Memories of Auntie George

Auntie George was my maternal grandfather’s spinster aunt, his mother’s youngest sister. She had been christened Georgina, my grandfather always called her Georgie, but to the three generations of family that followed – my mum’s, mine, and my children’s – she was known affectionately as Auntie George.

My earliest memories of Auntie George were of her living with another aunt, her older widowed sister Eliza, in a small fisherman’s cottage in a little village here in the Scottish Highlands. We used to visit as a family, and I remember the tiny cottage mainly as neat and old fashioned and dark and smelling of moth-balls, quiet apart from the tick of the large clock on the sideboard. I remember, while the grown-ups had tea and cake, being allowed a glass of fizzy lemonade in pretty tumblers that were kept in the sideboard, and the bubbles going up my nose.

After her sister died, Auntie George moved out of the cottage and in with my maternal grandparents, where she lived until her health deteriorated to a point where my grandparents simply became too old themselves to care for her. Although she lived to a ripe old age sadly she necessarily ended her years in a local nursing home, dementia robbing her of her past and so all knowledge of who any of us were, turning a neat-framed meek and mild-mannered genteel old lady into someone unrecognisable, violent and vitriolic.

But while she was alive and well and living amongst us all, Auntie George was someone who was simply always there as I was growing up, an integral part of my extended family landscape. She happily joined in with family occasions big and small, formal and informal, but always quietly hovering in the background, remaining self-contained and small in that inoffensive and unobtrusive way she had.

Embarrassingly in all those years I don’t remember ever having had any deep and meaningful conversations with her about anything that mattered. And in spite of me having had a living great-great-aunt in my life until I was grown up and married with children, I’m ashamed to say I know so very little about her younger life other than the fact, always relayed in hushed reverent tones, that her young man had gone off to war – this would have been the First World War – and had never come back.

I grew up surrounded by family photographs, and even now my mum still has several old boxes of tiny black and white family snapshots she inherited after my grandmother died. A few years ago we were looking through them again and I found a photograph I hadn’t ever seen before, of a tall young woman standing in front of a fancy car parked in front of what looked like a Swiss chalet, with a clear snow-peaked mountain range on the horizon. From her style of dress and bobbed marcel-wave hair and cloche hat, it must have been taken in the 1920s.

Intrigued, I asked mum who it was, and she said it was Auntie George, taken when she was in service with a well-to-do family who travelled a lot, taking some of their staff with them wherever they went. I was amazed to see her standing so tall in her youth, because the elderly Georgie I knew had both a scoliosis and a kyphosis, twisting her spine forward and sideways, giving her a rather crumpled, apologetic stance. And I was stunned to realise she had travelled so extensively in the past, even if only in the employ of others. How could I have known her all those years and yet not have known that?

Thinking about that little photograph and the untold secrets of the life behind it, I look back today and I wonder – did Georgie enjoy her single life? I realise that like so many other young women of her generation she effectively lost the chance of marriage and children when her fiance was killed in the war, but had she got married as intended she would most definitely never have had the chance to see any more of the world beyond her kitchen sink. Did her long-term single status and a chance to earn her own living actually give her more freedom to be herself in the end? That’s something I’ll never know.

One thing I do know, she outlived everyone else in her generation and even her neice and nephews – my grandfather, his elder sister and his younger brother all died before her. When I knew her, admittedly in her later years, she certainly seemed contented enough with her lot. Not left on a shelf but included and embraced and always there in our family snapshots, smiling and a definite part of the proceedings even if on the periphery.

I’m really sorry I didn’t ever think to try to get to know her better as I was growing up, but nevertheless I’m very proud to have had her as my great-great-aunt. I still have a few little sentimental trinkets of hers that I’ve kept close all these years, including a glass hairpin jar with silver screwtop, a cut glass perfume bottle, and a beautiful hand-sewn linen handkerchief sachet, pictured above. Thank you, Auntie George, thinking of you! πŸ™‚

Weekly Prompt: Family Photo

Coffee, Tea, or Milk of Magnesia?

I thought I was going to be totally stumped today by Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt of Coffee, Tea, or Me – flirty phrases are just not me, especially not embarrassingly dated stuff like that.

Then I read John Holton’s SOCS post mentioning about air stewardesses back in the day writing a book of that name and suddenly it all became clear. Yup, in the context of the sexist world of the original ‘trolley dollies’ (such a ghastly, demeaning name) I can see how that phrase might come about.

But to be honest the thing that struck me most about John’s post is the 1970s ad he’s included at the bottom for Milk of Magnesia – because oooh, there’s something I can post about, family medicine cabinet staples from my childhood! I suppose it’s a kind of Stream of Consciousness post once removed – related to Linda’s topic, but indirectly, through reading John’s post.

I so clearly remember the blue bottle of Milk of Magnesia, we were usually given a spoon of that white milky liquid for the solid kind of bellyache caused by constipation – I can even remember the odd taste of it. It was joined in its choice of eye-catching blue glass bottle by a little jar of Vicks Vaporub – its powerfully strong menthol heating sensation when rubbed on your chest and back was used to relieve congestion due to a cold.

My dad used to be bothered with indigestion a lot so there was always a tin of Andrew’s Liver Salts to be had – a spoon of that dissolved in water would fizz up into salty bubbles to be drunk down straight away, usually followed immediately by a huge belch, to settle any stomach discomfort. And I remember dad also carried little white square Rennies tablets in his pocket at all times for his heartburn.

Another duo of products that spring to mind is a tub of Vaseline petroleum jelly and a tin – a proper round tin, not a tube – of thick, pink Germolene antiseptic ointment. Now there’s a smell to stick in your nostrils. In my mind’s eye I link the strong smell of Germolene to the memory of fabric sticking plaster strips, because scrapes and grazes were cleaned with the sting of diluted Dettol, Germolene antiseptic ointment was applied, then a plaster cut to size was stuck over the top and you were sent on your way.

The painkiller I remember most from childhood is Disprin, a dissolvable asprin. If there was such a thing as ibuprofen available way back in the 1960s and 1970s they definitely didn’t make it as far as our medicine cabinet. These were the main generic products I remember, but I was ill a lot as a child so had my prescribed medicines to take too – Phenergan Syrup for my allergies tasted absolutely vile… yuk!

OK, that memory has put me off now, so I’ll just stop there while the going’s still good πŸ™‚

Expectation and Disappointment

I’ve definitely been feeling decidedly pensive over the last few days…

I hadn’t realised how much I’d been looking forward to Scotland moving to Phase 2 of easing lockdown restrictions from yesterday, with the expectation that the original roadmap plan set out weeks ago would be followed. But although we have indeed moved on to a Phase 2 of sorts, the initial tentative plans have now had to be altered and it feels like nothing offered has helped ease my particular situation, or at least enough to make any practical difference to where we were before, and I’m so disappointed.

I listened with mounting hope to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon making her update statement live on television on Thursday, but as the new reality of her words slowly sank in, instead of celebrating as I’d expected, I sat and cried. I do understand exactly why things are as they are – outdoor transmission of Covid 19 is low, but indoor transmission is still problematic so for most of us, indoor gatherings of any size are out – but still, it hurts.

I’d hoped at least to have a fixed date for returning to work – but sadly, the store I work in is enclosed within a shopping mall, so no re-opening for us yet. And although I’d really hoped for a move towards being able to meet family members indoors, that’s still not happening yet either. Outdoor garden visitors are now allowed to come in to use the loo as long as they touch nothing else, and we can meet up outdoors with more than one household a day but groups can still number no more than eight, social distancing is still required as before, and overall travelling distance is still restricted.

It’s not the end of the world, I know, but it really shocked me to be so overwhelmed with disappointment at the minimal changes possible for me – I hadn’t realised I was holding on so tight. I know it’s excellent news for single people and single parents with young children to be able to create an extended household with no social distancing required, but I’m not in that situation. I know it’s excellent news for all shops opening directly onto a street to be able to open again at the end of this month, but I’m not in that situation either.

So in the meantime I’m left alone with my brooding thoughts much of the time while my husband is at work, and I just have to get on with it all as it is… I watch as new infection numbers rise across the world where many places have re-opened too soon, and on the whole I feel relieved that here in Scotland we’re playing a cautious waiting game, but still… I’m tired of everything feeling so stuck and stagnant, and I just want it all to be over so we can feel safe again, meet up again, be together again with hugs and laughter…

One day we’ll get there, and if all this self-sacrifice and social restriction means I can get through this pandemic without losing any family members to Covid 19, it’ll all be well worth it in the end. But until that time, what we can’t cure, we must endure… Sigh! 😦

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Pensive

Things I Am Not

I’d love to be one of those people who can look back on life and say – Yup, I’ve absolutely nailed it! But in order to be able to do that, you first have to know clearly what it is you want out of life, have a long-term plan to work towards, and then stick to it. I don’t really have a fixed plan – to be honest I’ve never had a fixed plan.

I’ve always been more of a non-plan plan girl…

When I was really young, I was ill a lot, and I remember thinking I might want to be a nurse. Then as I got a bit older, I thought I might want to be a doctor. And then when it became clear my school grades weren’t going to make medicine an easy possibility, I shifted away from healthcare and towards thinking creatively about studying art instead. I even applied for Art School in my final year, but wasn’t accepted straight away after leaving school.

At that point I just drifted away from the idea of study.

So not long after leaving school at 17, while working locally in retail and still living at home, I started going out with a local boy I used to go to primary school with, and we soon got engaged, planning our wedding for the following summer. I’d discovered sex with a bang, felt grown up in the smug self-important way that overly-hormonal teenagers do, and the thought of studying became a distant memory. I was going to be a wife and that felt fine.

And then not long after I turned 18 I got pregnant and embarked on the trepidatious journey of motherhood.

It wasn’t a happy marriage. I tried so hard to make it work, we had three children together but the honest truth is I know now we should never have got married in the first place. I struggled with depression throughout, as I did before and after. I still struggle on and off with depression today. We separated when I was 24, had a very acrimonious divorce that took four long years to go through, and in the end the children stayed with me.

Over the years I did my best in bringing them up, but sadly I made many mistakes along the way. Messed up some, lost my sense of direction, took more than a few wrong turns.

And so one way or another my ongoing non-plan plan has continued evolving organically ever since. Decades have past. Lots of water has passed under lots of bridges, none of which have been burned beyond repair. I’m not a nurse or a doctor, but for a while I did work in a hospital as a physiotherapy assistant. I’m not an artist, but I am still quite creative. I’m not actually a career girl of any sort in any way, shape or form, full stop. I’m still a mum. I did eventually study though, graduating at 40 with a First Class Honours Degree, and thankfully at 56 – I’ll turn 57 later this year – I’m now happily married with six grandchildren.

Hopefully life is finally mending and healing for all of us.

So I wouldn’t say I’d nailed life, I’d say it was more screwed up than nailed down. But it’s still holding together and at this point I’m not about to quibble over whether I should have used a hammer or a screwdriver to get here – a tool is a tool is a tool. You use what you have to hand, and you get on with it. Stuff is fixed in place, is where it needs to be, and that’s all that matters. It’s my life, and I try not to have too many regrets. I’m not exactly proud of the convoluted path I’ve taken to get here, but I’m no longer as ashamed of it as I used to be.

And I think overall that has to be a good thing… πŸ™‚

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Nail

A Socially-Distant Garden Picnic

After 66 days of ‘solid’ lockdown here in Scotland, for the first day today we had a slight lifting of restrictions allowing some socially-distanced sports to take place (golf and tennis and fishing, I think), and also allowing two households to meet up outdoors, as long as the 2m social distancing is adhered to.

So this lovely sunny afternoon my eldest daughter, her partner, and her two youngest children visited for a socially-distanced picnic in our back garden. It was never going to be easy to stay apart, but we accepted we would simply have to resign ourselves to no hugs, no touching at all, and were determined to make the most of enjoying our little family get-together at a distance.

They brought their own picnic food, their own picnic blanket, and their own folding seats. Luckily our garden is big enough to have us all sitting far enough apart while still allowing room for the kids to run around freely enough, within reason. So we chatted across the garden while the kids played and enjoyed feeling the soft grass beneath their bare feet, while keeping an eye on always keeping a reasonable distance between us.

Our five-year-old grandson understands we have to stay far away from each other because of the virus, and was able to tell us he was really sad we couldn’t hug anybody anymore. We told him we were really sad too, but we thanked him for coming for a garden picnic and said we were just happy we could see each other again because that was much nicer than not seeing each other like before.

His 18-month-old sister obviously doesn’t understand anything about Covid-19, so her mum and dad tried to distract her away from us every time she started wandering a little too close, or in particular making a bee-line towards us looking for a hug, which she did a couple of times. And overall it worked, however awkward it felt at times compared to a ‘normal’ visit.

Amazingly they were able to stay for an hour and a half, going home before anyone needed the loo. It felt so good to see them again – precious yet far from perfect, and so strange for such a usually touchy-feely family not to be able to hug, or hold, or even come close to each other. But it was so much better than the weeks of nothing we’ve had up until now, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat ❀

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Resign

Who Won the Week: My Dad

Today my dad turns 84, and my husband and I called him this morning to sing ‘Happy birthday’ to him over the phone.

This birthday is particularly meaningful to me because my dad has just spent the last five weeks in hospital, finally getting home just before the weekend. Over the last few years he’s survived four strokes and has vascular dementia, meaning both his mobility and memory are restricted so when he developed a really high temperature just before Easter, in the middle of this deadly pandemic, we all feared the worst.

Dad was duly taken into hospital and we worried he might have Covid-19, which in his poor state of health would no doubt have finished him off. However, although dad had developed both a urine infection and a chest infection, thankfully they were the only sources of his high temperature and after over a month of wonderful care and treatment by everyone in hospital now he is safely home again.

So for me, my dad has definitely Won the Week this week, for getting well enough to come home for his birthday when only last month we’d all feared the worst. I’m really sad I still can’t go out to see him due to our continued lockdown, but I’m just so relieved he’s still with us – love you very much, Dad, and hopefully we’ll all see you soon ❀

Age-Old Dilemmas

Dementia and delirious,

High fever and forgetfulness –

Such stressful times I must confess,

Hope nothing more nefarious?

With virus deadly serious,

Clear diagnosis undefined

Leaves worry keeping pace behind.

No matter what my dad has got,

Infected catheter or not,

Bewilderment meets rambling mind…

My dad’s been in hospital for the last three weeks. He turns 84 in the middle of next month, has survived four strokes and has vascular dementia with a noticably progressive deterioration over these last few months.

He was initially admitted with a bad UTI (urinary tract infection) and after a course of antibiotics to clear the infection was fitted with a permanant catheter to help make things easier for him to be back at home with my mum, where he desperately wants to be. But in spite of the excellent care he’s receiving he’s now developed another high temperature along with another UTI, so has started on another course of antibiotics but for obvious reasons has also had to be swabbed for Covid, although it’s highly unlikely he has it.

He’s already been in a room on his own in the hospital and has been barrier nursed from the start so for dad, the only real immediate change for him will be there will now be absolutely no question of him going home for at least the next two weeks, just to be sure. And at this rate it seems he might not even get home for his birthday. Or for mum’s birthday a few days later. And the thought of my mum and dad each having to spend their birthday on their own after nearly 60 years together makes me feel so sad.

It’s tough enough not having been able to see either of my elderly parents for a while due to lockdown, but now with dad in hospital it feels even harder. I’m torn, because I know he’s in the best place for now, but I know he hates being away from home and in unfamiliar surroundings. And I know it’s giving mum a much-needed rest from it all, but still I can’t help but worry about him all on his own in hospital.

I know there are many families across the world separated from their loved ones just now, some in truly dire, life-threatening circumstances. I know that in the midst of a world pandemic, my dad is just one increasingly frail old man with dementia who’s already lived a full life, who now finds himself stuck in isolation in hospital because of ongoing problems with his waterworks, but he’s still my dad and I love him more than I can say ❀

Wary and Weary

Eight days into our lockdown limbo I’m finding it increasingly hard not to feel wary of going out into the world, and I’m becoming weary of the worrying uncertainty if it all.

Don’t get me wrong, under normal circumstances I truly love being at home, I’m definitely more of a home bird than a party animal, so but oh, how I miss that easy everyday human contact with other people! I understand it’s what we all have to do, how we all have to be for the time being, but personally what I’m finding hardest to cope with is the unfamiliar mass requirement to be alone hand in glove with the growing fear of the unknown, the unanswerable.

As a population we are so used to feeling an illusive level of control over our bodily health, there is almost an expectation of immunisation and treatment and subsequent survival from such infections, but what this new virus brings to the fore so dramatically is our absolute vulnerability. When we feel under threat, we usually want to feel close, to reach out and touch, to find comfort in the emotional and physical warmth of togetherness. We crave safety in numbers, in huddled family groups and tribal clusters, yet counter-intuitively, in current circumstances enforced isolation is our societal salvation.

OK, so satistics tell us that 80% of people with Covid-19 have relatively minor symptoms, with only 20% experiencing a far more serious threat to their health (including possible death). But as to who gets really sick, and more to the point who dies, that’s perhaps not as clear-cut as it first seemed. Age and underlying health conditions may give some indication of expected prognosis and anticipated mortality rates, but what about those growing fatalities far outwith those prescribed parameters? They may be few and far between, but they do exist – why does the virus seem to affect us all so differently? It feels scarily like the luck of the draw, entirely random, a matter of chance.

So my wariness to me feels justified, a natural measured response to a possible threat to life. If not to my life, then potentially to others. Make no mistake, this virus is a killer, and if collective short-term caution across the world can help reduce the long-term global death toll then we should all be prepared to do whatever we have to do to do our bit. Maybe everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, but I for one could well do without going down in history as a modern-day equivalent of Typhoid Mary…

Weekly Prompts: Wary