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Nana Jo's Story

This painting tells the story of my wonderful Nana. I had to paint her as apart of this project as she is an incredibly empowering woman to me in the way in which she adapts in adversity and always keeps fighting through life with so much enthusiasm. Her story has a lot to teach us, how to live a life with a glass half full kind of approach.

My life started on 25 January 1938 in Hammersmith Hospital, West London. My mother had been a children’s nurse to a doctor’s children where she met my father who was entertaining guests. One of the children was called Lalage and this became my middle name. Home was in Shepard’s Bush with my mother and grandmother. My father had decided that he didn’t want to be part of my life and I never knew him. I should explain at this stage that I am mixed race - my father was from Grenada. He worked as a private secretary to Paul Robson a well know singer. I was a happy child who didn’t ask too many questions about my fathers absence so never learnt the reasons he was absent from my life.
We moved to Putney and lived in a flat close to Bishop’s Park where I learned to walk. I was christened in St Mary’s Church
War was declared in September 1939. Not sure of the date, but we later moved to Filton near Bristol where my mother started work at Handley Page Munitions factory. She was transferred to the Cricklewood Branch and we moved to West Hampstead. I started school at Geneva House which cost 5 shillings a week. We were right in the middle of air raids and frequently spent a night in the air-raid shelter in our street. Having a gas mask and a tin hat became second nature, so did rationing and constantly listening out for the sirens. One weekend my little school was hit by a V2 which also hit and killed our dentist  who lived next door.
Foodwise we were luckier than most as my grandmother worked at the American Officers Club in the evenings so we got lots of treats including a drum of dried egg. At Christmas we invited Polish airforce men to join us and I learned that sharing was an important part of living.
My mother changed jobs and started working for J Lyons as a waitress, this was exciting as on Sundays Nanny and I would go to either The Cumberland Hotel or The Trocadero in Piccadilly where my mum had managed to keep me some cakes as a treat. Anything apple became a lifelong favourite.  
Because my school had been bombed I started attending the State school where I experienced my first incidences of racism. I was the only non-white pupil in the school and was faced with being called ‘blackie’ and them wanting to touch my hair which had to be contained in plaits to control it. I was also singled out as being posh because I had learned to speak properly. My best friend out of school was Jewish and we shared everything - Sunday school and Synagogue until her grandfather found out and forbade it. I have a life long interest in the Jewish faith and customs.
When the bombing was bad in London my Mum sent me down to Chartham near Canterbury to stay with my aunt and baby cousin. My uncle was away serving in the army in Europe. I learned to love this part of England.
My aunt later became an integral part of my life together with my uncle and their children. I am Godmother to their youngest daughter. To this day we are so close.
When I was 7 in 1946 my mother met and married an American soldier and became a GI Bride and went to America, I stayed with Nanny and returned to school. It was a bit of a culture shock for my mother coming from London and ending up in the countryside in Mississippi on a farm. Wasn’t the best start!
My sister was born in 1947 and the following year my grandmother and I travelled to America to join the family. We sailed on The Queen Mary which was a fantastic experience seeing the Statue of Liberty and travelling by Greyhound Bus to St Louis. Apart from being reunited with my mother and loving my little sister the trip didn’t turn out too well for me. The area was in a segregated state and again instances of racism affected me - going swimming happened in separated areas (divided by cork ropes). My friends had to get permission for me to swim with them. A further uncomfortable event was in St Louis going on the bus and I was told to sit at the back of the bus - again once it was explained I was English I was allowed to sit with them. 
Things didn’t improve regarding school, couldn’t sort out a place - too dark for one - too white for the other. My grandmother was outraged and suggested we return to England. I agreed to this although I knew it upset my mother but I wanted to belong and return to my old school. On the day we got back we found somewhere to live and then went to the theatre to see Oklahoma. My grandmother loved the theatre and most weeks she took me, often queueing for standing room only. Often we were lucky enough to get seats and so developed my lifelong love of musical theatre. I sat the 11 plus but having missed a lot of school missed Grammar school by 4 points. I loved school but there was no 6th form in my secondary school so left and went to work at an art studio in Mayfair where I was trained. 3 years later at 20 I became a Studio Manager with 7 artists.
It was here I met the man who later became my daughters father. With him I developed a love of fast sports cars and private flying. I changed job and became a studio rep for a large art and photography studio. The future looked good, moved from Paddington to Wandsworth into a flat. We had a beautiful daughter in 1963, the joy of this was only marred by his mother asking ‘what colour was the baby?’ We laughed about it but it still reminded me that I was ‘different’. We settled into parenthood, moved into a house in spring 1964. Tragedy struck to shatter the dream - in August just weeks after our daughter’s 1st birthday her Dad was killed in Ireland after flying friends over for a wedding. I was just 25 and he was 32. My world just fell apart and without fantastic friends to help and support me I’m not sure how I would have coped. My partners mother was so strong in her own grief and used her talents to help me decorate the house. She lived in a beautiful village in Kent and wanted us to go and live with her, but I knew I needed to keep my independence and stay in London. RESILIENCE!
Wondering how I was going to manage - mortgage, supporting us, trying to make a future. I started doing free-lance artwork at night when my daughter slept and looked into taking in school age foreign students for the summer. Not only was this a great experience but it brought in enough money to pay the bills and kept me occupied. I then decided as the house was large enough I would rent out some rooms to give us a yearly income and security. I had a part time au pair and started occasional exhibition work also keeping up my art work. I then started running a design boutique in Putney - this was the 60s and designers such as Mary Quant, Laura Ashley, Habitat and Carnaby Street all had a strong influence on what we wanted to wear and have in our homes. The shop was full of beautiful things. My daughter-meanwhile was growing up and developing into a happy child surrounded with love. I was happy with how I had managed to cope with the loss of love and a promised future and create a stable life. 
Around this time I started a relationship which was doomed to end unhappily. I became pregnant but unfortunately there was no future between us. Having a second child would round off our family - I had been a child on my own and felt loneliness so knew my daughter would benefit from a sibling. One of my tenants was doing teacher training and encouraged me to apply. I surprised myself with my confidence and had my interview when I was 7 months pregnant. My healthy beautiful son was born in February 1968 and I started my Teacher training in the September. It was hard juggling the routine, nursery first, then bus to school, then walk over to College - same again in the afternoon. I decided I needed to learn how to drive so in Spring 69 I started looking for a car. There was a car showroom nearby so I left a £5 deposit on a Mini, unfortunately when I went to complete the buying, the garage owner had sold it and left his manager to tell me. As it turned out this was the jackpot because not only did I buy another car but met this wonderful man who became my husband 6 months later. We married at Caxton Hall in October 1969 and he became a wonderful father to my two children. Now I belonged to a large family as he had 3 brothers and 3 sisters. We decided to have a child and 2 years later we had another son. We were a complete family at last, three beautiful children, a cat and 2 dogs.
My grandmother died before this baby was born, leaving memories of her care and guidance. I still hear her words of wisdom. My mother and sister came over to visit many times and I went to America to the same area as my childhood visit and noticed that things were very different and no obvious signs of similar racial issues towards me. I visited regularly until my mother died in 1999 on the same day as my youngest granddaughter was born. This was to prove a harrowing time as while I was in America with my middle son for my mother’s funeral, my daughter was rushed into hospital a week after the birth and we nearly lost her to Sepsis. The time until we could fly back seemed to take forever. My husband had gone to Scotland to be with her. Eventually we were all reunited and she made a full recovery.
I still hadn’t asked my mother about my father. As her health became fragile it didn’t seem right to make her delve into the painful past. All I did find out was that while I was in America as a child she and my grandmother had tried to trace him via Paul Robson through The Red Cross but they had no luck. My sister and I were very close and it was very sad that she died when she was just sixty and had been close to relocating to England.
My husband had set up a building and design company which gave us a life that allowed us to take regular family holidays including several skiing trips. He had always been interested in boating and together we spent time with friends in Ramsgate taking small trips.
I wasn’t able to complete my final year at teacher training college for personal reasons but knew that I wanted to work in an educational setting. I became a Pastoral secretary to Heads of Year in a large comprehensive school and then became an Education Welfare Officer with Wandsworth Borough Council assigned to an outstanding school, made up of the amalgamation of 2 grammar schools. I then became the Learning Mentor for the school. I worked there for 14 years until we decided that with our children now grown up: Our daughter up in Scotland as a Make up artist for the BBC, our middle son training as an Electrical engineer with British Rail, our youngest at University in Liverpool studying History. It seemed that it was the right time to leave London and follow our dream of owning a boat. It didn’t happen straight away and I took on a Child Protection Consultancy at a Special School until we moved.
We’ve both have had some serious health issues and looked forward to moving away. My  husband was running The Half Way Hut on Wimbledon Park Golf course which was opposite the famous All England tennis club. I often helped on busy tournament days.
We finally moved to Ramsgate in 2003 and renovated our neglected 1930s bungalow, extending it and creating a beautiful garden. Many of our friends had boats in the Royal Harbour and we started to crew for them to get experience. Travelling to France, Holland and Germany. We finally bought our own boat,  a 37ft motor cruiser, large enough for the whole family to enjoy.
I did miss working with young people and got a part time job in the local FE College as a Learning Support Practitioner with The Performing Arts Department and happily stayed working until 2017. Since retiring for the second time I enjoy going to the gym, gardening and travel. Meeting up regularly with my aunt and god-daughter.
My family are my life and my best achievement and I am so proud of what we have achieved together. We are now grandparents to two beautiful talented girls from my daughter and her husband, a young upcoming Chef from my son and daughter in law. Our younger son started creating innovative restaurants in and around London, eventually re-locating to Ibiza. He became a father 4 years ago and his partner has a little daughter. So here we are after 51 years of marriage, still loving, learning and looking forward to the future with excitement and being RESILIENT to whatever life brings.
~Nana Jo ~
~ I am resilience ~
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