Researching my family tree takes me in all sorts of directions. The people I know well and those who are close to them is the easy bit. Most families have members who know a little bit about other people to whom they are related, but who distance themselves in a way that says ‘This far and no further…’ It could be shyness, or a feeling that they are higher up the social scale, or even feeling lower on the social scale. They may not even know why! My mother, I was told, had an ‘inferiority complex’, which apparently meant that she felt not as accomplished as those in her social circle! This made no sense to me. Perhaps it was because her mother died when she was 12, and a step mother who had no children of her own, took charge! I’ll never know why, but one thing I did know – I did not want to be like that! Yes, I was quite shy at first, but as I left home and developed as an adult, I had no fear of talking to people as equals. To me it seemed just as wrong to envy people as to look down on them. Everyone had something good to offer. I found this fascinating! And maybe that was why I got nick named ‘Nosey Norah’! And it fascinated me seeing how differently people behaved, even in the same family!
Well, my paternal grandmother was a very stern lady. She never gave her grandchildren anything – presents, kisses, nothing! I never warmed to her as a child, though later I learned she had had a very hard life. She gave my father the Christian name of ‘Catherwood’ as that was her maiden name. The Catherwoods came across to me as a wealthy branch of the family, but it later became apparent to me that there were 2 types of Catherwoods: the more religious ones who read and even wrote theological books, and the more secular (and more financially wealthy ones), who had large houses and owned race horses! We only ever heard stories about them!
Many years later, I became a member of a large Presbyterian church which had a reputation of being a ‘socially climbing’ church. I soon found out that a Catherwood called Harry was a member there, with his second wife Adrienne (of TV fame when she presented a childrens’ TV programme as ‘Miss Adrienne’). My mother disapproved of second marriages, especially when the first wife was still alive, so feelings were mutual and the gap had widened. Whereas the more religious Catherwoods were completely accepted, and even looked up to! Anyway, the time came when Harry died and it was announced from the pulpit that all were welcome to the house after the funeral. So I decided to go, in the interests of family history and developing the family tree. It was a large house in a well-to-do area, and the welcome seemed warm. Glass of wine in hand, I chatted with Harry’s youngest daughter, an ITV presenter, and then unfortunately in the crowd I knocked over a large vase of flowers in the hall, where it smashed! Adrienne was polite but cold, and she still cares not to speak when we meet in the street.
Another Catherwood, Fred, of the more religious Catherwoods, who married the daughter of a famous London preacher, John Stott, was much admired by my family, but still kept at a certain distance. His father, Stewart, my grandmother’s brother, owned the Rosapenna Hotel in Donegal, where my mother’s sister Myra was manageress for a time. He was a strange enigma: a social climber who espoused the evangelical Christian tradition, and often invited preachers to stay. It was only after my mother in-law died that I discovered letters written from Rosapenna by her husband Harry, my father in law, when he attended a Christian conference and had a room in the hotel. I was amazed to read that he felt quite insulted to be given a room that was nothing more than a boxroom, and demanded to be moved to something larger! And his personal impression of the hotel owner was nothing if not cynical regarding his Christian witness!!
Later, on Facebook, I met his son Christopher, who has been friendly at a distance, and has to some extent restored my faith in the Catherwood branch of the family…. but there’s none so strange as family!