It turned out to be a note from my father's mother, written not long before her death to the young woman she would not live to see marry her son.
Just a line to wish you all a very Happy Xmas. Thank you very much for the lovely present. You should not have done it. I am enclosing a 10s note. Would you get yourself something with much love from Mr and Mrs Harvey
Discovering this banal little note was quite a thrill as there are precious few relics of my grandmother, Ida Harvey (née Pain), who was born illegitimate and at the age of three, is recorded in the 1891 census as living in lodgings in Timsbury, North Somerset. I have seen only a couple of photographs, though I did persuade my cousin Diane, who is older and who remembers her, to write an account of her memories of her.
This is a poem I wrote for my lost grandmother. It is in my latest poetry collection, Map Reading For Beginners.
Granny, I came to your village to find you
but the cottage in which you were lodging is long gone.
Though I don’t know what I could have done,
the mother in me wanting to take you home and feed you,
wrap you in stories, wipe from your roundy face
the stain of your shameful birth. You were three
when you were living here with strangers.
But by this grassy tump that slumbers
in fields of blue-leaved beans, we can spend
an afternoon outside of time, in our own small house
with the snake-stone at its door, built from the bones
of this land for the bones of our fathers.
I know no more of you than of the tribe that raised this tomb,
mourning their dead in a dawn of red ochre.