My Mum wrote a wonderful eulogy for Granny (Milo’s great granny) who died at the age of 102 on 10th May 2017.

Memories from a long and Happy Life (Florence Eveline Earp 1914-2017)

Firstly, thank you all so much for coming. Mum would have been delighted to see so many of her friends & relatives here today to celebrate her life. Having reached the grand age of 102, she would agree there is much to celebrate so, despite the loss of the dearest Mum, Granny & friend that one could wish for, we should try not to be too sad.

I feel privileged to have had my Mum for so long and have enjoyed listening to the many memories & anecdotes she recalled from that long life. As she also, helpfully, wrote a lot down for me while she was still able, I would like to share her story with you now.

Florence Eveline Connor was born in 1914, at the family farm in County Westmeath, Ireland, the third of nine children – six girls and three boys. Times were hard, all labour done by hand, & the children were expected to take on their own share of work as soon as they were old enough, including older ones helping care for the younger children, as their mother was usually either nursing the last baby or expecting the next!

In Flo’s memoir she wrote:- “Our parents worked very hard all their lives and expected their brood to do likewise. Our mother made all our clothes on an old Singer sewing machine, which had belonged to her mother, and taught us all to make our own clothes. She baked bread every day and cakes for Sundays and special occasions. Milk was set aside for cream, which was churned to produce lovely fresh butter and the buttermilk left to sour for bread making. Surplus milk was fed to the pigs after the calves had had their ration. There were two or three pigs killed each year for pork, ham and bacon, but all had to be salted, preserved etc. – all hard work. We also had our own eggs with odd hens for the pot and also ducks when fat.”

Although Flo was born just as War broke out over Europe, her family was less affected by that than they were by the Irish uprising & the War of Independence, from 1916 to 1922. She remembered on more than one occasion the infamous Black & Tans coming to question their father & search the house & farm, looking for any concealed I.R.A. suspects, while the children took refuge, cowering under the bedclothes with their mother until the men had left. The soldiers ignored her father’s protests that, as a Protestant family, they were loyally British & would never protect
a rebel, & the searches continued. It must have been frightening & unsettling for them all for many years.

Surprisingly, Flo was considered to be a slightly “weedy” little child, so didn’t start school until she was 6 years old, when she was considered strong enough to walk the three and a half miles each way to the little village school in Moate. However, she had “a good grasp of words and reading by then”, having learned from her two older sisters who started school before her. There were only 20 pupils in the school, of mixed ages (up to sixteen) and differing abilities, all taught by one teacher, Mr. Gardner, whom Flo remembered as “a dear old man with a bad limp, who kept a tin of bonbons in his desk to reward us when we did well.” However, he could be strict too, as she also recalled his severely caning a couple of big boys who had been particularly naughty, which upset Flo so much she had to be comforted by Mr. Gardner and treated to extra bonbons to stop her tears.

If the education came for free, that was not the case for any “extras”. All parents were expected to supply turf (peat) for the school stove, which they stood around on cold days and where they dried their wet coats on rainy ones “of which there were many”, says Flo. Their parents also bought all school books, pens, pencils etc. – “so we had to take care of them, as my mother didn’t part with her money willingly!” The school day lasted from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., after which it took an hour to walk home. This could be a pleasurable amble on a sunny spring or summer day, with diversions
to pick wild strawberries or blackberries and competitions with each other to see who could count the most birds’ nests . After they got home, “we always had a couple of hours’ homework as well as odd jobs to do in the evenings. If we complained of tummy-ache (or any ache) we were dosed with Liquorice Syrup (a horrible mixture) so we didn’t complain too often!”

On Sundays, the children walked the three & a half miles again – this time to attend Sunday School at Moate Parochial Hall, being joined later for Morning Service at the Church by their parents, who arrived by pony & trap, so that, as Flo remarked, “We got home the lazy way!” While the family was at Church, the pony was unyoked and put in stables at the grocer’s shop nearby. The service was long, so the pony enjoyed a good rest with food & water before the return journey. A pony and trap was the family’s only mode of transport in those early days, so was a valued and cared-for possession.

Looking back, Flo felt fortunate to have lived in such a place & at such a time: “We had acres of fields to roam in – picking wild flowers & strawberries, mushrooms & nuts in their season.” One of their greatest excitements was when an occasional motor car was heard, causing the children to run to the end of the lane to watch as it sped past. Through all the rough & tumble of family life with so many siblings, a close affection remained between them and, for long after she grew up & left home, Flo kept up a regular correspondence with all of them, as well as with her mother. One of the sadnesses of her long life has been that she outlived them all except one: her younger sister Vera, who is still alive and well, living with her family in County Laois.

The first big change in Flo’s life came at the age of about 15, when she was sent to boarding school in Dublin. She enjoyed her studies, especially maths & science, but found she enjoyed hockey even more. When playing in goal, she was a great success – knowing that if her team lost, they would all blame the goalie! She played both for the school & across the whole of Ireland for her county and loved every minute of it. She was disappointed when her education & hockey career was cut short when she was taken out of school and sent to Callander in Scotland by her parents for a year or more to act as nursemaid to an aunt’s two little boys & to help in the tearooms and bakery owned by her aunt & uncle. Though she loved the family, especially the children, there was nobody her own age & she remembered feeling quite lonely and homesick for much of the time.

Her first proper job, after returning home, was Assistant Matron at a girls’ orphanage, back in Dublin again. She settled in well & was happy there, making friends amongst the staff, & had a lot of responsibility for her age, being put in charge of all the youngest children and babies, ensuring they were well cared-for &, as Flo describes it, “trying to be a substitute mother to them all”.

However, after three or four years, Flo got itchy feet: “I had a great ambition to travel & see the world” she said. To fulfil her dream, she spent 18 months as nanny to the two children of a wealthy couple, while moving from one luxury hotel to another along the beautiful French & Italian Riviera, spending weeks or months in each. She met other nannies with their charges, one of whom was the little Prince Ali Kahn, son of the powerful Aga Kahn. Flo felt sorry for the child, who had everything that money could buy, but was lacking a happy family life. She described him as a “poor
little rich boy”. There were numerous film stars & other famous faces to be seen there during the 1930’s, but as the decade neared its end, war with Germany was
looking inevitable, so it was not surprising when the infamous Nazi Hermann Goering was spotted walking in the streets of San Remo & other resorts, accompanied by his bodyguards. Flo ran to see, along with the rest of the crowd & was just quick enough to take a snap, which we have still.

Flo returned to the safety of England shortly before War broke out, firstly staying with her nearest sister, Sheila, in Hove, Sussex, later moving with her to Carlisle, then Chester & finally Frodsham. Sheila’s two babies were born during this time, so she was only too grateful for Flo’s help while her husband was away in the forces. When Sheila moved to Edinburgh to join her husband again, Flo found she liked Frodsham so much she stayed behind.

She rented a little house, & found work in the Research Lab at I.C.I. Runcorn. She rediscovered her talent for science, loving both the work & good company of colleagues, making many more friends there, as she did throughout life.

She did her bit for the War effort by joining the Ambulance Service Unit of the A.R.P. for the area, based in Frodsham . Flo co-ordinated the timetables, did the office work &, as she put it “kept peace between our volunteer drivers”. She was on duty most nights when the sirens started, which meant a scramble into uniform & a dash down the street to the Depot. She recalled the long nights spent waiting with the other volunteers, sharing fish & chips & smoking cigarettes to try and keep themselves awake. Some nights were filled with activity, including injuries & even deaths but, even after such a night, Flo was proud that she always got herself to work on time the next day.

Flo remained settled in Frodsham all through the war & beyond. She recalled the severe winter of 1946-47, when thick snow stopped all transport but, not one to give in to such an inconvenience,  she managed to walk the five miles to work in Runcorn. This period of her life was one of the happiest, with many friends & a busy social life. She enjoyed parties, dances, theatre, music & “the  flicks”. There was a cinema then in Frodsham, so very handy. She joined the Frodsham Players, taking part on stage in many amateur productions – & we have the photos of her dressed in some
amazing costumes to prove it.

Just after the war, there was still a shortage of agricultural labourers, so Flo volunteered to go fruit picking in the Cotswolds. Having visions of rosy-red apples in sunny orchards, she got a nasty shock when the reality turned out to be potato picking! She stuck it out for the week, but it was back-breaking, muddy work— not quite the nice free holiday she was expecting!

Another “free holiday” Flo volunteered for was at the Common Cold Research Centre at Salisbury to act as a human guinea pig. This was pure luxury compared with the spud-picking, despite having cold-virus drops inserted up her nose several times. Most of the volunteers, as you can imagine, ended the week with a streaming cold & feeling pretty miserable – but not Flo. She returned home unscathed by the bugs & was always proud to tell us that she “couldn’t even catch a cold”!

Flo had many friends – but she had admirers too. She had been engaged to marry twice before she met my father, Billy, but it was third time lucky for Flo. They were engaged Christmas 1948, married January 1950, & I was born at the end of that year. At long last, after spending so much of her life looking after other people’s children, she had a baby of her own.

When they married, my father was running the family business – a small factory making leather oils at Preston Brook. On moving to her marital home, Mum (as I’ll call her now) soon found that  she had married not just the man, but the whole family, having to share both the house and her husband with his mother and one (or sometimes two) elderly aunts – none of whom got on with each other. Consequently, Mum often found herself trying to act as peacemaker & keep all factions harmonious – with some success I believe, though at times life must have difficult for her.

After a devastating fire in 1957 & a general decline in the industry, our factory was closed by 1965, but thanks partly to Mum’s old contacts at I.C.I., & with her encouragement, Billy secured a job in the Research Lab at Runcorn, where he worked contentedly until retirement many years later.

Shortly after this, they moved to Helsby, living very happily there for another 20 years, making it their own home, in the way that nowhere else had been before. As well as dressmaking, Mum got pleasure (& saved money) by making soft furnishings, – curtains, cushions, chair-covers etc. She was also a devil with a pot of paint & would cover anything that didn’t move when she was in painting mode! (Billy soon learned to keep out of the way…) Also, being very sociable & wanting to help others wherever she could, she worked as a volunteer for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau in
Frodsham & made new friends amongst the neighbours and in the village.

It was a severe blow to us all, but especially Mum, when Billy died very suddenly in 1989 at the age of 75.

The following year she became seriously ill herself with bowel cancer, but after an operation gradually recovered her health & strength. Despite her sorrow after losing dear Billy, she adjusted to life on her own again. She joined the Church & Mothers’ Union, including cleaning duties at the Church Hall. She enjoyed taking coach holidays all around Britain, believing there were more than
enough beautiful sights to see in this country without the need to travel abroad. (Maybe she’d had a little too much of the French Riviera in her youth!)

She started losing her sight when she was in her eighties &, as she had always been a great reader, this was particularly disappointing. She had always taken a keen interest in current affairs, so missed her daily newspaper when she could no longer read the print, but managed to keep up to date with everything going on in the world via the radio – & would share her opinions on it all with anyone who cared to listen. She also learned to operate a tape recorder (& later a CD player), on which she thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audiobooks I borrowed from the library for her. Being such a down-to-earth character, she was quite dismissive of fiction, saying that real life was quite amazing and interesting enough, so why waste time reading “made-up stories”?! Biographies and autobiographies were her favourite genre, whether of famous, infamous or completely unknown characters – all enthusiastically devoured by her. I often had difficulty finding enough new books to keep up with her!

Her sight deteriorated, but Mum soldiered on cheerfully with her usual grit & determination. She treated her blindness as nothing more than a bit of a nuisance, and thought it quite hilarious when she mistakenly poured custard onto her chicken instead of gravy! (Not one to waste good food, she ate the result, declaring the flavour “a bit unusual”!) She continued regularly to catch the bus (or taxis) to Frodsham on her own, but, to her own annoyance, couldn’t get much further than that without help, so I took her to appointments and grocery shopping as necessary and on
more pleasurable outings whenever I had the chance. Despite the encroaching blindness, she liked to look smart & had always loved clothes, so we shared some happy “retail therapy” jaunts to Chester or Warrington. We also visited many lovely gardens while she could still see the brightly coloured flowers. She joined the Visually Impaired Club, where she enjoyed meetings, outings and her favourite of all – the pub lunches. Determined to keep herself fit, she usually managed to walk “around the block” from the house about a quarter of a mile every day, but if the weather was too bad, she climbed onto her exercise bike (purchased second-hand from the Church Jumble Sale) & counted 100 turns of the pedals, which she reckoned was “just enough” – & after which she felt she had earned a good rest and a cup of tea!

In recent years, Mum was persuaded, with much reluctance, to accept some help from professional carers after she had suffered a few falls (one of which had resulted in a broken hip), but sometimes left them with little to do, as she had often got herself up & dressed, or prepared her own dinner, or got herself ready for bed in the evening, by the time they arrived. Once she reached her late nineties &, to her surprise found herself still alive, Mum developed an ambition to live to see her 100th birthday. She reached her goalpost without too much trouble, and was then amazed by all the fuss she had caused, when she found herself inundated with cards, flowers, balloons & visitors galore. Pride of place was given to the Queen’s Birthday Card, which, as a lifelong Royalist, she was particularly delighted to receive.

A few months after the big birthday, unfortunately Mum had a bad fall in which she broke an ankle & after a long spell in hospital, sadly found she really could no longer manage at home. So, she moved to Hillcrest Care Home in Frodsham, where she settled in well, continuing to enjoy the company, good food & entertainment provided for as long as she was able, knowing she was safe & that help was near at hand from the kind and friendly team of carers whenever needed. Mum was always positive & optimistic, but practical & realistic too. Many years ago she told me she knew she had lived a good long life & therefore was ready to leave this world whenever her time on earth was done; but as none of us knows when that time might be, she intended to continue making the most of whatever life still had to offer in the meantime.

At the end of her memoir she wrote for William, her grandson:- “ I hope he will find this life as wonderful, happy and interesting as I have…..”

I would like to close by reading the poem “A Song of Living” by Amelia Josephine Burr, which I believe expresses something of Mum’s spirit:-

“Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.
I have sent up my gladness on wings, to be lost in the blue of the sky.
I have run and leaped with the rain, I have taken the wind to my breast.
My cheeks like a drowsy child to the face of the earth I have pressed.
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.
I have kissed young love on the lips, I have heard his song to the end,
I have struck my hand like a seal in the loyal hand of a friend.
I have known the peace of heaven, the comfort of work done well.
I have longed for death in the darkness and risen alive out of hell.
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.
I gave a share of my soul to the world, when and where my course is run.
I know that another shall finish the task I surely must leave undone.
I know that no flower, nor flint was in vain on the path I trod.
As one looks on a face through a window, through life I have looked on God,
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.”