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My Great Aunt Jane

A woman of her time hardworking and independent. I used to wonder why she had never married again.

My Father’s aunt, my Great Aunt Jane, was a remarkable woman. A woman of her time, hardworking and independent. She was small in stature, and like all women of the day, which were the days following the end of WW1, I am told she always dressed in black. And all through her life her clothes were ankle length and fastened high on her neck which looked most uncomfortable. But she never changed her style, because that was the way I saw her as I grew up. It is quite possible that was because the clothes she wore were all she could afford and they had to last.

Her husband had lost his life in the great war of 1914-1918 after only 2 years of marriage. When peacetime returned, she got a job as an office cleaner in a block of offices called The Star Buildings in Northumberland St in Newcastle upon Tyne. She worked early mornings and evenings. To get to work she had to walk from Shieldfield, where she had a room in a tenement. She did the two-way journey twice every day except Sunday. She was never known to grumble.

She could not be called pretty, and her hands always looked red and sore especially in the winter. Whenever we went to see her, she invariably had her prayer book, either in her hand or nearby. On these occasions, Mum always went straight to the little scullery as they were called in those days, and deposited a bag of groceries quietly on the bench.

I used to wonder why she had never married again. People told me she had opportunities, but she turned all offers down. One day I plucked up my courage and asked her why she had never wanted a companion in her lonely life. She looked at me with a strange look in her eyes. I thought she was going to be angry but she wasn’t.

She just said quietly, “If I had married again the man I married would have been second best. The Great War took the only man I wished to spend my life with. He was the best and the second-best could never take the pain away. It never could.” I felt very sad at these words.

So she kept up her job cleaning the offices until she reached the age of 72  and when she died, quietly, as she did everything else, I remembered her words and I realised she was right. And I had come to know in my own experience that the second-best no matter how good could never drive away the pain of losing the first.

She was a remarkable woman, my Great Aunt Jane.

They don’t make them like that anymore.

Kitty Brightwell


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