On growing old together

When, last week, I posted a photo of my great grandparents at their 55th wedding anniversary, both Pacific Paratrooper and theamateurcamera commented on the longevity of their marriage.

Fifty five years married; my great grandparents, Alexander Cruden and Catherine Black.

Fifty fifth wedding anniversary; my great grandparents, Alexander Cruden and Catherine Black.

This reminded me that Alexander Cruden and Catherine Black were actually married for 62 years – until my great grandad died in 1970.

These great grandparents are particularly special to me; mainly perhaps because I knew them and have very fond memories of their presence in my life. When I was little and living in Kirkcaldy, they lived near by. My mother was especially close to her grandad, so I think we spent quite a lot of time with them. My memories are very much a child’s; the smell of the peppermints that great grandad kept a bag of tucked down the side of his chair; the slight buzz of his hearing aid, and the tortoiseshell Alice band my great grandmother wore to keep her wispy white hair off her face.

My baby brother and I with our Mum, grandmother and great grandparents

My baby brother and I with our Mum, grandmother and great grandparents

My great grandparents were married on the 27 March, 1908 in Kirkcaldy, Fife. He was seventeen, she was eighteen. Six weeks later, they became parents when my grandmother was born. Two years later they had another child – my great uncle Stewart. Three more children were to follow – all boys – but not until my great grandfather had returned wounded from serving in WWI. Indeed my great grandmother bore her last child George, within months of her only daughter (my grandmother) giving birth for the first time, to my uncle David Ramsay.

Catherine Black and Alexander Cruden with children Stewart and Margaret. Circa 1912.

Catherine Black and Alexander Cruden with children Stewart and Margaret. Circa 1912.

My mum recently gave me several photos of my grandmother and her brother Stewart. These are studio portraits showing the two young children in a variety of costumes. I don’t know much about the cost of photography in those days, but it seems to me that the family must have been quite comfortably off.

My grandmother, Margaret Cruden and her brother Stewart. Studio portrait probably from around 1914.

My grandmother, Margaret Cruden and her brother Stewart. Studio portrait from around 1915 perhaps?

When they married, my great grandfather was a coal miner. Three years later, in the 1911 census, his occupation is shown as carter.

Later in his life he was the publican of the Fife Arms Hotel in Milton of Balgonie, Fife, and the family also owned a dairy, a chip shop and perhaps also an icecream business – although this is something I have to investigate a bit more as my mother’s story about the icecream shop has always sounded a bit mysterious!

I know that my great grandfather served in the British Army in WWI – and that he was wounded, probably in France, and had his lower leg amputated. My mother thinks that he was a Gordon Highlander, but I cannot find any record of his military service. I know that over 50 percent of the personnel records of WWI British servicemen were lost in the Blitz, and can only assume his records were amongst them.

I do know that as a result of his injury, he spent time in Edenhall Hospital for Limbless Soldiers and Sailors. My mother remembers visiting him there in the 1940’s when she was a child, so I assume he continued to go for some sort of respite care.

Patients at Edenhall Hospital for Limbless Soldiers and Sailors, probably in the 1920's.

Patients at Edenhall Hospital for Limbless Soldiers and Sailors, probably in the 1920’s. Alexander Cruden is in the front row, third from the left.

Some records from Edenhall Hospital have been transferred to the Lothian Health Services Archive, but unfortunately, not records relating to the period of time my great grandad would have been there, so that is a dead end also.

It’s frustrating not to know more about my great grandfather’s military service. While he was only one of millions of men worldwide who served and suffered, the impact of his injury must have continued throughout his life. I remember his prosthetic limb – my great grandmother used to hide it when he annoyed her, while he would turn off his hearing aid and ignore whatever she was saying.

Of course it was not only my great grandfather who bore the impact of service. My great grandmother was left with two small children to raise alone, not knowing when – or if – her husband would return.

As a child I found my great gran a bit intimidating, but she was also an amazing woman. Her own mother apparently died when Catherine was a child, although I’ve not been able to find a record of this.

Alexander Cruden and Katherine (nee Black); my great grandparents with my at my christening.

Alexander and Catherine at my christening.

My mum talks about her gran travelling daily from home to work in the chip shop as pillion passenger on a friend’s motorbike, and of being unafraid to deal on the black market during the war to make sure family and friends were provided for.

She sounds like an astute businesswoman and someone who fiercely protected and looked after her family – raising a grandson when the boy’s parent’s marriage broke down, and looking after my mother and her siblings at times as well.

On the face of it, my great grandparents’ marriage sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Pregnant teenagers – parents before the ink was dry on the marriage license, separated for several years by war, a permanently disabled husband, five children spread over 11 years, the stress of another war in which three of their sons were in military service … any one of these would be considered sufficient for divorce these days. But instead they stuck together for sixty two years – eventually dying within months of each other.

su and tony

I know times were different then – divorce was expensive and difficult to obtain. But I’d like to think that Alec and Cath were happy; that their sixty two years were about more than endurance.

I like to think that not just for their sakes, but because it gives me hope for my own 27 year relationship with the Big T.

17 thoughts on “On growing old together

  1. It’s interesting how a smell can recall a memory. In my case, it was the smell of my grandfather’s cigars and my grandmother’s butterscotch candies. I loved your story!

    • Thanks so much!

      Smell is such a powerful sense. Raspberry fizzy drinks or flavouring take me right back to when I was really little and my paternal grandad lived with us for a while.

    • Thanks! I was surprised at how many long marriages my ancestors had clocked up. I guess divorce wasn’t really an issue – it was more that so many of them lived to such a ripe old age.

    • Thanks; it’s nice to actually have stories to tell about my family. I feel as though I know very little about most of them, and what I do know is second-hand and sometimes a bit dubious.

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  3. thank you so much for posting this, Alexander Cruden was also my Great grandfather. My grandfather was his son George Cruden. Seeing these pictures is amazing because I’ve only ever heard stories about them thank you!

    • Wow! How fantastic to hear from you. I have vague memories of your grandad from when I was really little and our great grandparents lived in Pottery Street, and he was really good to my mum when she moved back to Scotland in the 1990s. I’ve been hoping to track down members of the family because we grew up in New Zealand and I’ve never really known most of my cousins. I’m also trying to find out more about Great Gran and Grandad’s lives because I have so many questions. I wish I’d asked my Gran before she died, but I wasn’t that interested when I was younger. I’ve got quite a few photos of them, so if you don’t have any/many, let me know and I can scan and email them.

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