The Memento Collective exhibition looms ever closer and I have been imagining new work for my part. The installation is growing and new ideas emerge as I dig deep into my memories of the 1950’s and my brief relationship with my maternal Grandmother- Ruby Daisy.
Ruby was, to say the least, eccentric. From memory she always wore black topped with an array of felt hats. Hats were her obsession and when a new hat was brought home it would instantly undergo steaming stretching and trimming to make it just right. From my earliest memories the house was always dark, secretive and curtains drawn to keep out prying eyes. The blackout drapes had remained far beyond the end of the war and we spoke in whispers to avoid ‘them’ overhearing our conversations. I remember the bottle of Tweed perfume on the kitchen table, amongst the litter of other items, and I would be beckoned to lean forward to have the pungent liquid dabbed behind my ears.
Then there were the elephants…..
When I was left in her charge I would be put to work dusting the front room of the two up two down cottage. As you entered the front door there was a sideboard along the wall with various ornaments arranged on top. The ebony and ivory elephants had to face away from the front door. If they were not positioned just so I would be berated for sending good luck away from the house through the door. Thank fully I didn’t break anything or who knows what catastrophe would befall us all.
I would sometimes be entrusted to whiten the outside front step which seemed very exciting to me to be in the high street and passers by would comment ‘good job’ or ‘you missed a bit’ and such like amusing observations! When my Mother returned from shopping we would unpack the shopping and have toasted muffins. There was a coal fired stove in the kitchen and the door would be opened and a long toasting fork would appear to toast the muffins.
What followed was, to me, very mysterious and a bit exciting. Ruby would instruct me to drain my cup of tea and proceed to swirl the remains and tip the cup face down onto the saucer. Then she would read the patterns formed in the tea leaves. I have no recollection of what was seen in my leaves and I can only imagine that it must have been some prediction of doom or a dreaded warning of some kind as she generally was in fear of the outside world and ‘them’.
My Mother told me many stories about Ruby and her life. She had married a much older man, My Grand Father who brought with him two Sons Charlie and Horace. Strangely I don’t know my Grand Fathers name.
Ruby then had three children Frank, Harry and my Mother Peggy. The men were builders and during the 1930’s were out of work for some time, so my Mother and Ruby were the bread winners for the whole family.
They were hard times and no help was offered to get them through hardship.
In my Grand Mother’s cottage. there were two small bedrooms upstairs. On the right was Ruby’s room-dark and mysterious and out of bounds to me. Once I peeked through the door and on a table stood an ornately patterned box. The lid was open and inside was a treasury of brooches strings of beads and bracelets and hat pins. Ruby once gave me a pretty elasticated bead bracelet, I still have it somewhere I believe. It looked something like this:
I will try to remember more and must find out what my Grand Father’s name was!