Friday, 13 September 2019

Grandma's Birthday

My Grandma was the oldest person in my family that I grew up knowing. She was born in 1890. I found myself thinking of her and Grandpa when pushing Struan in his swing at the park. He's a rather large child for his age and it was tiring work. I found myself calculating the age of my grandparents when I came along. Grandma would have been 66. Mind, I was a very small baby, being premature and all, and she will have had regular work outs with my weekly visits. 

Grandma was largely senile by the time I was 12, with only bits of her real personality peeking out here and there. I feel somewhat cheated at not having more time with the person my cousin calls his 'favourite auntie'. 

Grandma & me, c. 1957


What I have learned in searching out the records of my Dad's adoption is that the story is much different than I would have guessed. I grew up believing that Grandpa was disappointed I wasn't a boy, as his surname ended with my Dad. I would have guessed that Grandpa would have been keen to have adopted a boy. On the contrary, it was Grandma who filled out all the adoption papers and she asked for a little girl. It just turned out that my Dad was what was immediately on offer at the time and they snatched him up. 

I'm not sure Grandma was any better at raising children than my other Grandmother was at owning dogs (see yesterday's post). My dad wasn't exactly neurotic but he was spoiled rotten. Very much the opposite to many of the stories that came from children who were fostered out of the same orphanage as his records show. As it happened, he never actually went to that state school but was adopted from the maternity home where his birth mother left him, aged 11 months. It is an altogether odd and very sad story that none of us ever knew. 

Grandma and Grandpa did their best to claim my Dad as their very own and they nearly got away with it, but for a woman who snapped an illicit photo of the orphanage register and sent that photo to me. One of my life's stranger turns.

All that aside, Grandma and Grandpa were excellent grandparents and I count myself lucky to have had them.


Thursday, 12 September 2019

Rita's Birthday

Today should have been my Aunt Rita's 75th birthday. As it was, she died in 2007, not long after her 63rd. I'm conscious that I have now outlived Rita as well as my Uncle Bernard (57) and my maternal grandfather (56). I hope to live a few more decades, but I'm beginning to feel I've about had my share of life. Many early deaths are tragic and unfair whereas mine probably couldn't be considered so. Of course I say that about my demise with the detachment of relative health.

Bill and I were noting recently how easily my hands and arms are marked with bleeding under the skin. Any little knock or scratch will do it: pushing my arm through a backpack strap or a light scrape with the corner of a cereal box and I look like a victim of domestic abuse. I don't know what this condition is called, no doubt something beginning with 'senile', but my mom also had it.

Rita in the 1970s.



I was telling Bill about Grandmother's crazy, stupid German Shepherd dog, Duke. He was neurotic and undisciplined, like all of Grandmother's dogs, but because of his size he presented a real hazard in a house with two frail old women. At the end he was also ugly and in pain from a tumour that had stretched his skin to hang off the side of his head; a nightmare for all of us. Worse, he would jump on the couch with Mom, barking in her face. Her best defence was to spray him with hair spray to make him go away. Her arms were constantly marked with bruises from these encounters. This was in the days before pet health care insurance and their vet didn't do house calls, although I think he must have eventually.

Rita is part of this story because she lived closest to Mom and was often called out to do battle. The vet finally provided tranquilizers that were supposed to help get Duke in the car to bring him in. Instead they made him angry and even more unpredictable. I think the vet must have come out to put the dog down. Of course Grandmother insisted Duke be buried in the back garden with a small concrete angel to mark his grave. 

I remember Rita as unflinchingly brave and practical, always available to step up and deal with problems. She was fiercely loyal to her family and we were blessed to have had her. I think of her every time I sit down to sew.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Grandpa's Birthday

We had a great time with Sarah, Bill's youngest, her husband and their toddler, Struan, this past weekend. I get the name 'Grandma Shelley', which is indeed an honour. I tried to tell Bill what contentment I got from Struan's reaching out to hold hands as he walks - still a bit unsteady - and from pushing him in his swing at the park. Bill doesn't seem to differentiate being my getting to be a grandma - which I'm not - and my getting to do Grandma things, which is how I see it. It was great fun. Never mind about all that, Gareth was still able to pretend he's interested in the story about my Dad's adoption and I found myself explaining why I could believe he was adopted: Grandma and Grandpa were the only normal people in my family, so of course it makes sense we aren't genetically related.

I was thinking of Grandpa earlier last week when I donned an old flannel shirt to go out blackberry picking, or 'brambling' as some folks call it. The shirt belonged to a previous husband and gets dragged out for hair colouring, house painting and other rough work, which is not to say I don't value the fabric. If I didn't it would have been burned long ago. Oxford shoes, woollen trousers and checked flannel shirts were Grandpa's winter uniform.

Grandpa's careful thrift, his endless patience and his tidy ways are still ideals to which I strive (when I'm not trying to channel my Mom's artistry or Grandmother's outspokenness). Also, it turns out, his super-strength - I must have exhausted him and Grandma when I came along! Bill and I slept most of the next two days after they returned to Edinburgh.

Back of photo: "Jack at Idlewild"

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Mom's Birthday



I spent a full day indexing the photos on my computer, well, two years' worth. It was something to do when camping in the rain without internet access. It allowed me to go pretty directly to this photo of a white rose, taken in my garden in May 2017. Aren't you impressed?

Actually this post is to remember my Mom's birthday (she would have been 101). She is never far from my thoughts.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Bits and Pieces

So, I've been busy this past month, since my last post. Doing what, you ask? Well, according to my photographs, my WI craft group was making quilted place mats and coasters. Most of us didn't get past making the items on to doing the actual quilting, but we're having a catch up session in July which should help folks complete their projects. 




The ladies in my other craft group worked on Fair Isle knitting projects. I've not got very far with mine as it requires a clear mind and quiet time. The top photo doesn't show it but the other three projects incorporate the Selbu rose I told you about earlier.












I bought Bill (and myself - he wouldn't like to go alone) season tickets for the 2019 Newcastle City Walks programme for Christmas. We've been on several where I've tried to form a mnemonic sentence to remember the main points to tell about them here. It's a real mental work out, never mind the walking! I've yet to produce any of those posts, you may have noticed. 

As we headed back to the car after one of these walks we passed down a narrow street and I spotted two cafes side by side: The Dog and Scone and the Mog on the Tyne. They charge admission fees to allow you to pet their animals. It's one of the odd things about Europe, animals being allowed in eating establishments. I've never really quite got used to it. I doubt I would order food in either of these locations, but going in to get a doggie-fix rather appeals. 




The names are plays on words: Dog and Scone refers to the Cockney phrase 'dog and bone' (which means phone). Mog is a British term for cat and it rhymes with Fog on the Tyne, which was a popular song by an English rock group, Lindisfarne (the name of a castle on Holy Island, not far from here). All clever stuff. Shame I rarely get in to town. Or to Holy Island, for that matter. Must do better.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Sorting Buttons

I've never got into the popular 'adult colouring books' that came out of nowhere a few years ago. For one, it seems a waste of time - not that I'm against that in principle, I just prefer to have something to show for my wasted time. For two I never could quite get past the 'adult' part. How sad that I think that has undesirable connotations.



Anyhow, instead of filling in a colouring book, I prefer to sort buttons. Doing the colours is the most fun part. After that I might put shanks vs flat buttons together and then two holes vs four holes. By then if I have any matches I can thread them together. But I rarely get that serious, just sorting by colour is usually good enough for me. Very relaxing hobby this!

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Daddy's Birthday

I just realised I don't think about my Dad so much as I once did, which makes me sad. It also seems rather odd since I work at finding his birth father every day for at least a couple of hours. I sometimes get sick of it and feel it is a waste of time but most of the time I'm pretty determined to crack it. I wonder what makes me so obsessed about this. I think it is because I'm trying to replace what someone 'stole' from me. A decade or so ago I had a whole family tree, for at least several generations. Then the woman who snapped an illicit photo at the Minnesota Historical Society came along and 'chopped' my Dad's side away. I'm fighting to get that whole tree back. I think once that's cracked I might go back to having a more normal life, but don't hold you're breath. I only ever manage a faint facsimile of that concept.

I know quite a bit about my Dad's Norwegian mother and she has sparked my interest in Norwegian culture. As it happens, we are learning Fair Isle knitting at one of my craft groups. I subscribe to a newsletter called Craftsmanship and this month one of the articles is about a Norwegian woman, Annemor Sundbo (except that o should have a forward slash on top of it), dubbed 'the sweater detective'. It tells that she approached a man who had a wool mill because she wanted to study the weaving techniques but instead he sold her the mill and along with it came tons (actual tons!) of old knitted items. She studies the patterns in those as well as in old paintings, noting the variation of patterns. She is trying to get the special sheep that were bred for Norwegian wool, said to be especially hard wearing, to be raised again in quantity. 

Three things struck me from this article. First, her passion for all things wool and where that has led her is the stuff of fantasies for many interested in wool / craft / textiles / history. She's written award winning books and I expect I may try to obtain one at some point. Secondly, the discussion about the variation in knitting patterns from village to village sounded much like the knitted ganseys from this part of the world: wives knitted heavy woolen sweaters for their fishermen using the distinctive pattern developed for her village. Should the man be washed overboard and the body recovered, this pattern would aid in having the body returned to the right village. Grim, isn't it? But it makes perfect sense. It also rather reinforces the idea that Sundbo puts forward that there is a 'spiritual bond' between the maker and the wearer. Norwegian patterns have historical, mythic meanings. Which brings me to the third point. The article mentions Selbu, referring to the popular eight pointed flower called the Selbu rose pattern. Selbu is the village from which my Dad's birth mother's family originated. The pattern is now considered typically Norwegian, but Sundbo says it predates the mid-1800s when it debuted in Selbu and actually dates back to medieval times in Europe and even before in the middle east. The octagonal star has been around for a very long time.


From ThorNews, which I am now following!

I've not got very far on my Fair Isle, it being a rather complex pattern in spite of only using two colours on any given row. I've decided to use the Selbu Rose somewhere in this small bag I'm making. Should I live long enough to finish it, I'll be sure to show it to you. It makes perfect sense to use this pattern in my Fair Isle project given that the place, Fair Isle is pretty much square in between Norway and Scotland. And once I have the Selbu rose mastered, I can move on to the Norwegian 'lice' pattern (or not).

In addition to thinking of my Dad (as opposed to his genetic material) I'm also remembering his brother / half-brother, Albert, born one day and three years earlier than my Dad. Albert drowned in the Mississippi River at the age of 24. I have to wait until 2022 to access his adoption records and learn more about his story.