I can’t recall Florence (Flo) Begley (my grandmother) ever really talking about her mother, Alice Best. It was an odd omission given that Flo loved to talk. Maybe she was being loyal to her mother or maybe she didn’t know much about her so there wasn’t anything worth mentioning. So, I approached three of Alice’s surviving grandchildren, Florence’s children, Marion Shoppee (Nee Begley) and Stan Begley, and Florence’s nephew, Gil Best, to see if they remembered anything about Alice. I also made enquiries with Flo’s daughter in law and my mother, Beryl Begley (nee Mathieson) and Flo’s nephew, Keith Begley. Stan and Gil both remember her from when they were boys, as does Keith. Marion and Beryl also shared some stories about Alice but I’m keeping them for another part of her story.
Keith Begley is the oldest surviving member of his generation of Begley cousins. He was born in 1932 and is the oldest cousin on Perc Begley's side of the family. He shared an early memory of being in the company of the Best family:
His first memory of The Best’s was at Perc' and Flo’s wedding. He remembers sitting on the back porch in Ryot Street, Warrnambool (he thinks) on his grandmother, Esther Elizabeth Begley’s knee, and being quite taken with Florrie’s Hat.
Keith said that Alice was very nice and looked very much like Florrie.He also recalled Alice Best being a big woman. She was taller than her husband, Fred Best. Fred was nicknamed Poppa Best. Keith has a memory of Poppa Best working for a Brewery in Timor Street, Warrnambool. He drove the 4 Wheel Brewery Cart that was pulled by two draft horses. Keith remembers that he used to raise his whip to little Keith as he and the cart clip clopped along Fairy street.
- from a conversation with Keith Begley 19th August, 2021
Alice’s youngest grandson, Stan, only remembers a little about his grandmother Alice. Stan’s mother, Flo was the youngest of Alice’s children. Alice was 44 when she gave birth to Flo. Flo was in her 30’s when she had Stan. He was born after post World War 2. By the time Stan was old enough to remember his grandmother, she would have been nearing the end of her life.
Stan recalls walking with his mother, Flo, to see Alice, his grandmother in their Hider Street home. Stan was only a small boy at the time. Whenever they visited, Alice would either be in bed or sitting in the front room. He remembers the room being dark and dingy. Alice lived with her husband, Fred, and her eldest daughter, Annie. According to Stan, he remembers Fred as grumpy and not particularly interested in children. Fred bred canaries and kept a large aviary in the back yard. He also cooked apple pies.
NB: Fred Best died in 1950 and Alice in 1955.
- from a conversation with Stan Begley 14th January 2021
Alice’s other grandson, Gil, was born before World War 2. He is a number of years older than Stan and therefore has some different recollections of his grandmother:
From what Gil remembers, Alice was a very quiet woman. In fact, he doesn’t remember ever hearing her speak. He does remember that she would sit in the front parlour by the fire and, if she wasn’t there, she would be in the kitchen sitting at the table.
He said she was a good pastry cook and would often make apple pies and Cornish pasties.
Gil, his mum and dad, Gladys and Frank, and his sister, Jan, lived across the road from Alice and Fred Best. Gil and Jan often dropped into their grandparent’s house after school to visit Auntie Annie. They would have a cup of tea and biscuit in Auntie Annie’s workroom. Annie was a seamstress and worked from the back of the Hider Street house. Gil said that his Grandma Best would sometimes come and sit in the workroom with the children and their Aunt. He said that although she seemed happy to be there, he doesn’t recall her ever speaking to them.
As far as he knew, Alice never left the house. The only exception, he recalls, is when he was 7 or 8 years old. His mother, Gladys, had been sick in hospital. The day she was to arrive home, Grandma Best had come to their house and started the fire and the stove so that the house would be warm for Gladys’ return.
When asked about their overall demeanour, Gil said that both Alice and Fred Best were quiet people. They seemed very Victorian in their ways; strict and formal. For example, the children were not allowed to speak at meal times. He told me that Frank and Harry, his father and his uncle, called their parents Mater and Pater.
- from a conversation with Gil Best 22 August 2021
By the time the grandson’s were born, Alice would have been aged in her 70’s and most likely beginning to suffer from coronary sceloris and artherosclerosis or heart disease and hardening of the arteries. These illnesses would eventually lead to her death in 1955. These conditions may explain why she was constantly in bed or sitting still.
From Keith’s story, we know that she did leave the house on occasion. Perc and Flo were married in 1934 and Alice was at their wedding. There is also photo of Alice standing in front of a car. Gil shared that Perc was often able to borrow a car from his brother, Arthur Begley's garage. She is dressed in clothes that suggest she was going on an outing. Perhaps she was going on one of the famous picnics to the beach that were often organized by her sons and Perc Begley and his brother, Roy.
By the late 1940’s and 50’s, when Gil and Stan were visiting, she seemed to be less inclined to head outside. Perhaps she was tired and it became easier not to leave the house and venture into the noisy world. Perhaps, there was nothing to go out for. Perhaps, it was too risky for her health to wander about Warrnambool. We may never know.
Luckily for us, as well the precious memories of her grandchildren, we have access to official records that fill in some details and experiences of Alice’s life that don’t seem to have been known by the family. I have discovered evidence of a number of stories that are not know to the family, Certainly her surviving grandchildren did not know about her signature on the Monster Petition. There are other parts of her story that deserve a place in the our family narrative. Next time we'll begin to look at Alice's early life and her family of origin story. Stay tuned.