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.