Tuesday 16 June 2009

a tale of three aunties

In all this house-sorting that is absorbing my waking hours, I've been going through heaps of old photographs that my mother inherited from her sister, my Tante Mimi. In the process, I have unearthed this crumbly old damp-damaged picture. The writing on the back, signed by my Tante Georgette, who was their sister-in-law, suggests that it was given by her to my other aunt, Agnes, the much-younger adopted child who came into the family unable to speak French, thus changing the family's tongue from French to Flemish overnight.

I would like to think it is a photo of Tante Georgette herself, but I can't be sure. It might, indeed, be some famous celebrity or film star, although it is hard to imagine my aunts and mother treasuring such a photograph amongst all the family pictures that range over at least 80 years. None of them are alive to consult.

So I'll choose to say it
is Tante Georgette, famous in the family for being arrested by the Gestapo in place of her husband, Oncle Cyril, who had escaped to the South of France; she was held for some weeks in a civilian prison, until complications in her pregnancy prompted her release. After the war, she was the only member of this family, with all its derring-do, to have a war pension - a prisoner of war pension.

The last time I met her was when we visited on my 6th birthday, and my memories of that encounter focus entirely on two less-than-thrilling events: the present from my 3 older cousins, two blue-checked pinafores of the sort nice little girls on the Continent still wore over their day dresses, and which it was hard for a six-year-old to receive with untrammelled joy, and the birthday tea.

Or perhaps it was just tea. Not for us jelly and ice cream, cake with candles, and finger rolls with egg and cress. I forget everything that was on the table except....oh horror!.... the large impossible slices of jellied tongue. Tante Georgette herself seemed just like everyone else's mother, ready to cajole, fuss, pile plates high with food, and to try to persuade me, a horribly squeamish little girl with a deep and lasting loathing of any meats with jelly or fat attached, to just try this particular delight. My mother joined in - she suffered on a daily basis from my squeamishness, and food presented us with many opportunities to engage in mutual torment.

So, it might be Tante Georgette in this picture, glamorous, mysterious, and far removed from maternal irritations, or it might not. But this is how I would prefer to think of her.


Pam said...

Goodness, that sounds so dashing and romantic. I ask myself what my younger relatives could tell of my life. "She kept her kitchen floor quite clean."

Oncle Cyril - how splendid. Every oncle ought to be a Cyril.

Linda said...

What an interesting family history you have.
My family are mostly builders on one side, farmers on the other, and I was born about 8 miles from where I live now, in a house built by my grandfather. Several times I have been recognised by total strangers because of a strong resemblance that follows the maternal line. Nothing exotic at all!!
Is that a dancer's barre in the photo? It could be a studio prop though. I have a very dramatic photo of my late gran when she went to London as a young woman to visit her brother who became a policeman, and they visited a photography studio.

laurie said...

oh what a great story! and great photo! i'm with you; that's tante georgette. she looks strong and brave, as georgette clearly was.

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