Prompted by a cousin’s feedback on the grape hyacinths newsletter, asking for more on my mother, I thought it must be time for another family chapter.
If you’re a Wodehouse fan like me, you’ll know that Bertie Wooster has two Aunts. One, Aunt Agatha, is fierce and disapproving and he does his best to avoid her. The other, Aunt Dahlia adores Bertie and even so, is always getting him into difficulties.
Well, I had two aunts as well, or so I thought. My father’s two older brothers were married to rather different people. Neither were like Bertie’s Aunts though.
My Aunt Kay was warm, lovely and very understanding to a small child with a tummy ache on a family walk up the Malvern Hills. I always think of her with a smile.
My Aunt Dorothy was more reserved. She was a wonderful musician and was just lovely. I have sad memories of her developing Alzheimer’s Dementia though. We’d be talking happily one moment and she’d be animated and engaged, then in the next moment she’d be ‘gone’, with empty eyes and a flat expression. What a cruel condition it is.
What about the other side of the family I hear you ask – well what indeed!
My mother never talked about her family, though she was an expert on my father’s family. We knew from a few earlier comments, that she had been orphaned quite young and that she had brothers. She talked about them being very tall, and having big feet, but we never knew (and in fairness never asked) how many there were, or what their names were. We also knew she was a twin and that her sister was tall (whereas she was quite short), but there was never a suggestion that any of her siblings were still alive, and she certainly wasn’t in touch with them.
Imagine my surprise then to discover, after she’d died, that there were in fact three sisters and four brothers! Here are the girls. Marion is the eldest in the dark dress, the twins are on each side of her (I guess the one on the right is my mother, but don’t know for sure), and Lily is the youngest.
I can’t help being fascinated by their adorable little boots!
But let’s start with her parents.
You may recall from an earlier blog that when asked what she remembered about her own mother, she snapped at me “Nothing” and then eventually said “Perhaps I don’t want to remember”.
When I asked what her mother’s name was, she answered “Alexandra Fitzgerald” – in a kind of a rushed way. She almost blurted it out, which seemed a little strange at the time, but I didn’t question it. After all, she had led us to believe her family were Irish Catholics and some sort of aristocracy. So a Fitz…something-or-other seemed concordant with that sort of exalted social status.
She talked once of how her mother had fallen off her horse and died as a result, and her father died a few weeks later of grief. We’ll have another visit to these assertions in a future post. It’s safe to say, a little ‘fact checking’, as they call it these days, was in order.
My mother was a person with strong opinions, though she never accepted that they were actually opinions. She used to say “I’m only stating facts” – which of course meant an end to any difference of opinion. She was very beautiful, and much admired by friends with whom she had nursed prisoners of war in 1941, or thereabouts. They spoke about how she adjusted her Red Cross Uniform, with deft sewing, so it was more dashing, and used to go to London at every opportunity when on leave.
One of her opinions was that to have children out of wedlock was not only wrong, and disreputable, it was unkind. The strictness of her attitudes was an all-round feature, not just relating to illegitimacy, and I recall at least one of my friends used to call her ‘The Duchess’!
Her disposition and her alleged backstory was so extremely ‘proper’, that I was totally floored to discover that she and her seven siblings were in fact, illegitimate!
Well there’s a cliff hanger!….
And we shall leave it there for now….