Starting my memoir

This is it! Start here!

When I started writing these memoirs, I found myself hesitating, as what I wanted to say might seem to come across as a kind of shock to people who had, throughout my childhood’ tried to influence me spiritually. However, as I contemplated this, it occurred to me that it was I who was subsequently shocked by the attitudes that to them seemed normal and even desirable!

So, I’m up in the sky, looking down at my life here on earth. A female first-born child born to an early 20th century Irish/Ulster-Scots couple whose families had both been immersed in a minority cult called ‘The Brethren’, which impacted greatly on their lives, in some ways positively, though in my opinion also negatively. I was loved, as was my brother, but little did my parents realise, that their views did not automatically trickle down through our genes, that we both considered the status quo, then moved away from it, though each in different ways.

70 years later and looking back, I see wonder, curiosity, disappointment, joy, and yes, worship of our creator God. And yet to my parents I had stepped out of line, not automatically following the path they had absorbed, seemingly without question, from their own parents. I was full of wonder, amazed by nature, ballet, foreign countries, and art. Curiosity gave me the nickname ‘Nosey Norah’ and I became fascinated with people from other lands, the whole sex thing, the human body, philosophy, books, and genealogy. But sometimes there was disappointment –  in my relationships – illness, death, and even in my children. But also joy in love, sex, literature, music, my children, relationships, and of course, grandchildren! And always music and worship: praising God through music, and nature.

My parents seemed to have met as sort of arranged marriage! Here is how it apparently came about: my maternal grandmother Norah (my namesake!) had died from pneumonia when my mother was just 12, penicillin not having been discovered and used until after her death, and her father John Wilson met and remarried a lady called Ethel Catherwood. Ethel took a great interest in her new family, but had no children of her own. Both families had previously been Presbyterian, but had become ‘converted’ and joined the ‘Brethren’, a new non-conformist sect which had begun in Dublin in the late 1820s. This meant that my upbringing was somewhat ‘strict’, as the Brethren believed that it was wrong to sing anything but their own hymns, swear, read novels, go to the cinema or dancing, the girls should wear their hair long, and not wear trousers or short skirts. Other restrictions meant I should not play with Roman Catholics, mix as little as possible with anyone other than other Brethren people, and never go on a date with anyone who was not of the Brethren! Yet from an early age I started to question this upbringing, and have continued to do so every day of my life! And so my parents married and settled in Belfast where my father worked with the Ulster Transport Authority, and Northern Ireland has been the place I have both loved and hated over the course of my life.

Looking back, I sometimes think my life is like a river.  And it occurs to me, when God created rivers, he did not make them go straight from the mountain to the sea, like the canals that man creates.  He created them to meander, and sometimes double back in great horse-shoe curves.  And the small trickle that started in the mountains was fed along the way by the influence of the many people who impacted on my life – my friends, relatives, Sunday School and day school teachers, etc.  And so I began to grow into an adult river, usually flowing stronger as it goes, but sometimes held back by obstacles, or changing to a trickle as events around affected its course.  A big influence was my husband Chris. It was like two streams meeting and becoming one river, strong and peaceful.  He died when my three children were small.  He was the biggest single human influence in my life.  When we met it was like two rivers flowing together in parallel until eventually they joined to become one.  When he died, the river narrowed to a smaller stream, but was soon joined by other stronger streams – friends and family.  I felt then the strength of my relationship with God which is like the river banks, providing strength, security, integrity and meaning to my life especially when the water became turbulent, as it often did!  Rivers and streams can run through marshy places, swamps or mud-fields. These represented to me times of illness or sadness. Their course can be altered by obstacles, or they can become polluted and muddied. When healthy they can support life, both vegetable and animal. My river flowed through all of these.

There had been obstacles in my early life – my mother’s nervous illness created a marshy area, but later I found direction in my nursing career. And later, the experience of Chris’s illness and death was like a huge boulder being thrown into the middle of the river, causing it to split in two. The part that was Chris trickled away to nothing, as he was absorbed into God. The remaining stream had difficulty finding the river bank, but when it did, it stayed close to it for many years, and because it was a strong bank, the river grew strong again until the children left home. Other relationships somewhat muddied the waters, until I found one that gave support to the frequent trickles that previously had seemed to just turn to mud. And my relationship with God would become again like the river banks, providing strength, security, integrity and meaning, especially when the water was turbulent, as it often was.

PREVIOUS GENERATIONS

My mother’s family were a strong influence in my young life. Doris, Muriel, Myra and Cecil were the children of a loving couple, Jack and Norah Wilson – but sadly, Norah, my maternal grandmother, died of pneumonia when my mother Muriel was just 12, and Muriel’s father John Wilson then married Ethel Catherwood (how did they meet?). Ethel (also known as ‘Molly’) did not have any children of her own, but took a great interest in her new family. The older children had been born in Dublin, and the family had then moved to Ballina, Co Mayo. Jack had a prosperous timber business in Ballina, and the family lived in a large detached house with an extensive garden on the outskirts of the town. The Wilson family consisted of Doris, the oldest sister, who trained as a nurse at Stoke Mandeville in England, Myra, also a nurse and their younger brother Cecil. On moving to Belfast, Doris married Robert White, a decorator and part-time Brethren preacher. They lived on the Cregagh Road in south Belfast, which was close enough for us to visit on foot every Wednesday afternoon. They had no children of their own, but Doris loved children, especially boys, and we were always happy to visit there. Bobbie had a greenhouse where he grew tomatoes, and I still remember the wonderful flavour of those fresh tomatoes! They also lived near to Muriel and Doris’s aunts: Hannah and her husband James Boyd, who were also childless, and Mollie and Jeannie Bollard, who were both single. Jeannie working for the Civil Service and Mollie looked after the home. They shared a large house which was situated beside a small glen, and Arthur and I loved to play there. It was a strange arrangement: Hannah and James occupied one side of the house, and the 2 unmarried sisters, Mollie and Jeannie, lived in the room on the other side of the hall. I remember having to drink the tea made by Aunt Hannah, which was always very strong. Hannah was not as friendly as her two sisters, and we thought she was very stern! We preferred the company of the other aunts who loved small animals, and had decorated their living room with pictures of kittens and puppies. They also had a pedal organ which we sometimes tried to play! Hannah’s husband James had an old car, [insert photo] which lay rusting in the garage. After his death. Hannah refused to sell it, and would often go and sit in it to remember the good times she had had with him. She eventually allowed my father to take it away and fix it up to working order again.

According to my mother, as small children they spent idyllic holidays at a cottage in nearby Enniscrone, noted for its beautiful beach and sand hills, the largest of which was known as ‘The Valley of Diamonds’ because of the number of beautiful pearlised shells found in its hollow. Jack had been born into and brought up in the Presbyterian tradition, but along the way was influenced by ‘the Brethren’, a new Protestant non-conformist sect originating in Dublin, which was less strict than the ‘Plymouth Brethren’ in Devon. This became their religion, and sadly Jack was disinherited by the family because of his new belief. They attended meetings at a local Gospel hall where the Gospel was preached with great urgency and enthusiasm, but without the trappings of prayer books, formal creed or grand buildings. The area of Mayo where they lived was mainly Catholic, Presbyterians were a minority, but the Brethren were even less well known. However they had a freshness and zeal to present the Gospel and were keen to ‘convert’ Catholics to this new approach to Christianity. After their mother’s death, the family had live-in help or ‘maids’ who helped with the housework and looked after the children until Jack remarried. Later, the family moved to Strabane, and Doris went to boarding school in Sligo. But Muriel did not want to go to boarding school, and she was not happy in Strabane, so it was decided she should go to Belfast for secretarial training at Ashleigh House School. She stayed at ‘digs’ as they then called a stay of temporary accommodation, at Queen Mary’s Hostel for girls, on the Lisburn Road, and it was while living there that she was introduced to Catherwood Anderson, my father, who was the niece of her step-mother Ethel..

Ethel’s sister, Edith, my paternal grandmother, had a family of 5. Their father William had suffered a severe stroke, was incapacitated for many years and died in 1934. The family moved to Belfast so that their children, now teenagers, could attend Methodist College, but Edith their mother was not happy there, and after his death the family moved to a farm in the Aghalee area of Co Armagh. His sons Joseph and Catherwood later worked for the Ulster Transport Authority which had begun through the Catherwood family, Stewart Catherwood, my great uncle having set up the Catherwood buses business, Joseph as company secretary, while Catherwood, my father, studied at Belfast Technical College and became a Chartered Mechanical Engineer with the company. Their daughters Hilda and Doreen were nurses, and the youngest, Arthur, worked on the farm. Ethel introduced her pretty step-daughter Muriel to the handsome Catherwood, and the relationship soon developed. So in a sense, my parents, Muriel and Catherwood, met as a kind of arranged marriage. In September 1943 they were married in the Victoria Memorial Hall, a Brethren assembly in May Street, Belfast, and lived in rented accommodation for a time in the posh Cranmore Park in south Belfast. It was while they lived there that I was born, on 17th March (St Patrick’s Day) 1946, and named Norah Patricia (after my maternal grandmother, and the saint on whose day I was born), at the Massereene Hospital, Antrim, where Cather’s sister, Hilda was Matron. Soon after, they moved to Rosetta Parade also in south Belfast, and three years later, my brother, William Arthur Bell Anderson was born. But my mother Muriel unfortunately suffered from post-natal depression with both children, and remained for a time in the Massereene Hospital under her sister-in-law Hilda’s care. After Arthur’s birth, I went to stay on the farm with our Aunt Doreen for a time, which I enjoyed, as Doreen was a great cook and made delicious cakes! The farm was a joy to be in, and I have memories of collecting Beauty of Bath apples in the orchard, filling pails of amazing fresh well water at the nearby pump, and peeping into Uncle Joe’s library, filled with Just William, Billy Bunter and the St Trinian’s stories ,among the heavier theological tomes which I might later have taken more interest in!

Doris, Muriel, Myra and Cecil, were the children of a loving couple, Jack and Norah. The older children were born in Dublin, and the family then moved to Ballina, Co Mayo. Jack had a prosperous timber business in Ballina, and the family lived in a large detached house with an extensive garden in the environs of the town. They spent idyllic holidays at a cottage in nearby Enniscrone, noted for its beautiful beach and sand hills, the largest of which was known as ‘The Valley of Diamonds’ because of the number of beautiful pearlised shells found in its hollow. Jack had been born into and brought up in the Presbyterian tradition, but along the way was influenced by ‘the brethren’, a new Protestant non-conformist sect originating in Dublin. This became their religion, and they attended meetings at a local Gospel hall where the Gospel was preached with great urgency and enthusiasm, but without the trappings of prayer books or formal creed or grand buildings. The area of Mayo where they lived was mainly Catholic, Presbyterians were a minority, but the Brethren were even less well known.. However they had a freshness and zeal to present the Gospel and to ‘convert’ Catholics to this new approach to Christianity. The family had live-in help or ‘maids’ who helped with the housework and looked after the children. These would most likely have been Catholic.

Doris was a boarder at Sligo High School, then went into nursing in England, before marrying her husband Bobby Whyte, a Brethren preacher, artist and decorator. They were a kind couple, and lived on Cregagh Road, about a mile or so from our home in Belfast, and we visited there every Wednesday on foot. Doris had no children of her own, and as she specially lovd little boys, she cared for Arthur any time my mother was in hospital, which she often was due to her depression. I still remember the smell of the fresh tomatoes from their greenhouse! Myra was the posh younger sister, who was manageress at the Rosapenna Hotel in Donegal, owned then by my great-uncle Stewart

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About nor4h

Thoughtful writer and blogger
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