Friday, 3 August 2007

Family Gold

A few years ago my great aunt gave me a little black and white photograph, in a mottled brass frame. It shows a boy in dungarees, about three or four years old, standing with his hands to his face, looking contemplative and a little sad and lonely. Yes, that’s me, I thought when she handed it over. I wondered where and when it was taken and treasured this little link to my past. A few years later my mother told me that it wasn’t in fact me, but a relation. “I didn’t want to tell you before” she said, and seeing that I looked downcast “I thought you might be a little upset”. That’s how secrets start, I thought. But in fact it’s a bit of a relief. There’s something about the child all alone with that worried look. I wonder what happened to him and if he still has that expression.

My great aunt was Polish and lived in a creaky house in Fulham, long after her husband, an artist who had survived time in a gulag, had died. I used to stay there from time to time when I was between flats. In a little self-contained apartment downstairs that had a 1960s kitchen with formica cabinets, a fridge that smelled of fridge and a cooker with a grill pan that slotted in at the top. I would go upstairs to eat with her and sit in her own little kitchen while she told me about her past and how much I looked like her brother. She was in her seventies then but she seemed much younger, and we chatted like friends. She would offer me gin and tonic in a grimy glass and cheese straws from a big square tin that were probably as old as their container. I would wander around the studio containing all my great uncle’s paintings, creaking across the shiny parquet floor and leaning down to look at the sun-faded spines of his old books, layered on shelves.

Eventually she became ill and moved somewhere she could be looked after. The house was sold and is probably a banker’s palace now, with slate bathrooms and recessed lighting. Although she died before my daughter was born, shortly before her death she gave me the gold coin she had brought with her when she first came to this country as a refugee. It was her emergency money, and she had carried it deep in her clothing. She told me it was for my daughter. Wrapped in a little cloth it still shines warmly, the eagle gazing out imperiously and proudly.

46 comments:

Omega Mum said...

I loved 'fridge that smelt of fridge'. Made me go straight to ours and open it up. And that gold coin hiding. All so familiar (not the same coin, naturally, unless we're secretly related). And thank goodness she told you the sad boy wasn't you. You'd have spent the rest of your life worrying why you didn't feel sadder and odder.

Tina said...

I found this site through a mention on Wife in the North. I just wanted to say that you write beautifully, and I very much enjoy reading your posts. I'd like to add a link to your site on my blog if that would be OK with you - if you want to check out my blog to make sure that it's OK with you then please do so, you'll find me at latethirtiescrisis.blogspot.com/ You can leave me a message there just to let me know if it's OK.

Please keep up your good work

IngeniousRose said...

Now that's the sort of real-life story I'd love to be passing on to my daughter.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Family treasures tell us so much about our ancestors and the loved ones who watch us from above. I'm sure when your daughter is older, she will appreciate the coin as much as you.

Crystal xx

@themill said...

'looking contemplative and a little sad and lonely' Sometimes, perhaps, I think it could be you.

The Good Woman said...

I was wondering what to say and then I noticed the title of your post (funny how we sometimes only notice headings at the end...). Fantasitc title. It is treasure - your aunt, the secrets, the coin and your daughter. Family gold indeed.

lady macleod said...

As always your post leave me with a tear and a smile. Oh to be able to paint such a picture with words! I am such a fan.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Hope I don't sound too trite, but what a lovely post.
Pigx

Suffolkmum said...

I love delving into other people's family memories! That coin sounds pretty precious and intensley signiicant as a family heirloom. Loved your holiday one too; that bit about togetherness and separate-ness was perfect.

Sparx said...

Hi SAHD... did you delete the comments here? I can't believe that nobody has commented on this beautiful post.

I have an elderly cousin, approaching her 89th birthday who lives in a big house in the Kensington area and when I first came to London she let me stay with her for a long time. She became my 'London Mum' and is very dear to me indeed. I am very lucky that she has met my son as she is very unwell at the moment and the outcome is not certain. Your lovely post reminds us how important family is and how good it is to have the older generations with us when we do.

Stay at home dad said...

Thank you OM. I think the ones that smell of fridge are the ones that aren't used very much. On the contrary, it is me down to a tee!

Hello Tina and than you very much indeed. How nice of you to say. I'd love a link and will ocme and visit.

Yes Ingeniousrose, and now it's here for her to read as well.

CJ, I agree and I really hope so. I think so too.

@TM, it's me alright!

Thanks TGW, headings are often difficult I find. Not as difficult as book titles though...

Thank you once again your ladyship. I feel undeserving of such a compliment.

Pig, not trite, lovely to hear. Thanks.

Thank you Suffolkmum. They were perfect moments on holiday. Or as close as you ever get.

Hi Sparx. No, I was away on a sleepover! Well said and lovely she could meet your boy. I would love my great aunt to have known my daughter. But at least I know what she would have thought about her.

DJ Kirkby said...

Wow, what a lovely post, warm and full of memories.

Motheratlarge said...

You write so well about how family connections - some intangible, others (the gold!) less so - haunt and never leave us. Lovely posting. We had a cooker like that in the 70s.

merry weather said...

I enjoyed reading this. It was very evocative and touching. How you must treasure that coin!

Stay at home dad said...

Thank you DJK. In retrospect it's lucky I was between flats so often!

Thanks M@L. Yes I guess we did too. The next development was when the grill moved to the lower of the cooker in a dedicated compartment; then eventually into the oven proper.

Thank you Merry. Yes, I look at it frequently...

ziggi said...

just lovely!

Stay at home dad said...

Thank you Ziggi!

dulwichmum said...

What a beautiful story, perfectly told. I am delighted that you have such a wonderful tale to share with your little girl.

Stay at home dad said...

Thanks very much indeed Dulwich Mum. It's one of the more pleasant responsibilities...

Elsie Button said...

oh how lovely and special the coin survived and has that wonderful history to pass on to your daughter - really moving post.

I also liked the 'fridge smelling of fridge' line. my granny's fridge used to smell of fridge. ours doesn't though. weird.

Stay at home dad said...

Thanks Elsie. I think if it's not often opened it smells fridgey, like a house after a holiday.

Reluctant Memsahib said...

what a lovely story. And what a perfect treasure for a little girl. I've linked to you, hope that's OK. I don't think my own best beloved would have managed a day on his own with a single one of our three, consequently I hold you in very high esteem!

Stay at home dad said...

Thank you RM. That's very kind! I must visit (& update my blogs) more often ...

mutterings and meanderings said...

Fab, SAHD

Stay at home dad said...

Thx M&M!

Laura McIntyre said...

What a wonderful story, you are such a talanted writer. Your daughter will be so lucky to grow up and read these stories

Stay at home dad said...

Hello Laura and thank you for such a kind comment. Yes, it's not like leaving a diary, because she can be sure it was all meant to be read.

Supernight said...

lovely lovely, I even like all your comments!

Stay at home dad said...

Thanks Supernight! I've always been a fan of sound-clash parties...

carrie said...

Lovely memories of a treasured Aunt.

I hope that coin is in a very safe place.

Carrie

Stay at home dad said...

Thanks Carrie. Funny you should say that. There was a coin for me once upon a time. My mother put it in a matchbox for safekeeping and of course it got thrown away ...

Drunk Mummy said...

Lovely post SAHD.
But is your mum hiding lots of true photos of you? The ones where you are wearing a purple nylon sweater, or grinning inanely from beneath a badly cut fringe?
If I were you, I would indulge in a bit of spin and stick to the more poetic 'reality' of the black-and-white photo!

@themill said...

When's your tennis tournament?

patsy said...

Well up to your usual high standard
SAHD,a beautifully written piece of family history which, one day, I'm sure your daughter will treasure as much as the coin.
So many family memories must get lost when the old folk go, perhaps blogging will help reverse that trend?

Ben said...

What a fantastic blog, and a marvellous treasure for your daughter - the coin is as well.

I'm adding you to my blogroll if that's alright.

Jan said...

Have NO IDEA how to set up a Blog Roll but if I could, you'd be on it!

The Poster formerly known as VI said...

Congratulations on another lovely story SAHD!

However I must dispute the notion that you are even a little "sad and lonely". The love,pleasure and companionship your daughter brings you shines through each of your postings!

Stay at home dad said...

DM, thank you. You could be right, but some how the acrylic tank-tops, wonky teeth and girly curls have a certain something ...

Ah, @TM, what a good memory!
It's on Saturday. I played on grass for the first time in probably twenty years to finish my preparation today but recent training has left me blistered and bruised, so I'll be lucky even to get out on court...

Thank you, thank you, Patsy. Yes I think that is an excellent by-product of blogging ...

Thanks very much Ben. Yes, of course, very kind.

Stay at home dad said...

Jan, I appreciate the sentiment!

Thanks VI, I'd like to think so... are you back?

Gwen said...

What a lovely post and a poignant story.

@themill said...

Okay - Saturday night, how are the muscles?

Stay at home dad said...

Thank you very much Gwen. I suppose in some ways it is my great aunt's post, seeing as I share some of her genes...

@TM, you don't miss a trick! I am hobbling around, with bruised and bleeding feet, having lost in three sets in a two hour match in the sunshine. Battered but satisfied. Thanks for asking.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Okay, it's now sunday night, a week later, never mind the aching muscles, when's the next post coming?! Oh, or have you made it thru to the US open and you're now stateside in intensive training? silly silly me
Pigx

Stay at home dad said...

Oi(nk), Pig, stop invading my dreams!

Elsie Button said...

anyone know where our favourite SAHD has disappearing to?

Stay at home dad said...

Hello Elsie. Actually, I was thinking of going to the cricket!