Friday, April 18, 2014
Hello Auntie Meg
I was sorting through some of my late aunt's things the other day - mainly photos that I'd put aside to look at later and had then forgotten - and came across this. At first, I couldn't think who the people were and then I realised that they are my Auntie Meg and Uncle Jim - in fact my Great-Auntie Meg and Great-Uncle Jim - when young.
Auntie Meg was my paternal grandfather's sister. I never knew that grandfather - he died in the February of the year in which I was born in the July. Very little remains to tell us what he was like. I know that he was originally a coppersmith, that he had to retire early from his job, which was something to do with the buses at Scottish Motor Transport, because of ill-health and that he died from smoking-related causes on my father's (his son's) 30th birthday. He was a quiet man, according to my mum, and we have a violin that he made (and played).
But I did know Auntie Meg. She lived in Edinburgh, at 14 Greenhill Terrace, in the lower villa flat of a beautiful old house with big rooms and high ceilings. We used to go there for tea occasionally. The sitting room had a china cabinet in which was a Doulton model of a lady balloon seller, which I really liked. Between the sitting room at the front and the dining room at the back was a wonderful stained-glass door which featured a peacock with its tail unfurled. I loved this as a little girl. Auntie Meg and Uncle Jim had no children so when we went to their house, my brother and I just sat there and listened to the adult conversations. I don't know what my brother did for entertainment, but I focused on the balloon lady and the peacock. In those days, no one thought about amusing children on such occasions; one just sat quietly. We did sometimes get to walk round the garden; Uncle Jim was a very keen gardener and there were lots of little paths along which we enjoyed walking.
According to my brother, Uncle Jim had been the manager of the Government Bookshop in Castle Street.
I dreaded the actual meal because (in my memory) it was always the same: cold meat and salad, specifically cold ham and tongue. Tongue! Ugh! I've been a vegetarian for many years and even when made to eat meat as a child, never liked it after someone told me what it was. I've no idea what I thought it was - just food, I suppose. I didn't like tomatoes either (and still don't). At Auntie Meg's, I think I surreptitiously fed to my brother as much as he could tolerate from my plate.
I didn't know it at the time but I later heard they did have one baby, who died in infancy or was possibly stillborn. And so I suppose that there are now very few people who remember them. My other aunt does and so does my brother; and Uncle Jim may have surviving relatives who knew him, but none known to me. This is why I thought I'd give Auntie Meg and Uncle Jim a little mention here. None of us will be remembered for very long, but having children and grandchildren at least gives one a short afterlife in their memories.
Auntie Meg died when I was sixteen. Uncle Jim then presented me with her engagement ring, a little flower-shape made up of diamonds. I was very surprised and touched. "I want you to wear it," he said. And I did. But alas, about twenty years ago I lost it. For years I was convinced that it would turn up; but it didn't. I never took it off outside the house but had a bad habit of taking rings off and putting them on the nearest shelf. That was when we were doing up our current house and I now wonder if we had a tradesman who picked it up and pocketed it. Or possibly it just fell into a pot of paint or on to the floor and got gathered up with papers. Anyway, I still feel guilty. Sorry, Auntie Meg and Uncle Jim. I do remember you, though I never got to know you well.
They were a very devoted couple and Uncle Jim was very protective towards her. When she died, he lived alone for a few years before he too died. He left the house and all its contents to the hospital where Auntie Meg had got treatment - a hospital which closed years ago. There was an auction of the contents. My mother and I went along and I bought the crystal jam dish which had always been on the table at tea time. It was sad to see all Auntie Meg's treasures sold to strangers.
When I'm in the area, I think of them and hope that the peacock still stands in its beautiful blue, green and turquoise plumage, dividing the lofty sitting room from the dining room, with its view out over the immaculate garden.