Sunday, June 12, 2011

Christina Hollis: The Woman I Admire...

This is a photograph of my grandmother, with my aunt as a baby and my uncle as a toddler. Aren’t the children sweet? I don’t know the date this was taken, but as my aunt is in her early eighties now it must have been some time in the late nineteen-twenties. It was originally sent to my grandfather, who was serving in the British Army in India at the time. He had never seen his new little daughter. In those days air travel was an unimagined luxury. The journey from Delhi took weeks over land and sea, so Grampy only came back every few years. 
Gran was born deep in the English countryside, at a time when the greatest excitement was the annual church picnic on the beach at Weston-Super-Mare, twenty miles away. In the early days of the twentieth century, many people never strayed further from home than that. Gran was made of sterner stuff. She went into service, and became a brilliant cook. These days she would be called a chef, but in those far-off times a woman’s place was well and truly in the home. Working allowed her to travel, as a trusted member of her grand employers’ staff. All that had to stop when she got married. Grampy had been brought up as a Barnardo’s Boy in  the heart of London, and longed to live in the country.  Luckily a house came up for sale not far from where Gran had been born. While Grampy travelled the world with the army, Gran stayed at home making things happen. Living ‘off the strength’ she had to do everything for herself, from buying the house to raising the children. Her family were only a few miles away across the fields, but there were no phones in those days and owning a car was unthinkable.  Being on her own so much made her very resourceful. She grew every sort of fruit and vegetable, preserved the produce in every way known to man (and woman!)  and kept chickens for eggs. She really could make meals out of next to nothing. Her only failures were cherry jam (jelly),  and rabbits. It really irked her that despite all her skills in making other preserves, she could never get cherry jam (jelly)  to set. As for the rabbits, they were part of a plan to produce meat during the war, when England was starving. The skins were supposed to have gone to make leather, but the second the children set their eyes on those cute little bunnies, that part of Gran’s war effort didn’t stand a chance.
I feel honoured to have had this inspirational woman as my grandmother. I may not have inherited her bravery, organisational skills or love of housework, but at least she made sure I can feed a family! 
Have you had an inspirational woman in your life? What did you learn from her, and what do you hope to pass on to others?
Christina Hollis write Modern Romance for Harlequin Mills and Boon, which appear as Harlequin Presents/Extra in the US. Visit her website at, and catch up with her at and, where she appears as @christinabooks.
Christina’s next book, The Count’s Challenge, is a July release for Harlequin Presents Extra release in the US, and is available online from Harlequin here: and from many high street stores.  


Elanor said...

Hi Christina! Aren't those children just the sweetest? And what a beautiful story to go with the photo.
My mother is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most inspirational woman in my life. Not only did she put her career on hold to raise a family, but she is a pillar of strength to those in need and always knows the right thing to say in a situation! She has taught me how to cook, write and cope when things don't go according to plan...
I'm not sure, being only a childless young woman myself, what I hope to pass on to others. Possibly I might inspire a new generation of female archaeologists, as Carenza on Channel 4's Time Team did for me!
Best wishes,

Virginia C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Virginia C said...

Hi, Christina! Thank you for the lovely story and photo featuring your remarkable grandmother! She sounds a lot like my Gran : ) My grandmother was an amazing woman, "the best cook ever", and so smart and resourceful. Like your Gran, she not only made do with what she had, she made the best of it!

My Gran made wonderful Pineapple Upside-Down Cake in her big old black cast iron skillet. She melted the butter in the skillet, added the brown sugar, pineapple rings with the maraschino cherries in the middle, and chopped pecans. Then she added the batter to the skillet and baked it until it was golden brown. My Gran was a small woman, but she could flip that heavy skillet over onto the cake platter and come out with a beautiful cake every time : )

I have written many times about my very special, "one-of-a-kind" mother and grandmother. Today, I would like to tell you about a very dear friend, whom I admire very much! My great friend sacrificed much of her own happiness to raise her three children and provide them with the best of everything. Her first husband, the father of the children, is really beyond description. My friend made sure that each of her children went to a good college, and each of them is out on their own with high-paying jobs. Her second marriage has also been problematic, but she continues to be a strong role model as a mother, wife, friend, and as a great lady! I know that my friend would do anything for her children–she already has! While not appearing outwardly very sentimental, she shows her great heart through actions rather than words. She has shown all who know her how to thrive, not just survive!

E.J. Wesley said...

Beautiful and touching words. I lost my grandparents fairly young, and I have such a large part of my heart dedicated to their memory.

She sounds like a wonderful woman.


Christina Hollis said...

Hi Elanor
What wonderful sentiments. Your mother must be very proud of you: a daughter like you who is so willing to learn and keen to pass on her knowledge is precious beyond price!

Christina Hollis said...

Hi Virginia
You have the wonderful knack of giving me great ideas when I'm stuck for a recipe: in this case, pineapple upside down cake. It's such a treat, smothered with custard. Funnily enough, it was reading one of your recent blogs that gave me the idea for this one: our grandparents' generation produced some wonderful characters, didn't it?

Christina Hollis said...

Hi E.J - thanks for commenting. They used to say that it takes a village to raise a child - unfortunately nowadays so many people live in huge cities, there aren't the same chances to get to know each other. That's why family is so important - It's good that all your memories of your grandparents are happy ones.

Anna Campbell said...

Wow, Christina, what a beautiful post. I read stories about my ancestors and like this one about your grandmother, I keep thinking they were better women than I am, Gunga Din! And what a gorgeous photo! Laughed at the rabbits not turning out as planned - I imagine that happened to a few wartime families!

Christina Hollis said...

Thanks for dropping by, Anna. When you think that women like our grandmothers had to wash all the clothes by hand, and didn't have the benefits of central heating or tumble driers to get it dry, it makes you wonder how they had time to do anything else!

Pat Cochran said...

Mother was our inspiration. She raised
nine children, sewed our clothes, and
was an excellent housekeeper and cook.
She was a member and officer of the PTO
of all the schools we attended.I'm proud to say that I was married in the "chapel that Mother built." She headed up the parish committee that raised all of the funds for the building of the chapel addition to our parish church. She was an advocate for volun-teerism before it became popular. She
would be proud to know that our family
volunteering is now into the third

Christina Hollis said...

Hi Pat,
Your mother sounds like an ideal role model, and along with the other mothers here proves that multi-tasking has been going on for a long time. You and your siblings must be very proud!

marybelle said...

My Mother amazes me. She is 86 now & makes knee rugs for " the old folk in the nursing homes". She lives at home with my Father 88 who has Alzheimer's disease. A mother to 7, Grandmother to 21, Great-Grandmother to 9.


Christina Hollis said...

Your mother is another to cherish, Marybelle. My own father suffers from Alzheimer's, so I know how difficult it must be for her, and you.

Nas Dean said...

Hi Christina,

What an inspiring post. Thanks for sharing it and the lovely photos. And the comments are all so interesting as well.

Christina Hollis said...

Hi Nas - I always enjoy my blogging spots at ASR, but you're right, this one has had some wonderful replies. I'm very grateful to everyone who's been contributing!

Jo's Daughter said...

What an amazing story!! She was a very strong woman. Taking care of pretty much everything on her own.

My grandmother was also special, she helped raise me & teached me how to cook, clean and sew on buttons.

Christina Hollis said...

Hi Jo's Daughter- raising the next generation is such a vital part of making a good community, some places in the UK run an adopt-a-grandparent scheme. Now family members are often divided by distance, this links lonely older people with skills, to younger families who may need them.
As for sewing on buttons with a shank - that's a skill I suspect is getting rare these days. Some clothes don't last long enough to outlive their buttons!

Christina Hollis said...

A big thank-you to everyone who's dropped by to read and comment on my blog today. I've really enjoyed talking about inspiring women, and I'm looking forward to blogging here at ASR again on 10th July. Don't forget, you can always reach me via my website,, or my own blog at
See you!