Saturday, 20 February 2016

End of The Line

This charming clock has ticked its way through so many of my memories, and then, yesterday, I brought it home to continue its steady ticking on my desk. Now it represents the end of a chapter of family life, and for me the realisation that I am the last of that particular line of the family. The old family name has gone.

When I first knew the clock it was in my uncle and aunt's home, a place of so many entertaining evenings, a place of great hospitality and warm glowing fires. In my early years I began to realise that a few glasses of beautiful coloured liquid brought about a change in adult behaviour. My father became entertaining as he and his brother ad libbed variations on the psalms, and after a while my mother stopped being disapproving and joined in the laughter. Even better, my musically gifted uncle would scoot around the room, playing a variety of key-board instruments, square piano, piano, dulcitone while singing from his collection of Victorian sheet music.

Now that my parents are dead I can confess that, as a young child, I used to fantasise that this aunt and uncle were my real parents. They had no children of their own. They went all over the place on a motorbike. They went off to France and wandered around where the fancy took them. I used to imagine that one day they might buy a small side-car and take me too.
As it was, my parents acquired a small side-car and attached it to their tandem (this was 1940s England with no petrol, but also with hardly any traffic). But the tandem never held the same sort of glamour as a motor bike, especially after my parents took a gateway at the wrong angle and sheared me off in my little side-car. I was left sitting there at the side of the road for what seemed like quite a time before they realised. Later I also realised that if I'd been attached to the motorbike neither I nor the side-car would have lived to tell the tale.

My uncle and aunt represented fun and freedom and great joy in life. My mother used to say, darkly, " Of course they can be like that. They haven't any children."
Later, too much later, I knew them as real people rather than iconic figures, and realised that not having children came at a cost of regret.

With the clock came a collection of family documents, going back several generations. I have to think I want to know? I have known enough about.some aspects of my parents' families to think it is better to leave well alone. But yesterday I was given names and dates on yellowing paper, accounts of hostility over financial matters, disputes about legacies, births and deaths and marriages, second marriages for great-grandparents - and who is this Clarissa who keeps cropping up?
My inclination is to let it go, and if my sons want to find out more, then it is too perilously easy to do so.

Surprisingly, the clock sat down on my desk and started ticking away the moment I put its pendulum back. I had expected to have to spend  some time fiddling about with coins under its marble feet to get the 'tick' and the 'tock ' thoroughly even.
Even more surprising and gratifying its glass dome also travelled safely.


Elephant's Child said...

Family history is a minefield isn't it? And some of those mines have been very, very skilfully hidden. And retain their explosive power for a surprisingly long time.
We have a carriage clock which himself inherited from his father. And it often requires considerable coaxing to tic (or toc) in a consistent way.

Relatively Retiring said...

E.C. I have some misgiving about the comparative ease of tracing family history.

Small coins can be very useful in balancing temperamental timepieces. My problem has been that visitors have occasionally tidied them up for me!

Zhoen said...

Tread carefully, unless you will take any answer with equal weight. For myself, I'd go for it, since it could only lighten the story, or provide understanding that would feed forgiveness.

Sad, that you consider yourself the last of the line, because of the name convention. You have a little ladybug who surely carries the family just as much as the grandson and son would. Well, that's me assuming and reading into it, really.

Still, it's funny, because mother to child lines are both more certain, and carry more genetic weight than patrilineal ones.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

With the tools we have today, family secrets can be opened to us all and many questions can be answered. We were just contacted by a lady whose grandmother was my grandmother's sister. There were grudges and anger when my grandmother died and my mother and her siblings seldom spoke of them. We were always curious about that side of the family and now we are beginning to get some answers. I find it fascinating, but I know my mother, if still alive, would not be happy.

Relatively Retiring said...

Zhoen: It's just an 'end of the line' feeling when the family name disappears. There are lots of things I wanted to ask my last remaining aunt and now it's too late. It was foolish of me not to make more effort. She was 96 when she died, but so sharp mentally that I thought she'd go on for many more years.

Starting Over: yes, it's almost too easy. I'm glad your own investigations are proving to be interesting, but I think I will leave any future digging to my sons.

Zhoen said...

Ah, understood. Still, names can be added, later. Sad about your aunt, but so often we aren't ready to hear it until we get older, and they are long gone. Or maybe we only start asking when the answers don't matter anymore.

Relatively Retiring said...

Zhoen: that's a really interesting point which I'll need to ponder.

Jenny Woolf said...

Family history... there are always family members who are best avoided if you start looking. I am content for it all to be a costume drama.