Thursday, March 13, 2008

Great Aunt Barbara


"Driving down the A10, I hit a diversion... memory lane!"

I have no idea why, when driving to pick up my daughter from riding today, I thought of my Great Aunt Barbara. Sounds good, doesn't it? Can you imagine a tall, stately, grey haired, beautifully spoken English lady? Well, you'd be spot on.


Great Aunt Barbara was my mothers aunt, so not from the acting side of the family and not as well 'documented'. And it's a great shame, for I remember her quite clearly and had I known her when I was an adult, I think there's lots I'd have liked to ask her about.

She lived through two world wars, for a start. Yeah, sure, so did loads of people... but there was something about GAB (do you mind? It's shorter, and you know who I mean) had a sort of dignity about her that kind of made you feel perhaps she was one of those no-nonsense nurses, white apron, white hat... or a military driver, ushering Generals about. But, in truth, I have no idea. She could have been a genteel lady, sitting in her London apartment, or hiding in her country retreat.

Enough imaginings! I did know GAB when I was a child, and this is what I remember most clearly about her - her house and her friend. Barbara lived with her friend Elizabeth, and I can see Elizabeth's face and hear her voice more clearly than GABs, in my memory. Perhaps she was a more forthright character, I can't remember clearly enough.

But the house - a lovely house in Ashstead in Surrey, in Skinners Lane. By chance I have met two people since who live in that same road, but I have no idea if her old bungalow (Little Orchard) is still there. It was, to a small child, a magnificent house. No upstairs! An enormous (remember, I was small) kitchen with the sink in the middle of the room (bizarre to me, I assure you) and doors that linked through rooms so that, with a teasing big brother, you could run round and round the house until yelled at to stop by fretting parents and amazingly patient ancient ladies.

The house was probably full of antiques and two young and vigorous children tearing around the place was probably not healthy - for the antiques or the living occupants. But in the garden was something I remember even more clearly - a mulberry tree. Huge and green, with ripe, bublous mulberrys. We obviously went when the tree was in fruit for I remember their rich, full taste, and the staining red juice that my mother despaired of me getting on my clothes. Certainly, it was hard enough to get off my fingers.

I don't think I've ever seen a mulberry tree since. Two old women living together in a country cottage, surrounded by nice gardens and a magnificient tree. I wonder what else she did with her life? I will have to see what mother knows.

We always ask too late.
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