Sunday, April 22, 2007

My Father's Family

I know very little about my parents' families. The only grandparent I ever knew was my father's mother, Marion Elsie (Jebb) Dobell. I know that she and her two sisters were called "The Three Belles of Brecon," and that one of those sisters was Margaret, known familiarly as "Aunt Daisy." Perhaps the other sister was called "Aunt Barney." If that's the case, her name might have been Barbara. I don't even know if Granny had any brothers. I know she was married to Guy John Dobell in 1901, and, somewhere I have a picture of her taken on that occasion. She was 18, and her bridegroom was over 50, or so I was told. They had four children, Enid, Joan, John and Zoe. My dad, John, was born in 1908, and, rumour had it that Aunt Zoe was born in the ladies room of a London theater. Aunt Zoe had an umlaut over the "e," but I don't know how to do that.

The story,as I heard it, growing up, was that the family business, J. Dobell & Sons, Purveyors of Wines and Spirits, went under in the wake of WWI. There was no more money to keep my father in school, and his father strongly suggested that he should enter the army. Dad, being born into the expectation of a decent education, balked at that, and decided to make his own way in the world. He spent some time in London, and then decided to try his luck in the wilds of Canada. He was homesteading in Manitoba during the depression, and eventually abandoned that project in favour of "riding the rods" to Vancouver in search of employment. He was employed at Courtauld's, a textile company, and transferred, after a while, to Cornwall Ontario, where he met Mom. They married in 1936. However, they didn't move to England until after my grandfather died. I don't know if that was a coincidence, or if there was a severe estrangement there.

After they moved to England, Dad continued at Courtauld's. Mom caused quite a sensation in the family. Apparently, the Dobells' only impression of Americans was from the Buffalo Bill Wild West Shows, which had toured all over Europe in the early part of the century. In consequence, they all expected Mom to show up looking like Annie Oakley, complete with buckskins and six-shooters. She won a certain measure of acceptance by virtue of good manners and extreme stubbornness. She was a tower of strength during WWII, until, having been bombed out twice in Coventry, she decided to return to the States for the duration. She sent care packages, some of which were discovered, unused, in Granny's attic after her death.

Dad spent WWII in the RAF, stationed in India and Burma. After the war, he returned to his employment at Courtauld's, where he stayed until 1957.

Aunt Enid had married Eric Smith, assistant headmaster at a boys' school in Oxford, and they had five children, John, Gillian, Sally, Patrick and Judy. Aunt Joan married Chase Green-Price and had Susan and John. Zoe never married. I imagine they are all deceased, as Dad would have been 99 this year.

Granny lived in a lovely little Victorian house called The Slinget, in the Town of Much Birch, in Herefordshire. The town has a lovely Norman church, where we attended Easter services, and Christmas, in those years the Holiday was at Granny's.

I could practically draw you a floor plan of that house. I loved it. Granny died when I was four, so any memories I have of her are fuzzy, at best. Of course, the little bit of info that I have came from my mother and father.

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