Susan Elder was my paternal grandmother, and the woman after whom I am named.
She died on March 11 1950, aged only 50 – almost 12 years before I was born.
I know very little about my dad’s mum. He was only 17 when she died and I’ve never really asked him much about her, possibly because I’m not as close to him as I am to my mother, but also because I think I’ve always felt his sadness at her loss and I haven’t known how to ask.
I’ve always known I was named for her and until my mum gave me the photo above, the only picture I’d ever seen of my grandmother is this one, taken probably around 1914-15.
I’ love this photo. I love the tranquility and hopefulness of the three young faces. I know my great-grandmother had been a school teacher before she married, and I wonder if the book my grandmother is holding is somehow symbolic of the family’s love of learning – or perhaps a way of conveying gentility upon the children of a family whose father was “in trade.”
My grandmother was 22 when she married my grandfather in June 1923. On their marriage certificate, his occupation is given as “blacksmith” – she apparently had none. In researching my family history, I’ve found very few female ancestors who did not have jobs at the time of their marriage, so I guess Susan’s family were sufficiently wealthy that she did not have to work in the mills and factories of Kirkcaldy.
My grandmother’s married life was not materially easy. She raised two sons in a tiny terrace house with an outside toilet, shared with three other families. Was she happy? I don’t know. I’ve spoken to an aunt and to one of my father’s cousins who remember her fondly, but I really don’t know what her life was like. I hope that when the photographer caught that image of a stern-looking woman with her head turned away from the camera that he was only capturing that moment – and that the beautiful, hopeful teenager of the second photo found happiness in her relatively short life.