‘Dad used to pay the boys to dance with me’ – Sheffield 81-year-old reveals how she overcame adversity
“Put her out of sight, don’t feed her and she will be dead in 24 hours.”
Those were the words of advice the midwife who delivered Ann Hunt gave her mother just moments after she was born.
Now 81, Ann’s mum thankfully didn’t take the midwife’s advice and the fulfilling life her daughter has gone on to lead stands as a testament to her baby girl’s ability to overcome adversity.
Ann was born in Attercliffe in 1937 with a double hare-lip cleft palate, which is now an easily rectifiable problem but in the 1930s was considered far more serious.
The condition made it impossible for her to be breastfed so Ann’s mum used an eye dropper filled with milk she had expressed instead.
“My grandmother and my mother were fighters,” says Ann.
“No one was going to tell them what to do if there was another way. My mum said she was going to have me choke to death rather than starve to death.”
The condition Ann was born with left her with two gaps in her top lip and no roof to her mouth, and meant she had to endure regular stays in hospital of up to three months at a time all the way up until the age of 15.
This meant she missed out on huge portions of her schooling and when she was not in hospital was forced to attend ‘open air’ schools for sick children.
“They use to make us lie down in the afternoons,” remembers Ann.
“They put me there because they said I ‘didn’t know anything’ but I never put my hand up in class because I couldn’t speak.”
As well as the open air schools, Ann also attended a school for the deaf to help her with speech but by the age of 15 had missed out on so much school she still couldn’t read properly.
But it wasn’t just in classroom where the young Ann experienced difficulties.
“I got bullied but I learned very quickly to learn to go into a pack of girls where I would be safe,” she said.
“And later my dad used to pay boys to dance with me until I realised what he was doing and put a stop to it.
“I wanted to show people I could do it by myself and could break away from being protected by people. I wanted to walk into a room and for it not to bother me.”
Despite her difficulties reading and writing, at the age of 32 Ann enrolled in a creative writing class.
“The tutor said I don’t care if you write double dutch or if you can’t spell, just write,” said Ann.
“When I came back with the ten pages I had written she said I want to read the book.”
For this came Ann’s autobiography, ‘Tha don’t look proper’, written after her husband Lewis sadly died at the age of 65.
In it she documents the struggles she faced growing up, from being operated on by a surgeon with more experience of treating battlefield injuries to later becoming the first child in Sheffield to get false teeth.
She married Lewis in 1961, with the pair going on to have four boys, all of whom were ‘absolutely fine’, and later became a district nurse and seamstress.
She now lives in Ballifield near Handsworth and volunteers every Friday morning for Age UK at coffee mornings at the Crucible Corner pub in Sheffield city centre.