This ancient photograph of a kitten, faded to an almost indistinct brown, used to hang in Auntie’s kitchen at Derwen. Just thinking of that kitchen takes me back to the warmth and smells, Mrs Larby in her apron and bun, a scuffed green tin containing Lincoln biscuits, blue and white enamel BREAD bin, red linoleum floor. Auntie was in her 80s when we spent all our childhood holidays there, and although she was fiercely independent and active, she became gradually more frail over the years and spent an increasing amount of time in her bed, overlooking the garden with her beloved lawn and roses. She was a gentle, kindly soul, and very fond of us; I would be allowed into her bedroom for a short time to chat with her when she wasn’t well enough to get up.
Auntie had lived alone for many years since her companion Elsie died, and spent more time alone after the death of Mrs Larby, her housekeeper. When she was 90 and still determinedly independent, she had a fall and broke her hip. We were at home in London when Mum got the call, and hastily packed to go and visit her in hospital and stay for a while to look after her. I was 9 years old, already in bed, and remember very clearly: the frantic activity as Mum was rushing around packing, then the phone ringing again, then sudden quiet. I lay in bed thinking, Auntie’s died. After a while Dad came in and said, “Mum won’t have to go to Churt now after all”. Although I asked hopefully, “Why, is Auntie better?”, I knew the truth even before he gently told me she had died. It was a deep loss to us all but mostly to Mum who had known her all her life. She said that Auntie could have recovered, but had been told she wouldn’t be able to live on her own any more and would have to go into sheltered accommodation and be looked after. According to Mum, the idea of losing her independence was unthinkable to Auntie so she stopped struggling to stay alive and just “let go”. I’m sure this is true, knowing what I knew of this remarkable woman: she would have gone on her own terms, with no regrets.
When I was asked what I would like to have as a memento of Auntie I chose this kitten picture from the kitchen, which I had always liked. I know that Auntie and Elsie were keen photographers and that they had cats, so this may have been taken by one of them. It has hung on the wall of every flat I have lived in, and the last time I moved home (hopefully the final time) I tore some of the fragile paper when I unpacked it.
The picture carries the sentimental caption: “A peep into the future, bright with hope”, which somehow fits this memento of a much loved relative, chosen by a 9 year old.
- "Auntie" (Mabel Zoe Watson, Grandad Lane's cousin)
- 14th century
- 18th century
- 19th century
- 20th Century
- Glasgow family
- Grandad Lane's cousin)
- Hebridean family
- Lane family
- Our House
- The objects: