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A Shout From The Attic: Norina

...Norina made one bid for freedom with the boilerman from the mill where she worked. They fled to Leeds and lived as man and wife for a month before he returned to his wife, and she returned, in the family way, to her family. She gave birth to Janet early the next year. Her mother, Kitty, the former Catherine Marshall, died soon afterwards...

Ronnie Bray tells of terrible and troubling family matters.

For more chapters of Ronnie's searingly honest autobiography please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

In June 2000, a few days before I emigrated to the USA, I attended the funeral of my sister, Norina. She was 55 and had very few happy days since she emerged from childhood. I first met her when she was two years old. She was living with our father and her mother, Kitty, the former Katherine Marshall, on the third floor of a house let as apartments, near the bottom of Spring Street next to the fish and chip shop one way and to the Kellys the other way.. She was a chubby, blond, cheerful, little cherub who lit up the world with her smile.

Our next meeting was when they were ensconced in a one-roomed lodging in Thursday Street, Miles Platting, Manchester, in a house held up by enormous beams that lurched across the narrow cobbled street, and whose floor listed like the deck of a sinking ship. Still Norina smiled. I visited them there a few times, making my way on bicycle along the A62.

We met next at Wythenshawe in Manchester, where she had been joined by her brother, George Frederick Junior, who had somehow been born at Thursday Street. The cheerful smile continued to brighten this most pleasant child.

However, time takes its toll, especially when spent with my father, George Frederick Bray. He was a child abuser and wife-beater, given to bouts of depression that he blamed upon those nearest to him. His depression was cured by drinking, but as he became more drunk, he became less pleasant until his paranoia got the better of whatever goodness his heart harboured, and he struck out in anger at the consequences of his own inadequacies that he saw written on the fearful faces of his wife and children. Even the sunniest smile vanishes if it is slapped and bruised enough. In time, Norina’s smile visited her bonny face less and less.

Children know what is right and wrong, but are powerless to set things right. Years of witnessing the abuse of their mother, who eventually became blind, but warranted no mercy from this angry man, turned something sour inside Norina and George.

Norina made one bid for freedom with the boilerman from the mill where she worked. They fled to Leeds and lived as man and wife for a month before he returned to his wife, and she returned, in the family way, to her family. She gave birth to Janet early the next year. Her mother, Kitty, the former Catherine Marshall, died soon afterwards.

Norina did not marry until father had died. Her smile disappeared as the grisly primitives of Norina’s mind pushed the frontiers of reality into lands distant, misty, and uncertain. Her relationship with her father was a bizarre but vital symbiotic interdependence that neither could, nor wished to, breach.

In spite of being married to Adrian who treated her like a queen, anticipating her slightest need, and caring for her as best he could in her more dreadful times, she could not rise above the self-obsession that had gripped her with icy death-cold claws since she was a young woman.

She needed a constantly high level of reassurance, in spite of which she could not accept that she was worthwhile, or that life was good and held high purposes. Her depressions and delusions blinded her to these possibilities. She had no place in her life for God, and had no inclination to think about Jesus Christ. She did not know who he was, what he had done and continues to do, or what part he could have played in her healing.

She died after a painful illness that terrified and tormented her with grotesque delusions, and was despatched by a priest who never met her, did not know her, and seemed uncomfortable with his task. I was impressed to ask him if my sister would live again, but recognising his evident anxiety in the matter, I did not do so. His valedictory offered no hope of resurrection to the pained rows of streaming eyes and heavy hearts.

Norina’s daughter, Janet, was distraught, overwhelmed by what she saw as complete and irreversible loss. I told her that her mother’s sufferings were over, and that she was now at peace, but I failed to explain myself sufficiently and she was not comforted.

When Gay spoke with her, she explained that her mother was alive in the spirit world and that she would see her again. Janet was both surprised and comforted, but asked the all-important question; “Do you know that this is true?”

Gay assured her that it was true, and that both she and I knew it to be true. She told her that she could know for herself, that it was true and certain that her mother would rise again and that she could be with her. Janet’s tears stopped rolling down her reddened cheeks. “How can I know?” she asked. Taking her hands, Gay gently told her.

We will take scriptures to her because she has never had a Bible in her hands. And when we put them into her hands, we will sit with her and show what God has done for the human family through his Son Jesus Christ, and how, through him, her despair can be changed to hope.

It was to those like Norina and Janet that Jesus smiled and said,

Come unto me all ye that labour
and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest
. . .
rest unto your souls

For this rest, Norina will be most grateful, and we who bade her farewell on that gray day are comforted by knowing that she rests easy at last, and will do so until we meet again where skies and days are never gray.

Alas! Janet died young, as the result of alcoholism. She left three children, the eldest of which was in jail, Helen with two children of her own, and the youngest girl in foster care. Some cycles are difficult to break.

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