Aunty Rose was not like my other aunts, who she referred to as the ‘sexless Thomases’. My Mom found this remark very funny, but for a long time I was not sure what it meant. Rose had married my father’s younger brother, Ronald – only they hadn’t grown up as brothers because Ronald had been adopted at birth, when their mother died. Ronald went to the Grammar School and became a professional pianist, while my Dad left school at fourteen and became a pattern-maker. When he asked his father if he could have violin lessons, perhaps wanting to be a musician like his brother, the answer was ‘Sorry son, we can’t afford it’. So that was that.
Ronald and Rose were a showbiz couple – Rose sang, and played the piano, and appeared in musicals at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton. I was taken to see her in one of these shows, and remember being very puzzled by the plot. In one scene Aunty Rose fainted and there was a lot of kerfuffle afterwards which seemed to have some mysterious connection with a baby. When Aunty Rose had a baby in real life, my little cousin Stella, even that was dramatic, as Aunty Rose became very ill during the labour and nearly died. Ronald told the story over and over again: ‘It was a bright summer’s day, and she kept saying “it’s gone dark”’.
Sometimes we would all go to their house for the day so that Dad could do some woodwork for them. Ronald couldn’t do anything like that because he could not risk injuring his hands. We would spend the day out in the garden while my father worked and Uncle Ronald practised the piano. Aunty Rose was very keen on sunbathing, which she interrupted only to cook our lunch, risotto. I had never had risotto before, and was not sure I liked it, but I ate it anyway. The next day I made my own version, in my sandpit, with sand, and weeds I had picked in the garden. Then I served it up to the little boy next door, along with a cup of coffee made of sand and water, which he would have drunk, but his mother shouted over the fence that it was only pretend.
On another visit Aunty Rose said to my Mom ‘If she was my daughter I would dress her in Italian silks’. She seemed to think the dark vivid colours of these mysterious foreign garments would suit my blond hair and pale face better than the pink and white candy striped frock my mother had put me in. She also suggested they should change my name from Lynda to Lyn ‘because Lyn Thomas sounds much better’. That evening, just as we were leaving, Aunty Rose appeared at the top of the stairs wearing a tight white dress that made her skin look even browner. Her dark hair and eyes shone and she wore bright orange lipstick. I looked at her with big eyes and wondered whether I could look like that when I grew up. I never got an Italian silk dress, but it was enough to think that Aunty Rose had imagined me wearing one.
At Aunty Rose’s, wearing the candy striped dress, with Dad in the background.
Imogen Taylor says
We have both grown up with exciting and glamorous ‘other’ women in our lives, albeit in my case, very shadowy. How has this affected us?
In my case, Diana my first cousin, was the daughter of my Father’s older brother Joe, a dealer in ‘objets’ from the Far East, who also by reputation kept reptiles as pets in his London house. All very exotic except frustratingly, we never visited the London home. We rarely saw Joe – only when he ventured to visit his parents who had retired from London’s East End to Hythe in Kent, to be closer to my parents, the only family members likely to care for them in old age (my parents lived in Kent then). My paternal grandparents were working class and had led somewhat restricted lives by current standards, Grandad was a printer on Fleet Street for many years, always doing a night shift, and Nana ran a corner shop .
Diana, some years older than me, was the ‘flame of the forces’ according to a newspaper cutting showing a photo of a very glamorous young woman wearing leopard skin print. One day soon after we had moved to Sussex, bringing my grandparents with us, Diana and Joe turned up in a Jaguar to visit them. I was about 13 at the time and wearing a shirtwaister dress that I was very pleased with indeed – I remember orange stripes and tiny flowers. Like me, Diana had thick auburn hair (though my Mother claimed that unlike my own, Diana’s was dyed), and she was wearing scarlet – a colour my artist Mother did not think went with my auburn hair. Diana married an ‘Honorable’ and they moved to Mauritius to run a hotel, a place I always aspired to visit but have not yet achieved.
I definitely have a taste for the exotic and different (which does not extend to retiles), and I am now much more likely to wear scarlet than I am to wear green!
Lyn Thomas says
How interesting that we both remember being impressed by a glamorous female relative Imogen….I love your reflections on colour too.
Imogen Taylor says
Is it time finally to acquire an Italian silk dress? You would look great in one!
I think I need to come to terms with wordpress. If I join up then does this join me to the whole conversation?
Lyn Thomas says
You should be able to see other comments Imogen without joining WordPress, I think….
Karen Birt says
It is amazing how much food perception has changed. I vividly remember having pizza for the first time at age 13. I had been on a school trip to Rome, and on our return there was an evening de-brief for the parents. The dinner ladies were drafted in to produce their version of pizza for the parents to try and it was treated as something alien and exotic.
Lyn Thomas says
Yes – one of the big social changes in Britain we have lived through. Can’t remember when I first had pizza – perhaps during my year in Marseille – 1973-4 – when I visited Italy (Turin) for the first time…