A contest entry bring my family member to life.
|My ancestor John Samuel Reynolds
John Sam, a name he was known by, a larger-than-life character whom it was my privilege to know for the first part of my life. Maybe I should start his story on the day he died as this will say more about the man than any other words.
At aged 99years and six months, his 100th birthday approaching fast, he decided that he’d had enough of this life and left. That epitomises the man. Decisive, pig-headed, opinionated, he lived life as he wanted to live it and died when he decided to.
The thing which I could never come to terms with was the manner in which he left.
The time and place was Brighton- by- the- sea, a coastal town, south of London.
Brighton is a place where the wealthy move to live out a genteel retirement, bungalows the norm, stairs being a difficulty the aged are better off not having to manage.
John Sam retired there when in his mid-eighties, he was my father’s father, someone who instilled fear and a respect within his extended family.
His long-suffering wife Ada, mother to their seven children had a hard life. Not short of material wealth, a comfortable home to be sure, but she died a worn out shell looking after their youngest son Arthur. Born handicapped, unable ever to walk suffering from Spina bifida, they kept him at home in a wheelchair cared for by diminutive Ada who did everything for him unaided. John Samuel refused to even contemplate moving him into care or getting help for Ada. Although as soon as Ada departed this world, worn out and often lonely, his father shipped Arthur off to a lovely care home in the country.
John Sam often out at council meetings or entertaining one of his female admirers in the local area was a well-known personality, the first in the town to own a car. His driving was legendary, as he sped around the Derbyshire countryside, people would get out of his way for fear of being bowled over. A Mr Toad of Toad Hall, from ‘Wind of the Willows’ comes to mind.
As his granddaughter I lived in horror of being selected as the grandchild of the week to take for a Sunday spin in the countryside. To his disgust, and my shame, I would invariably be sick in the car as he flew around hairpin bends along the narrow country roads.
Anyway, back to the night of his death. By this time he was infirm, although still driving. He lived on the beautiful South Coast, but this was Winter 1968. The weather cold, wet and windy, he left a note to say he was tired and had decided it was time. He drove down to the beach, parked his car and walked into the North Sea. He kept walking until the waves submerged him. People saw him but couldn't save him. Maybe the freezing cold water would have stopped his old heart before he drowned, that was what I wished for, anyway.
He was his own man, a compatriot of George Bernard Shaw the famous Irish poet and Author. They exchanged letters throughout their lives.
George Bernard Shaw and John Sam thought along the same lines. They were the first of fervent anti-smokers, writing many letters to anyone who’d listen to the dangers and the unsociable aspect of the habit.
John Samuel Reynolds established his firm of printers in our hometown, all his sons worked there, including my father from the age of fourteen.
Standing six feet six inches tall, JS was as imposing in stature as in personality. He raised money for the first hospital in the town and before my mother died she showed me seven foundation bricks built into the hospital walls imprinted with his seven children’s initials. A sweet gesture, incongruous with John Sam’s stern persona.
He died as he lived, larger than life.