I was only 6 years old when Sarah died, so my memories are not very clear but here is what I recall. We always called her “Grandma Douglas” to distinguish her from my other grandmother who lived just down the road.
She lived in the home of Uncle Jim (whom I believed at the time to be Dad’s cousin) and Aunty Ede at 35 Cole Street, Williamstown. She lived in a small, austere room at the rear with an adjoining vestibule which had a built-in table and chairs.
It was cold in the winter and I think I felt a little sorry for Grandma living there. The room had a bed, a wardrobe and only a few belongings. There were crucifixes on the walls of her room and the vestibule, which although I was unaware at the time, indicated that she maintained her catholic faith, despite her second husband, my grandfather John William Douglas, being protestant.
There was also a lovely old alarm clock that I still have which had a very loud ring, which she told me belonged to my Dad when he was a boy. I don’t ever recall her ever leaving her small living area, except to go to the back yard, where Uncle Jim was building a boat, to sit in the sunshine.
She was a kindly, softly spoken lady who seemed very old to me. Her hair was grey and her face quite wrinkled.
She had had a sad life and perhaps dealing with the smaller thing which she could manage gave her hope that the bigger issues would be resolved.
Losing Grandma Mud
I never questioned why she was living with Uncle Jim, nor why everyone else in the family called my grandma “Mud”. It was a bit funny but I went along with it. It was not until many years later that I understood the significance of that term of endearment.
We lived a couple of miles away in North Williamstown so we often dropped in to see how she was getting on. More often than not this involved a chat with Uncle Jim and Aunty Ede and sometimes with Aunty Jean (Jim’s eldest daughter), Uncle Roy, my cousin Graham who was my age and his brother Ian, a few years younger, who were also frequent visitors to the family home. Aunty Pat, Jim’s younger daughter, who I think was my favourite aunt, and her husband Uncle Norm, would also often be visiting there.
Grandma Douglas became very ill and was taken to Williamstown Hospital. She never returned to her little room. I can vividly recall her rasping breathing during her last days- it disturbed me greatly. Her death was my first encounter with loss of a loved one and I remember the sense of loss when passing her vacant bedroom on subsequent visits to the house.
We only have four photographs of Grandma Douglas. Here I am in her arms at my Christening, in Footscray, in 1946.
When Uncle Jim died in 1959 Aunty Ede gave Dad some of his possessions, including a 35 mm camera and other photographic equipment. I thought at the time that it was a generous gesture but wondered why his daughters Jean and Pat were not given them.
The penny tumbles
It was not until 1971, when I started to take an interest in family relationships and obtained Uncle Jim’s birth certificate, that I discovered that Sarah was his mother and that he was, in fact, my father’s half-brother, not his cousin.
Everything now started become clearer:1“Mud” was a contraction of “Mother” by which Uncle Jim addressed his mother, my grandmother; 2The gift of the photographic equipment to my father was quite an appropriate inheritance from a deceased brother; 3Sarah lived with Uncle Jim (and not with us) because Jim was fulfilling a duty as her eldest son.
Furthermore, Aunties Jean and Pat were not aunts but cousins. My mother was stunned at the revelation and wondered if my father, who was dead by this stage, even knew that Jim was his brother – he probably did, but in those days the subjects of divorce, deserting a husband and de facto relationships were considered shameful and not discussed – especially in catholic families.
Grandma Douglas and my grandfather, John William Douglas whom I had never met, lie in an unmarked grave in the Williamstown cemetery.
List of people mentioned above: Uncle Jim – James Joseph Snowdon 1897-1959, Sarah’s first-born son Aunty Ede – Edith Adela Trapman 1901-1966, Jim’s wife Aunty Jean- Jean Snowdon b 1924 – Jim and Ede’s eldest daughter Uncle Roy – Roy Smith, Jean’s husband Aunty Pat- Patricia Snowdon – b 1931 Jim and Ede’s daughter Uncle Norm – Norman Tucker, Pat’s husband