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A Woman I Admire Writing Competition Spring 2018

Nanny Kath
Jess Edwards

Is it possible to be inspired by increasingly distant childhood memories?

Is it feasible to find a role model in second-hand knowledge, passed in dribs and drabs between family members until it finds a way to you?

Is it sensible to call Nanny Kath, ‘A Woman I Admire’, when grandchildren are prone to such rose-tinted veneration?

I think so.

At every stage of my life, I have seen a side of Kathleen Edwards that spoke to the girl or woman I was at that time. As the picture of Nanny Kath has filled out in my mind, with the heavier shadows that turn fiction into a human story, the more my admiration has grown.

For decades, Nanny Kath lived in a little bungalow in Lydd in Kent, the isolated spot that other generations seemed happy to leave behind. When I was small, the bungalow meant tubs of sweets saved for us on the table next to the sofa. It meant water balloon fights in the garden, and not getting in trouble if the war overflowed inside. I have a vivid memory of Nanny Kath whisking us away to a funfair on a stifling summer's day.

To an eight-year-old girl, Nanny Kath had the power to take normal days and turn them into adventures. She was the one to thank for the quarter of me that heralded from a land of leprechauns — as I proudly told my eight-year-old friends — the part of me that was exciting and unknown.

An aura of energy and independence emboldens these early memories.

Nanny Kath died when I was too young to understand why the adults kept crying. I was too young to go to her funeral, but young enough to believe the platitudes about her looking down whenever the sun shone.

Over the years since, I have learned about the challenges that faced the woman I remember. My memories of Nanny Kath's joie de vivre and fierce spirit are now complemented by what happened before.

I learned that she ran away from her Catholic Irish family in Cork when she was fifteen, and worked in England picking potatoes and packing eggs.

I found out that one day her husband left and she found herself a single mother to three children.

I heard how she set up a taxi company and worked hard to raise her own children, and leave something behind for each of their own.

Now I know that the independent spirit I witnessed as a child was preceded by a lifetime of hard work and difficult decisions. The money she left behind was enough for a deposit on a rented flat away from home, and made my first step towards independence far easier than it was for her.

Maybe Nanny Kath will never know how I have come to admire her, but I am writing this while the sun is shining. Although I'm not nine years old anymore, there's a piece of me that still believes she's hiding in the rays.

Jess Edwards, © 2018