Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Grandma I Never Knew Part 5: In Sickness And In Health

[There are once again a great many people to thank for the information given here. Rosemary, Ruth, Angela, Glyn, Wendy, Norma, Merthyn and Christine. This blog is not possible without all of their input and willingness to allow me to quiz them on family history.]

Iris suffered some hardships while living in Africa. In the early 1950’s they lost a child. Her name was Bronwyn. There were blood complications and she was born with Down Syndrome. She did not survive long after her birth. Two years later Iris would have to sit in a nursing home, praying and waiting while their new born son was rushed to a hospital in Salisbury. His blood was rhesus negative and required a complete blood transfusion which was not possible in Umtali. 150 miles, two blow outs , a borrowed car and one police escort later, Merthyn Davies reached the hospital and one of the first ever full blood transfusions for a child in Africa was completed. Iris could thank God that this child was saved. [1]

In 1965 Iris eldest son Glyndwr returned from working in Salisbury to celebrate his 21st birthday. He brought home a young woman named Norma. Iris and Norma took to each other quickly. In fact, the first night after meeting her Iris took her son Glyn aside, shook him and said, “You better marry this girl.” Even after marriage Iris would still introduce them as, “This is my daughter Norma and my son Glyn” which often caused some confusing looks to pass between the listeners.

Both Norma and Iris enjoyed gardening; it was one of the many things they shared in common. The latter particularly loved growing an English rose garden and made sure to teach her daughter in law just how to do so.

In 1966 Iris had the joy of her little brother David Griffith moving over to Southern Rhodesia1 with his family. One can only imagine what it would mean to see someone after so long apart. David was a pastor within the A.O.G. and at their church in Umtali. The families grew close together and there was much love between them. David’s daughter recalls how Idris would lead the songs but that many were duets between Iris and her husband. Iris herself sang in a high soprano voice.
Idris and Iris Davies at Christmas Pass in Umtali.

There were a great many places to see in Southern Rhodesia and at times Iris would go with her husband up to Christmas Pass in Umtali and see the Kingsley Fairbridge Memorial[3]. Iris loved the outdoors and no doubt enjoyed walks like this immensely.

Occasionally they were able to visit their home land and then they would be able to catch up with family such as Ruth, Iris younger sister. Ruth remembers that at one such time they spotted an old three wheel car. They were popular in the 70’s and 80’s in England. Iris loved it and always thought it would be nice to drive one in Rhodesia.
Below, Iris and Idris Davies with their youngest son Merthyn Davies. Christmas 1978

Iris suffered with bad health most of her life. She had severe anemia and internal shingles in her back. This would cause her great pain and the only way the doctors knew how to deal with it at the time was to give her medication which would knock her out for days on end. During this time she was reliant on her daughter Wendy to look after the younger children.

It was impossible to say when an attack of this nature would occur and sometimes they would be traveling when the pain suddenly came over her and she would have to be treated there and then. It did cause some anxiety when taking the car or a form of transport that she would need to be in control of. Eventually doctors tried to sever Iris nerves to relieve it but this was not successful and caused more complications. They offered to do another surgery but Irish would not take it since the first had not gone very well. Sometimes at night Iris would use a hot water bottle to help soothe the cold her shingles caused but because the nerves were damaged it would burn her skin and leave scars.

Despite all of this she complained little. There was another sickness Iris struggled with and that was poor kidneys. This was made worse by the amount of tea she drank. When asked to cut back from the 30 cups she drank a day Iris would stew the tea on the oven top to make it stronger. It was the one thing in the world she couldn’t live without! As her kidneys grew progressively worse they tied one of them off and she lived a while on the remaining good kidney. Eventually the doctors discovered that this kidney had also died but the one which they had formerly tied off had somehow come back to health and was keeping her alive.

Her struggles did not go on for much longer however and in April,1982 Iris Davies died. She died of Septicemia which set in after an operation to remove stomach ulcers. The news reached her son Glyn while he was conducting a church service in Maine. He took the call behind the pulpit and was caught somewhat off guard for he did not know just how severe her condition had been. He flew back to Zimbabwe for the funeral, and was met there by Merthyn, Christine and their son John.

Iris had lived a full life and lived in multiple continents while doing so. Though she left many behind who loved her dearly, the words of her favourite song were undoubtedly echoing through her soul as she departed.

“Hope, as an anchor so steadfast,
Rends the dark veil for the soul,
Whither the Master has entered,
Robbing the grave of its goal.
Come then, O come glad fruition,
Come to my sad weary heart;
Come, O Thou blest hope of glory
Never, O never depart.”

1. An earlier version of this post stated there was a 6 year gap between Bronwyn and Merthyn being born. I have since discovered the death record and know for certain it was 2 years.

2 Southern Rhodesia has had many names. As a colony of the British Empire it was Southern Rhodesia, but briefly "The Republic of Rhodesia" between 1970-1980 before finally being recognized as its own independent state by the British Government in 1980.

3 From what I understand Kingsley Fairbridge built a series of ‘fairbridge’ schools and did a great deal towards helping emigrate children to the British Colonies for their education. This particular memorial was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother on July 8th 1953.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Grandma I Never Knew Part 4: In Africa

[There are countless people that contribute to this blog. For the information contained in this I would like to specifically thank Uncle Glyn and his wife Auntie Norma, my Auntie Wendy, my Dad and my Great Aunt Ruth.]
Iris and her son Merthyn at their house in Umtali, Southern Rhodesia.
Iris and Idris started their life in Africa together, living in a suburb of Salisbury named Hatfield. Later, sometime in the 1950’s they moved to Rainbow Ranch in Inyanga, this is in the eastern highlands of Southern Rhodesia. They were only here briefly however and later that year the family moved to Umtali where Idris would eventually build a house that they all enjoyed for quite some time. Before it was finished they had already moved three times, just in Umtali itself.

The house was designed by Idris, based on the home they had in Birmingham, England before they first moved to Africa. It cost around 3,500 British pounds which was borrowed from the Central African Building Society, or CABS for short. Idris did the labor himself. It had three bedrooms, was two storeys tall and contained one and a half bathrooms. In Africa when they had bathrooms they separated the bath from the toilet.
The front room of the house at 4 Taylor Avenue. Looking out into the yard as the cat eyes the pet Budgerigar.

They had servants that did all of the house work while they were in the house on Taylor Avenue. Iris concerned herself mostly with her garden and her work at the local library. As her eldest son remembers; “She had a green thumb and could grow anything.” So she did; especially flowers and particularly roses. One of the trees which grew was a Frangipangi1 when this bloomed it is described as having the “most amazing white flowers.”

The Assemblies of God South Africa planted a church at their house in Taylor Street and Idris was one of the elders. It was pastored by Don Normand. The first ever service of the church occurred in this house on a Sunday morning and a proud Iris watched as the pastor asked her son Glyndwr to lead communion. In Communion it is customary to serve the bread first, followed by the wine. This is based in the passage of 1 Corinthians 11 from the Bible. Iris pride turned to horror as Glyn served the emblems the wrong way around.

There were other incidents during their time in Africa. They used to own a 1941 Plymouth and on one occasion Iris ended up driving it into the large wooden posts that held up the car port. No one was injured and fortunately her husband and pastor were able to re paint and fix it up so that it could be used by their daughter Wendy at a later date.

Iris was a woman who loved life and if her children wished to get away with something there was no doubt in their mind that they had to ask their mother and not their father. When the movie “The Dam Busters” was released Glyn wanted to go see it. He knew that to his Dad, cinemas were off limits. So he asked Iris. She gave him some money to see the movie but it remained a secret kept between the two of them for quite some time. It was only years later that Glyn heard the many occasions that Iris would sneak out of the house to dance when she was young.

Working in the Umtali library Iris would find herself reading often. She would bring book after book home to continue one of her favourite past times. Her children were surrounded with them. No doubt Iris would sit down to reading while drinking that quintessential English drink, Tea. She loved tea and once, when asked by the doctor to count how many cups she had a day Iris stopped the count at thirty six! On doctors2 orders this was reduced to no more than six!


1: The scientific name for this plant is a Plumeria.

2: There were health reasons behind this order