Friday, June 26, 2009

Meeting Shirley's family

Yesterday Cheryl introduced me to three generations ofShirley's family over a seafood lunch on one of the many bays in Panama City. Cheryl is the second of four - three girls (the others are Donna and Katherine) and their young brother Mark still in his forties. Mark is much quieter and not as gregarious as his sisters - the poor fellow is well and truly outnumbered! He is a script writer and spent a number of years in Los Angeles, but is now back in Panama City. Katherine lives in Nashville, Tennessee. I forgot to ask her if she knows our Nicole and our Keith.

Then there was Elizabeth, Cheryl's 29 year old daughter) who is due to give birth next month to a second girl, and her three year old Isabella who is just as quiet as our namesake at the computer club (Hazel and Deb's young grand-daughter), but I suspect she will thaw out when she gets used to me. Later, Kathryn's daughter Erin turned up.

Now I noticed there are good genes in Shirley's family - very pretty women all of them - and amazingly warm. Listening to their stories of family life, I began to get a real picture of just what my visit means to them, and what it will mean to Shirley. I can't wait till tonight, and neither can they.

I learned that for whatever reason, Shirley's father - an intensely private man - cut off Shirley's relationship with her mother's family the moment her mother died. On the day of the funeral in 1942 when Shirley was 12, she was not told of her mother's death, but taken out for the day by her grandmother. She was told eventually and became very close to her grandmother whilse her father was elsewhere managing wealthy men's English estates.

So when I made contact, continued the research and sent her photos, it was a very emotional turning point for Shirley. She and her daughters had tried without much success to undertake research when they'd been to London, but didn't have enough information to make the initial breakthrough.

So it seems that I have been the key to opening up her mother's family for her, and it means so much to the family that I was able to tell them that Shirley and her deceased mother Kathleen were very much missed by all the aunts, who simply didn't know where she was. My sister is also a Kathleen, and dad said she was named after cousin Kathleen, whilst mum always said she was named for a song they liked - I'll take you home again, Kathleen!

Of course families never turn out to be as "perfect or normal" as our older generations would have us believe, but that's life isn't it. I've found birth records of further relatives who we may never be able to track down, it was all so long ago, and the names were so common. All I have is my dad's fragmented memories of Shirley's grandmother's other children being sent to Canada because their mother couldn't look after them.

On to more mundane things. I am still having trouble with jet lag. Yesterday I woke up at 3 am after four hours sleep, so went for a walk at 6, knowing it was the only cool time of the day (temperatures are constantly in the 90s), then another walk after breakfast to see the church, which is only 10 minutes walk from here.

I later went to the Mall to purchase a sun hat. The mall seemed strange because there was no supermarket, paper shop or chemist (drugstore). They are separate here. Panama City has no public transport - no trains, no buses as we know them. Even poor people rely on cars. Of course petrol (gasoline) is much cheaper here. The terrain is perfectly flat, only three feet above sea level, the soil seems very poor - sandy of course - and the water table is at 10 inches! Incomes are low, although vary widely.

After a late lunch, I asked the younger generation - Elizabeth and Erin - to help me purchase an iPod Nano, which I duly did. After a rest, I was collected by Zoe, a family friend and taken down to a nice shopping centre where we window shopped, looking at bookstores and clothes. Zoe was very easy to talk to, into literature and historyand psychology. We had intended going for a meal, but neither of us was hungry! She took me to her house to collect an electric jug (I'd been boiling my water for tea in the coffee percolator), and we stealthily drove past Shirley's place for a look, in the dark of night. If only she'd known! Cheryl is keeping away from her mother at the moment - she reckons she couldn't keep the grin off her face.

My next tale will be about my role as the Jack in the Box, and Shirley's reaction.....


  1. Sounds like you're having a full on and great time Marg. Onya mate.

    Bloody cold here. My highlight for the week was I bought a heater for the bedroom today just to warm it up before I go to bed and before I get out. I do not want to lie on the floor stuck as I have in the freezing cold again. I'll be right now. It's got a remote control too. Love it. Even my clock radio has a remote so I can have it under my pillow and not have to put my hand out in the cold to change stations. Ah technology!

    Off to Sydney next week for a Strategic Planning 3 days with the PDA gang so that will be good. Excellent bunch this year. Heaps of energy and more.

    Keep well.


  2. Can't wait to hear how the Jack in the Box surprise worked out!