Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The two Isabellas

I've just come from a great weekend away with the whole family. Everyone: no apologies for absence tendered at all. The occasion was my niece Laura's wedding. It was a splendid, romantic, fun, inventive affair in a rural country house location. It was unusual - a themed wedding, based around the V Festival where my new nephew-in-law Scott proposed to Laura and she said 'a'ite'.

It was a wonderfully sunny Sunday: a chance to catch up with everybody in a spectacular location - to take new photographs, to be photographed, to re-affirm the bond that we all enjoy as a family unit. I'm very lucky to be part of a clan that is close, and seemingly getting ever closer with time.

Among the guests was the newest member of my family, Isabella. She's a darling little 16-month old - so full of the excitement that new life brings. She walks very well, grabs things, watches, learns and absorbs everything within her grasp. She's been blessed with her parents' great looks and her face exudes the hope of a future that will stretch beyond mine. It's almost - almost - possible to catch a glimpse of the future and envisage her as a stunning half-Sicilian, half-Devonian grown-up. And that's unusual for babies. Usually they all look like Winston Churchill...

A day earlier, I took a drive ten miles out of town to a tiny hamlet called Clyst Hydon in search of another Isabella and another wedding. It took a little while to find a villager who could direct me to the tiny off-road church where Isabella Maeer married William Newton, 111 years ago today. Happy anniversary!

Isabella was 28 when she took the hand of William, a groom gardener three years her junior, on September 8, 1898. I had their wedding certificate in my hand as I snooped around the churchyard. As luck would have it, the church warden was stood under the eaves of the church door with his alsatian, taking a break from lawnmowing duties. "My great grandparents were married here," I blurted out. He let me inside to have a look around. I stood at the same altar where Isabella and William exchanged their vows; the start of a union that would lead to my grandfather, my mother, my sister, my niece and ultimately to another Isabella five generations and 111 years down the line.

I found out that the couple came from Aunk, a very tiny community a mile away from the church. Aunk consists of just three or four cottages, a farm and a sprawling manor house estate. My great grandparents could have come from any of those. Perhaps William married the archetypal girl next door? Maybe they both worked at the manor house? I had a look through the imposing railings at the entrance gate and wondered.

A day later I was in another manor house at the opposite end of South Devon, enjoying Laura's fantastic wedding feast and watching baby Isabella toddle about. The day was quite rightly all about Laura and Scott's future together, but as Iwatched Isabella I found myself thinking about the deep past too - and her great great great grandmother with the same first name.

So on this very special 111th wedding anniversary, I propose a toast. To the future! To the past! To the two Isabellas!

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