I was living in Canada when Eileen and John married. Eileen was the slip of a child when John carried her off on his B.S.A. motorcycle and made an honest woman of her. I can’t even remember if they sent me a piece of wedding cake across the Atlantic Ocean.
If there is anyone living in West Yorkshire who ought to have an ‘identity crisis’ but doesn’t, it’s my sister Eileen. I have called my sister ‘Eileen’ all my life and I can vividly remember my mother calling her by the same Christine name as she grew up. In fact, there used to be a song entitled ‘Irene, Good Night, Irene’ that we would often hear on the radio as children, but whenever my mum heard this song, she would grab hold of my younger sister and sing ‘Eileen, Good Night Eileen’.
Whenever my sister used to send me a birthday or a Christmas card, she always signed her name as ‘Eile’. Initially, I just put this down to sheer idleness on her part; preferring to use four letters of the alphabet instead of the customary signature of six letters. Then, I speculated that she might also have had a personal need to individualise herself and stand out more in her peer group. It was only a year ago when Eileen decided to come out of the dark ages and get herself a social media account on Facebook that I realised that not only did she prefer to be called ‘Eile’ instead of ‘Eileen’ (the good name which my parents had Christened her at her Roman Catholic Baptism), but that my other five siblings had called her ‘Eile’ all their lives also.
There was I, the firstborn of seven siblings, who had to wait until my 76th year of life to learn that I’d been living with imposters in the family all these years; pretending to be one thing when in fact they’d always been another.
Upon discovering Eileen’s change of name, my mind instantly went to other incidences in the Forde Family over the past century.
My father and his brother Billy each married; dad under the name of ‘Forde’ and Billy under the name of ‘Ford’, leaving myself and my cousin John who lives down in Wales with different spelling surnames. When my daughter Rebecca asked her maternal grandfather to do her a family tree many years ago, we learned that my paternal grandfather had originally hailed from England as a ‘Forde’ and went to live in Ireland as a ‘Forde’. Following time served in an Irish prison, the surname on his prison release papers was ‘Ford’, a surname he never again changed the spelling of. You must bear in mind that my paternal English grandfather was a man with sympathy to the ‘Irish Cause’, as was my father, and my maternal grandfather who was reportedly ‘on the run’ following the ‘Irish Easter Rising’ in 1916 before a damaged heart at the early age of twenty-five years reduced him to serving out the rest of his life as a bicycle repairer in the small rebel village of Portlaw, County Waterford (where I was born).
It was not unusual at the time of Irish rebellion against British rule and in the decades thereafter, for a person’s name to be deliberately misspelled or wrongly registered and signed, or for a child of one household in the village to be reared by an ‘aunt’ in another village who was, in fact, her ‘blood mother’.
Let’s face it folks, when all the water has been drained from the cooking pot, while we all invariably come to know who our mothers are, before DNA testing arrived on the scene and paternity tests were 100 per cent conclusive, nobody (except our blood mothers) knew for certain who our fathers were!
My parents had seven children and mum registered the birth of five of her children and my father registered the birth of two (three children were born and registered in Ireland and four children were registered in England). Yes! Surprise, surprise! The two children dad registered was a mixture of ‘Ford’ and ‘Forde’ while mum decided to register us as our names should have been spelled, ‘Forde’. None of us know for sure whether the one error of the Forde registration was created accidentally by the Registrar at the time or by my father deliberately?
My parents emigrated to England during the 1940s and all seven of her children were educated at the same school ‘St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic School ‘in Heckmondwike in West Yorkshire. I will never forget one of the teachers asking me one day if I and one of my younger brothers were fathered by different men. I told him indignantly, “Of course we have the same dad!” to which he replied, ”Why then does your younger brother spell his surname as ‘Ford’ without an ‘e’ when you and your other brothers and sisters sign your name ‘Forde’?” There was no answer I could give him that would satisfy him. After that incident, I believe my brother with the registered surname of ‘Ford’ was detained until he had learned to spell his name accurately. I’m pretty sure that he has fallen in line since, but I cannot for the life of me recall if it was my brother Patrick or Peter who was the possible changeling.
Several years ago, my youngest sister Susan got divorced. Over the years that followed, she became more and more Irish with the passing of every year, until the time came when she officially arranged to have her surname changed by deed poll from ‘Forde’ to ‘Fanning’; the name of our maternal grandparents and our mother’s maiden name. So, we could accurately be described as a bit of a mixed-up family.
Eileen’s husband is called John Gautry. He is a good man and a proud father and grandfather. He is the one constant in Eileen’s life. He was named John Gautry at birth and he has remained John Gautry ever since, and his gravestone will read John Gautry when he passes over. I’m not sure what my sister Eileen will have placed on her gravestone. ‘Eile’ or ‘Eileen’.
]Have a super 56th anniversary, you two neck-pecking love birds. Never forget ‘Eileen’ or ‘Eile’ or whatever your name is, all your brothers and sisters love you dearly.
On this special day of your marriage together, I dedicate my song to you. It is a beautiful song which is ideally suitable for ant wedding anniversary across the world. It is entitled, ‘Tonight, I Celebrate My Love for You’. Happy wedding anniversary, you two love birds. Please accept my dedicated song to you both on this momentous day. Love from Billy and Sheila and all your brothers and sisters xxx
Love and peace Bill xxx