DECEMBER 24TH - STILL STANDING
When Eira Greenslade speaks of her father, the pitch of her voice rises slightly. You hear the pride of woman who was raised by a person of character, and the excitement of a daughter who was loved by someone full of warmth and generosity.
Alwyn Hughes passed away six years ago, aged 89, leaving Eira and her brothers Gwynfor and Christopher with countless happy memories. He also left his own memories, which tell the story of a town that became a city. Alwyn was a stalwart of Brynhyfryd, growing up between the wars and surviving everything an often harsh world could throw at him. He was an eloquent public speaker whose words gave pleasure and comfort to others, and written copies of his sermons give us a fascinating insight into early and mid-20th century life.
We’re entitled to feel aggrieved that our lives have been turned upside down by coronavirus in 2020, but we should spare a thought for the generation who grew up in the shadow of tuberculosis, typhoid and smallpox. Alwyn Hughes’s life was changed by tuberculosis before he was even born; his father contracted the disease during his wife’s pregnancy and died of it without ever seeing the youngest of his six children. Later on Alwyn would have to endure the cruel and untimely deaths of a brother and two sisters, who were taken by TB aged 24, 28 and 31.
But when you talk to Eira about her father you quickly realise that his life story isn’t a sad one. It’s uplifting, like any tale of a person of courage who beat the odds.
Alwyn never saw his father, so he gave his unstinting love and support to his mother and grandmother.
He lost a brother and two sisters, so he made the most of his time with the siblings who remained.
He grew up in a town stricken by poverty, so he enriched it as a writer and public speaker, leaving us a lasting record of a community that pulled together admirably in good times and bad.
He saw children suffer the consequences of hardship and disease, so when the time came he moved heaven and earth to protect his own children and give them the best possible start in life.
It’s not easy to look at our own misfortunes with a sense of perspective. When we suffer a loss, it doesn’t particularly help to know that others have suffered similar or greater losses. But we can take heart from the way others have coped with their losses. Alwyn Hughes and his generation suffered hardships most of us can’t imagine. Life dealt Alwyn many blows, but it couldn’t knock him down. He stayed strong for his family and his community. There are community champions in Cwmbwrla today – selfless leaders like Kathy Craven, Jo Brooks, Lisa and Dai Challenger, Donna Roberts, Cynthia Evans, Paula Morris, Helen Holmes and Hywel Trick - who are following his lead.
This has been a tough year. We’ve been hit hard, but we’re still standing. Be proud of that.