My grandfather, John Stanley Humphreys, died in 1937, and so I never knew him, though there are similarities in where we have worked (army, primary schooling, church musician) and studied (UCW Aberystwyth), and even looked, as a thankfully forgotten photo of a younger me in a moustache standing next to a portrait of him will attest. We were a family that had plenty of space between generations. This photo is of him on his wedding day in 1920, in Brondeg, the house in Pontarddulais where my grandmother had grown up. She died in 1958 between my own father’s marriage and my birth, so I never knew him either. John Stanley was one of 9, of whom 6 survived into adulthood, so I have as a result plenty of second cousins. When he married into my grandmother’s family, he “married up” as they say – his parents are noticeably absent from the wedding photo – as he had come from Merthyr Tydfil (where he is buried) and Dowlais, descendants of one of Richard Crawshay’s wage-slaves. My maternal grandparents were Geordies from Catton near Hexham, and my grandfather was a steel worker in his day, with eyes that had passed down from the longships with very few non-Viking genes present at all. There is a picture of him and me trudging along Hadrian’s Wall in 1971 – I remember him saying little, but calling me hinny whenever he did.
Before half term we asked children to research the sort of questions that we and they might be interested in as part of our Grandparents’ Week. It was a fantastic event, low key and deep all at the same time, a celebration of the people who were part of us before this community formed in Grange Farm. After all, we have only been here 9 years, and none of the houses are older than 11 years. All the classes from Foundation to Year 2 invited in grandparents to visit and share in the life of the class, as well as bringing skills and interests from their childhood to teach their grandchildren and their friends. However, the most interesting question that children asked their grandparents was what they hoped for and what they were proudest of in their grandchildren.
As you can imagine, there have been some worldly-wise answers (“keep hold of your money!”), but also some answers that show a real awareness of their grandchildren growing up in a very different world from the one they grew up in, and the need to hold on to core values in that struggle. Some of the children’s work shows a genuine honouring of and respect for former generations, as though they are part of a family tree that really matters – for others, grandparents mean “home” in Nigeria, or Ghana, or India or the Caribbean or Lithuania or Poland. The overwhelming consensus among grandparents is that they want their grandchildren to be happy and to do as well as they can at school, and are proudest when they fulfil these desires. Some grandparents wanted their grandchildren to have a strong value system in their lives, to guide and help them through challenges. These were often from grandparents with a significant faith for themselves, people who had tried to live their lives uprightly and wanted the same for their children. This honourable desire reminded me of one of the great songs of ascents that last from Psalm 121 through to Psalm 134.
The other area that grandparents were keen to pass on to their grandchildren were happy memories. Far from being a twee wish from Hallmark cards, this is a strong desire that children hold on to memories of their youth so that those who die do not go unremembered and without significance. It is a godly desire too – the recollection of the goodness of our forebears and the works of God in their lives is a constant Old Testament theme. Many people today have made commitments to walk as followers of Jesus Christ because of the sustained prayer from their grandparents. God does not see time in the same linear way that we do, but places us in time to be remembered. Not remembering our ancestors somehow diminshes us. And grandparents are on earth in part to act as a bulwark against that diminishment.