My Nana

My paternal grandmother was named Honora after her Galbraith grandma.  Somehow nobody in my family has given this family name to their own children. Maybe Nana didn’t like it either as she called herself Nora.

Last week I wrote about letters and many letters were exchanged between  members of the McGrath family but it was my Nana’s diaries that interested me the most. Some background information first. She was the fourth daughter of Patrick and Maggie. According to my aunt, her father was so disgusted by this string of girls that he sent her to live with her aunt. I have the feeling that finances may have been the deciding factor. At the age of 5, Nora was taken to Te Arai in North Auckland. She stayed with Aunt Kate and Uncle George Gozar until she was 12 years old. The Gozars had their own family of Kate, Jim and George all older than Nora. When the local school closed down, Mary McGrath travelled north to bring her younger sister back to Mohaka in Hawke’s Bay.

Patrick finally got his son, another daughter and another son. Since the latter two children were born while Nora was away, it must have been strange for her returning to a larger family. The diaries I’ve mentioned were written between 1896 when she was 20 years old and 1904 when she married. She may have kept earlier ones but they didn’t survive.

My aunt gave me the diaries in a box full of other family papers and photos and I decided to transcribe everything. This was a greater challenge than I’d anticipated and the diaries caused me extra frustration as I puzzled over many words. The names were tricky. Everyone in the family except Mary had nicknames: Jessamine was Jess; Robina was Bin; Henry was Son; Elizabeth was Tod and  Allan was known as Tommie. I thought at first that Son was a dog!

The diaries were written in books that acted as calendars with small spaces for entries under each date. Sometimes, Nora had too much to fit into the space provided and her comments spilled onto the blank backs of each page. But more often she used these for drawing. She was very talented at making quick sketches of people and events. The one of her labelled Myself When Old is extraordinarily accurate. She looks as I remember her 50 years later.

Nora became the Mohaka postmistress after Jess married and moved away. In  her diaries, she wrote about her family and the little community, about her dreams and about the people who came into the office to send and collect letters. When Nora wasn’t very busy she read and sewed. She always had time to flirt with her male customers and languished after a few of them.

In fact, Nora’s love life and other local romances will be the subject of my post next Sunday. So stay tuned.