Last week by an element of chance I found myself at the bedside of my mother-in-law Grace on the night of her death. Is it odd to say that it was an incredible privilege to share that moment, to witness the transition between living and dying and all the physical and emotional resistance and surrender. There’s the call to rise oneself to the extreme importance of the moment in relationship, and to ponder the magical mystery tour that is life.
As intense and emotional as it was that night, there was also lots of down-time, and I passed some of it looking through a photograph album that happened to be in her nursing home room.
Here in these pictures from 1949, she was a 22-year-old beauty with thick, curly, raven-dark hair, really coming into her own power and charisma. She’d been an academically gifted daughter in a large miner’s family in the Forest of Dean and had a scholarship to study at a private girls school and then university.
This is the album of her time in a job managing a farm camp for international young people after the war. There were international work camps in many countries — Grace herself later travelled to Yugoslavia to participate in similar camps. These camps were part of a phenomenon of peace-making, reconstruction and a vision of internationalism that must have felt so rejuvenating and hopeful after childhood years of war and deprivation. They might have also served a practical agricultural purpose, getting food economies strong again. I’m not sure where everyone came from, but a lot of the names in another notebook are Swedish.
I never actually spoke to her in depth about this time in her life. How I wish I had! Clearly from the photos these camps were interesting, exciting, compelling for everyone– they must have been life-shaping and so deeply memorable. You can just see the camaraderie, sexuality, playfulness, fun, charades, theatre, eating, tea drinking… Lots of work, lots of hanging out… A very sociable time. I bet there was a bit of sneaking away for moments of hanky-panky, all this glorious youth being what it always is…
I especially love the following pictures, of the rustic camp-kitchen set up for a meal, ah the teapots and long handled enamel pots of mass catering. Wonder what was cooking in the roasting trays:
And the tables set for eating. The flowers in vases feel a beautiful gesture:
Curious what this was all about, what crazy, hilarious antics:
Here’s Grace with men who must have been the real farmers on this farm, based on their clothing.
and another picture–
We know the farm was called Priory Farm but not where it was, and there are many places with this name. What do we think they were growing? Any information most desired and welcomed!
Goodbye, Grace. I have loved knowing you. Thank you for being the mother you were to my husband, and a beloved grandmother to my children. What an exquisite time in your life this must have been– a time of wide enthusiasms, possibility, fresh air, friendships, pleasure and purpose.