Wednesday, May 24, 2006

An exceptional survivor: Cousin May

My mother's cousin May died this weekend in Manchester England, she was a bit over 90. I'd never met her. Around 25 my mother went adventuring and landed in Montreal, where she ended up staying. England was another planet for us.

When I asked my mother what May was like as a young person, I learned a bit of history.

May was born about 1916, one of five children in a "working class" neighborhood (slum I suspect) in industrial Manchester. Her mother was my maternal grandfather's eldest sister. May's father died young, and her mother raised the children in a Manchester pub she came to own. It sounds like a rough life, but the children were known for their genteel diction. A bit of a puzzle.

As happened fairly often in the 1930s slums of Manchester, May developed tuberculosis. She spent the years from 17 to 21 in a Sanatorium (aka Sanitorium) -- I don't know which one. Sanitoria were common then, Davos in Switzerland started that way. Tuberculosis struck rich and poor alike, though certainly more of the latter. Somewhere along the way one of her diseased lungs was removed.

She died - 70 years later. I am sure that none of her caretakers ever imagined, in their wildest dreams, that their patient would outlive them, outlive the sanitoria, outlive perhaps everyone who entered there. I don't know how the rest of May's life went, I'm sure it was tough enough. All the same, she had her own victory.

The part that puzzles me though -- who paid for her stay? I've read that Sanitoria were not generally available to the poor of Manchester. Did her siblings have money? Did her mother sell the pub? That's a bit of a mystery ...

No comments: