My grandmother died unexpectedly, at the age of 78, when I was 18. My father, then in his late 50s, came home on the night of her death in what struck us as a very emotional state, even considering the circumstances. This was a man who refused to discuss his wartime experiences, had only once taken time off work for illness during my lifetime, a man whose working life had been spent taking responsibility, a man to whom everyone else in his extended family turned when there was unpleasant business to address. He was utterly devastated. As he sat at the table to make a show of attempting to eat the meal my mother had saved for him, he simply said:
‘I had a little brother and sister and I only found out about them today.’
The recently converted genealogist in me pricked up her ears, and prepared for one of those ‘seize the moment no matter how inappropriate it may be’ inquisitions, much to the disapproval of my mother, who never felt comfortable with my researches.
‘They died when I was 2. A little boy and a little girl, they were twins like me, and they died very young. I didn’t know anything about them but I found a receipt for them when I was looking through your Nan’s papers. They never told me.’