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.


  1. What a sweet memory. I have a similar memory, only in Glasgow, of my paternal grandmother's house, alas no peacocks, but high ceilings and beautiful panelling. Thank goodness no tongue, even though I do eat meat, never that!

  2. That was lovely P, you painted a very vivid picture of their lives. Such a shame about the ring. I try and always put rings into a container if I take them off as I had to go through the vacuum cleaner bag to retrieve one on one occasion.
    I eat meat, in small amounts for the iron. I hate fat on it and now no longer eat any processed meat. Tongue is awful or was the last time I tried it over 50 years ago. It has I remember, the texture of sandpaper.
    Wishing you All a very Happy Easter.

  3. What a lovely account. Sitting quietly as a child - that's something I remember very well, from visiting relatives and having to attend church three times on a Sunday. I think it does tend to make one more observant, if only through boredom, so I wonder how the constantly 'entertained' young people of today will fare?

  4. You have brought Auntie Meg and Uncle Jim alive again. A lovely memory. It must have been a sad time in the family when your paternal grandfather died so young.

    Little children are still encouraged to sit quietly at school, for story times, circle times and assemblies, but some are better at it than others!

    I have not eaten meat for years, although I do cook it for others when needs be.

  5. What lovely family memories photographs can evoke. Love the hats! You did bring back some awful memories, though! Cold meat salad with tongue!!!!! Argh!!!

  6. Oh, I'm sighing over this post, it made me think of my own childhood, visiting my parents' friends and sitting quietly, either daydreaming or listening to the adult discussions. And the stained glass peacock...I can't bear to think what may have happened to that by now.
    Unlike you and your readers though, I always loved tongue in white sauce. Mum used to cook that regularly along with other offal, as it was so much cheaper than lamb, beef or poultry in the fifties, as you would probably remember. I guess we got used to it.
    So sad to lose that ring...I'm paranoid about my rings, and never take them off unless I give them a careful clean, and they are straight back on the fingers. I would lose them for sure if I took them off to do housework, so I wear protective gloves when cleaning or gardening.

  7. What a beautiful post Isabelle! I can remember visiting several great aunts and my two great grandmothers when I was young -- I loved to just go and sit and listen to all of the adult gossip and catching up of lives. What's this cousin doing now or did you know so-and-so had died? So, I can just imagine what your visits were like. Except for the tongue. Ewww. We were always offered cookies and candies.

    Sadly, not much visiting happens anymore. Everyone is too busy. Or, if it does, the visits seem to be more centered around the children -- everyone pays attention to them.

    Your post made me sad too. Sad to think that the memory of a life doesn't last very long after they are gone. ;-( XO