November 1st, All Saints Day - and in Mexico, the day on which Los Angelitos, the souls of little children are honoured. So today, I want to honour an Angelito in my own family...one I never knew, and only heard about in fragments - but one who's death, I know, affected my mother until her own dying day.
I don't even know her proper name - Mam always referred to her as 'Little Esther' - my interpretation of the name, but it could quite easily have been Hester or even, I suppose, Hesta - its something I need to speak about to the sisters who still survive, one more thing on the list of family history research to be carried out.
But today I will call her Esther, and I will honour her as an aunt who I never had the chance to know, and an emblem of all those who make faint but indelible marks on our own histories. For in writing about her, I also write about some components of the past which have made me who I am.
Esther was only two years old when she died - in around 1922 from my mothers recollections. Mam found it profoundly difficult to speak about her, and when she did, it was always with a deep sadness in her voice. The only fragments that I retain were her memories that "She was playing hide-and-seek under the tablecloth in the morning - by the evening, she was dead...of meningitis". In the days before antibiotics, this was even more lethal and rapid an infection than it remains today - though it is still an illness which strikes fear into the hearts of any parent.
(Image from Horsefield Funerals)
Mam also remembered that "we had the black horses for her...the carriage with the glass sides and the horses with black feathers on their heads". This indeed must have meant that a very special effort had been made to pay for a more costly funeral than might otherwise have been held for an older member of the family, in a family where money was more than tight. As the hearse-horses hooves clattered on the (still existing) cobbles outside the back entrance to Mam's old home, waiting to collect its tiny burden, it must have made quite an impact on the mind of my mother, still then only a child herself.
As I write this, I realise there are still so many things I do not know - or only half remember from my mother's telling. No photographs of her exist, that I know of...and where is she buried? I have a recollection of being told that she was placed in the plot which later held my grandmother (her mother), grandfather, and her brother - my uncle. Four in a grave, where only three was the 'official' limit? Yet again, I seem to remember Mam saying that 'officialdom' turned a blind eye to the fact - but we will never know.
And indeed, the death of this two year old did, I believe, make me partially who I am - for as the years went by, I could see the profound affect that her death had on my mother, who was acutely sensitive to the way that small children were treated. Even before my own children were born, hearing the most mildly rebuking word to any little child would cause her extreme pain - and when my own boys were born, 'little Esther' would often be on her lips - especially when the boys were around the age that she was when she died - and especially when boisterous two year old boys needed to be (gently - I assure you!) themselves rebuked, simply to be taught where boundaries lie.
So today, I remember Little Esther - but I also notice myself. I notice how much I have written - about other parts of the story, the facts, but also the opinions...and then cut, and edited, and removed, and how I am still sensitive to my Mother's words and feelings. Feelings which, in turn were shaped by the very existence of her sister....and which in turn also shaped me....all for the sake of sensibilities of others who may read this, sensibilities which could still be wounded by the fuller telling of the tale. A later telling will be different - but all tellings are, in some way, true.
Little Esther is gone...but her memory...and its impact, still filter down through the generations. So many people touch our lives....and make us who we are - the fact that we may never have met them, in many ways, makes no difference.
Addendum: New additions to the marvellous Free BMD (Births, Marriages and Deaths) site mean that for the first time, only minutes ago, I discovered this information.
DEATHS - June 1929 - Silcox, Esther M - 2 (yrs old) Newport Mon
Studium into Punctum.
Blessed be, Little Angelito Esther.