014!
This is the Rangitiki, a photograph from the website dedicated to her, www.rms-rangitiki.com. And with this final journey, a new story, the writing of my mother’s life, can begin.