Updated: Jun 25, 2020
| This is the 437th story of Our Life Logs |
Behind every proverb, there is experience and reflection. Now, I don’t claim to know it all, but I know what I’ve lived, for life was my teacher.
Here are the lessons I’ve learned.
1 | Even in heartbreak, one must continue living.
I was born the third of six children during the long depression in Norfolk, England, in 1881. We lived in a village of Norfolk called Topcroft. Work in the area was scarce at the time, so my parents worked whatever jobs they could find to survive. Most times, Dad worked on a nearby farm caring for the estate’s animals. When money was scarce, we lived off the vegetables we grew on our small plot of land or mum would make bread. They made sure we never went hungry. We were a happy hard-working family who made the best of what we had. But try as they might, my parents couldn’t keep us from learning about the fragility of life.
When I was two years old, my new baby brother arrived underdeveloped and sickly, his chance of survival as tiny as he was. For nine months, I watched as my family held their breath, unsure if he would live another day. In the end, he couldn’t hold on.
A few years later, when I was about five, my family felt this sort of uneasiness again. My new baby brother entered the world with a whisper. We did not want to tempt fate. When he passed after just a short year with us, the sadness that clouded our family was deep and unrelenting. Sadly, this was a sign of the time. Families lost their sweet babies to illness and simply had to carry on. How else could one live?
When I was eight, we welcomed a baby girl into the family and I remember one of the first things I felt was worry—I think we all felt this way. But our latest family addition was stronger and healthier and illnesses didn’t overcome her. It was only after a couple of years of her presence without any trouble that I felt safe calling her my sister. She was there to stay.
2 | If there’s a dream in your head, don’t let your inexperience shame and stop you.
For the next several years, I didn’t dwell on losing members of my family. That was in the past. Instead, I grew close with my older brother George who joined the Navy when I was 13. On his visits in between missions, he told me stories about his life at sea. There were so many places and people he’d gotten to know and experience—really experience.
I knew it was physically hard work, and the living conditions were often cramped, but he made the Navy sound like an exciting adventure. He’d seen whales, dolphins, and even claimed to have seen a mermaid once! The countryside around Topcroft was all I’d ever known, and I was drawn to the promise of traveling beyond our sprawling fields.
When I was 16 years old, I left home and joined the Navy too, ready to pursue my own nautical adventures. After signing up, I was sent to Victory II, a training base in Devon. That’s when I stepped onto the pier for the first time and felt the fresh breeze against my skin as I gazed out to the water. It seemed to go on forever, as long as forever lasts. I anxiously awaited to see which boat I would serve on.
3 | If you have the privilege to meet love, then seize love.
In the spring of 1897, I was given two weeks of leave after my training. On the way home to visit my family, I went with a group of fellow trainees to a dance—a choice I’ll never regret! it was there that I met my wife, Louisa Hawkes. We talked for hours and danced all night, and I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted her in my life. But at the end of that night, I let her go and regretted it.
Our paths didn’t cross for another couple years but when they did, it was all the same sparks as the night we first danced. Before I could let the opportunity slip by, I proposed.
Once I had Louisa in my life, spending long months away at sea no longer held the same excitement for me. Being away from her was agonizing, so in 1902, I decided to leave the Navy so we could marry and settle down.
Our beginning unfolded in London. I soon found a job as a carman through the railway company where I delivered goods and parcels. Once we had settled down in the Limehouse district, Louisa became pregnant. A year later, our son, George (named after my father and my eldest brother), was born healthy, happy, and perfect.
After George, Louisa and I wanted to try again, to build a more perfect family, to see another life begin.
4 | Not everything familiar is happy; not everything happy is familiar.
As it happened, Louisa gave birth to a baby girl in 1904. When I gazed upon her little figure for the first time, the sickly tinge of her skin looked familiar. I felt a pang of misery. What my parents once dealt with, I was now experiencing for myself. I found myself holding my breath from the moment she opened her eyes, unsure if she’d make it.
She got weaker and weaker as the days ticked by. It was painful to watch, not knowing how to help. Sadly, my baby girl met the same fate as my brothers after only living eight short months. To watch history repeat itself tore me up, but I knew, like my parents, I had to move on.
It is easy to read those words, I had to move on. To live them was nothing short of agony. But, with Louisa, I lived them, and together we moved forward.
Thankfully, we went on to have three healthy children over the next four years without any complications—still, I was vigilant. With our growing family, my wife and I came up with ways to make extra money. When I discovered that there was an empty shop just around the corner from where we lived, I decided to rent it. It was a risk, of course, but I opened a