For Margaret. Granny, wife, daughter, friend, registrar of births, deaths and marriages, generous host, natural comedienne, two time cancer survivor, youngest 70 year old I know. My Mum.
Annie, Nellie, Mary, Peggy, Jeannie, Anna, Margaret, Nicola. Although this may read like the line up for a new girl band it is in fact my direct female ancestral line going back to my Great Grandmother. A lady neither I nor Mum got to meet unfortunately, particularly as she appears to have been quite the force of nature. Widowed not long after the birth of her fifth child in Donegal she subsequently raised her children alone, supporting them by working in the local general store, taking in a lodger and ultimately moving all to Belfast to increase the opportunities on offer to them. A strong, working single parent; I wonder would we have had much more in common?
Just before coming on the Camino it dawned on me that I am the last mother-to-daughter female on this particular line and I was drawn to bringing photographs of what I’ve now come to refer to as ‘My Ladies’ with me. From what I’ve experienced directly as well as what I’ve heard through family stories the two characteristics that seem consistent through this line are strength and humour; two qualities I’ve found invaluable on the Camino. I have two colour photocopies of the compilation of photos I made of My Ladies. One is a laminated copy which has come out of my rucksack on the rare occasion that we’ve stayed in a nice hotel because, well, we’re women and what woman doesn’t appreciate nice bed linen and large, soft towels? The other copy is folded up at the back of my journal close to a rose quartz I’ve had for years and, with just one walking day left of this 800km adventure, I’ve yet to decide whether I’ll leave them in a church in Santiago, the Cathedral itself or perhaps in Finisterra (what used to be thought of as the end of the physical world and the beginning of the spiritual one). Symbolism and ritual are rife on the Camino but, if I were to hazard a guess at what drew me to bringing My Ladies along for the ride, until recently I’d not have had a very clear answer except maybe to say gratitude. Gratitude for what they’ve given me and for the opportunities I’ve had that they can somehow experience through me in spirit. I had a special, yet difficult to explain experience relating to My Ladies on a hill just outside Pamplona that I haven’t shared with Mum yet so I’ll not do so here. (For that reason and also due to a suspicion that I may come across in this blog as batty enough already!).
Then recently, during one fairly unremarkable stretch of Camino walking, Exploradora called me over to a very modest stone cross on a pretty barren stretch of land and told me she’d found something that may be of significance to me. She subtly left me alone and I found the piece of writing below which describes in more eloquent words than mine why I now know My Ladies are with me. I think there may have been a lot of dust at that stone cross as there was a lot of it in my eyes by the end of reading it.
Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.
Linda Hogan (b. 1947) Native American writer.
Ladies, it has been a pleasure walking alongside you. Feel free to walk with me again anytime.
To Santiago x