Monday, July 11, 2011

Within these walls, I can feel you (Lene Marlin)

There are two significant birthdays to celebrate in July and they are inextricably linked; my great grandfather, William Nugent Purdy (17 July 1880), and later it is the turn of my dad, Graham Nugent Purdy (26 July 1928).

William's history is complicated. I don't know anything of his early life but he eventually married Emma in Rochdale and they had three sons (one of whom died in infancy). Out of somewhere they made a crucial decision when my grandfather was very young (8 or 9) to move to New Zealand from Rochdale in the early 1900s. Basically -the farthest point away from Rochdale. The other end of the earth. Not like moving to Scunthorpe or something.
During the long passage to NZ via Australia, or else when they reached Australia, something happened to cause him to leave Emma, my great grandmother, in Sydney and come to NZ with his two very young sons.No one knows what really happened. I've heard various stories but the bottom line is that finding out the truth is no longer a viable prospect.

WNP, GNP, Christina, WNP, Deedoo, DMP, Ross
on the steps of Reimers Ave house.
 Like his own father William was a builder/ plasterer and he eventually started a business in Auckland - Purdy and Sons Plasterers. The business ended when my grandad retired (you'll recall that his only son - my dad - became a pharmacist and only an amateur plasterer).

My memories of my great grandfather are exclusively of him in his house in Reimers Ave, Mt Eden, Auckland until his death in the mid 1960s when I was 9 and Ross was 7. I don't have any memories of him coming to our house in Royal Oak or of his meeting us anywhere. The photographs of him holding me as a baby confirm that the minimal contact was always at his house.

It was a house he shared with his son Harry (my grandad) and his daughter-in-law, Christina. I'm not sure why he allowed them to move in with him. Whatever the reason he had us as frequent visitors. Every Saturday morning, mum and dad would load us into the family sedan and we would drive the short distance from Korma Ave to Mt Eden. That's every Saturday morning until...well... just every Saturday morning. When my grandmother died we still visited the house until my grandad moved to the Masonic village. Then we visited him there until his death.
From second from left: GNP, Harry, WNP. Photo taken
around July 26, 1949 (dad's 21st birthday party).
WNP, Grandma and Harry (Deedoo)
Our visits were very stylised. Ross and I would play on the entrance way pergola trying to avoid the roses, we would collect our magazines/ comics from grandma (mine were usually football magazines that had taken an age to travel from the UK but I looked forward to them never-the-less - not sure what Ross was given). We would play underneath the house amongst all the tools or on rare occasions we would visit the outside office (that needed a key so we would attach ourselves to dad for that visit) or play in the sheds at the back entrance that held all the plasterers' stuff - long wooden planks, drums of weird liquids and such. We would play inside in the study on an old typewriter or we would sit and listen and wait. Lotta waiting went on and I can see a version of myself with his head in a book or magazine.

During none of these times did we encounter William that I can recall. He had a room at the front of the house (remember it was his house) and he must have stayed in there, or else he was out but he was pretty old by this time so I doubt that - did he even have a car? Not sure, but we didn't come across him at all and we never went into his room. Never ever. Not once.

Ross will have far more vivid memories but to me he was always a shadowy figure, just on the edge of my childhood consciousness. I certainly knew he was there but we kept out of his way (or he lept out of ours, not sure which).

Our dad we called 'dad', our grandfather we called 'Deedoo' (I can't remember why but it suited him exactly), but our great grandfather had no pet name. We obviously didn't call him William or great grandfather; so we didn't call him anything! As I say he was a shadowy presence.

So I didn't ever get close to forming a relationship with him. Looking at other photos of him it is obvious that he did get out - bowls for instance and he was by all accounts a pretty social guy (you can tell that from his photos on this post) and my dad (and mum) got on well with him so it's all a bit strange really.

So a guy I never really knew. But...I feel a real bond to him. We share the same initials, we look similar (strong Purdy genes and that old Apples thing again) and we share overlapping history.

And I love him dearly for his legacy. Symbolically I wear his gold wedding band on my right hand ring finger. I am staring at it as I type. It's plain and beautiful and comes from a solid north of England, Rochdale origin. It permanently connects me to my ancestral roots. It makes me feel that a little bit of Rochdale is with me.

That's important to me because Rochdale feels like home in ways that I can't articulate. I had a very very strong sense of belonging when I visited for the first time in 2003.

So when the 17th spins into focus next week, spare a thought for the life of my great grandfather and maybe reflect a bit on your paternal great grandparents.

Love and peace - WNP

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