Adventures with Relatives
In some of my previous childhood stories, I have described many incidents that included my grandparents and other relatives in my early years. Of course, many of those “memories” are ones that were passed on to me through stories my family told me or pictures. For this story, I am going to describe some of my personal memories of family events in my first 10 years of life. This will probably be a relief, since my personal early memories are quite few, so this story will be short and sweet!
My earliest memory actually took place when I was very small, probably at about 3 or at the most 4 years of age. We were visiting at Auntie Em and Uncle Cec’s house in Burnaby. I think I must have been ill, because I remember laying, covered with blankets, on the couch in their very dark living room. There were windows, but it seems to me that the thick curtains were always drawn so that people could more clearly see the pictures on the black and white television in the far corner. At any rate, I remember feeling tired and kind of sad or lonely. Then my mom came into the room with a very, very tall, thin gentleman with very white hair topping off his tall, thin dark body; I suppose he was dressed in a black suit. He was the tallest, thinnest man I had ever seen! Years later, I saw pictures of Abraham Lincoln, and that is how he appeared to me, except that his hair was so white. His face seemed so far above me, and I was kind of afraid. Then he leaned over and smiled. And he presented to me something of which I had dreamed but never hoped to have – a child’s nurse’s kit! I was so thrilled, even though I was still kind of nervous about this tall, thin mysterious man. I remember that I opened the kit, and together we looked at all the wonderful items in it, like the stethoscope and the tongue presser and the thermometer. Of course they were all plastic toys, but I was delighted! I don’t remember anything else about that event, but the image of that tall, thin man has stayed clearly with me all my life. Years later I asked my mom about the incident, and she said it must have been Uncle Daniel, one of our relatives on the Mott side. I don’t remember ever seeing him again; I do know he was very elderly and passed away while I was still young.
Another memory took place at the home of my grandparents, Jack and Bessie Wright, in Surrey. It was, I think, my 6th birthday. Grandpa, being a proper English gentleman, was a great flower gardener, and one of the features of his backyard was a trellis that framed the path from the patio to the greenhouse. I guess I really thought that trellis was amazing, because I remember my delight at being able to hold my birthday cake, and stand under the trellis to have my picture taken! I don’t remember anything else about the birthday, but I do have lots of memories of staying at their home. When I was in elementary school, I loved to read novels that took place in England perhaps a hundred years ago, and somehow, visiting at my grandparent’s home carried me back to those times in my imagination. All English novels of that type, it seems, featured a mysterious house with hidden rooms and passages, and of course English gardens. And my grandparent’s home, although not so old, had some of those features.
Directly behind the house was a patio, covered with some kind of rippled plastic roofing, through which the sun was filtered, providing a kind of romantically dim outdoor space. Beyond the patio was a small stretch of very tidy lawn, bordered by carefully arranged, beautiful flowers. And beyond that, was a garden that was a mystery-loving child’s delight. First was the greenhouse, glass-windowed, and tinted a rich green by some kind of algae, which thrived in that warm, damp environment. A jungle of rich green plant growth filled the beds and tables, and heaps of old-fashioned clay pots were jumbled with well-worn garden tools, stakes, string and other greenhouse necessities. Trees alongside the greenhouse provided a dappled shade, adding to the sense of mystery, and above all was the rich, loamy scent of well-cared-for soil and of a myriad of growing things intermingling together. This was topped off by my very English-gentleman grandfather, working away in well-worn old style clothes that amazingly matched the descriptions in those novels!
Outside the greenhouse were more wonders. The garden itself was a jungle of vegetables that demonstrated the skill of a green-thumbed master gardener. Tomatoes twined up A-frames of poles that must have been at least 6 feet tall and to a small child seemed to climb to the sky, a dark-green jungle with heavy, deep red tomatoes adding bright splashes of color. Along the ground was a tangle of vegetables filling every space, carrots, potatoes, tumbling squash vines, and more. It was a place that a child could play hide-and-seek on misty days, and imagine wild creatures stalking in the underbrush; especially a child brought up in the sunny, dry Okanagan, and not used to the rich, green, thick vegetation of the coastal environment. And then there was the highlight of the garden – a fish pond thick with lily pads, surrounded by thick foliage, and in its dark, mysterious shadows, great fat goldfish, lazily floating until the excited shouts of children caused them to dart under the lily pads and hide.
The house itself was mainly quite modern, and the restaurant-style breakfast nook and the electric fireplaces were novelties I never grew tired of. But it was the guest room over the garage, and the real attic reached through the guest room, that held the greatest delights. The main feature of the guest room was an old-fashioned bed. I suppose it was only a double bed, but it seemed absolutely enormous to me, as it was so high, and heaped with old-fashioned home-made quilts and fat feather pillows. Just climbing up onto it was an adventure, and it just begged to be jumped on, which of course was forbidden. Behind the head of the bed was the only window, small, and covered with dark curtains that allowed only the dimmest light to filter through, bathing the room in mystery. Along the length of one wall were built-in deeply golden wooden cupboards, filled with all manner of old odds and ends, including 100-year-old books, dusty and mysterious. For some reason, the bottom shelves were almost empty, and it was great adventure to sneak up to the room, and creep in at one end of the cupboards, then crawl, with great trepidation, the length of the dark, musty-scented tunnel to emerge at the other end, victorious over the monsters one imagined lurked in the darkness! Against another wall were a couple of old chests of drawers, tall and dark. I don’t remember if there was anything in the drawers, but the tops of them were covered with the most wonderful old things, hand-made baskets filled with old-fashioned buttons, old earrings and necklaces with time-tarnished metal and ivory browned by the passing of time, souvenirs of places far away and long ago, old-time lacy handkerchiefs, tin-type photos of people dressed in dark, formal clothes from a time long past, and all manner of knick-knacks, some of which we did not recognize at all. At the end of the wall was a set of steep, narrow stairs that led to the greatest adventure of all, the attic.
Theoretically, we did not go into the attic. But realistically, how could an adult expect a child, even an ordinarily extremely obedient child like myself, to be drawn inexorably into the wonders of such a place? Everything was just as described in the novels I had read: steeply pitched roof with dark rafters, old broken chairs in jumbled piles, and old trunks, some locked shut but others half open with old-fashioned clothes that would have made the most wonderful dress-up items, if only I were not so awed and a bit guilty for even being there; with my imagination working overtime imagining all manner of mysterious ghostly events in that dark, dusty place out of the past. I dared not make a sound, afraid I suppose, of being caught trespassing up there, but more afraid, I think, of breaking that magical bond with times far away and long ago.
My maternal grandparents, John and Emily Mott, lived in a much older house, one that also held places of mystery and timelessness, places that transported an imaginative child to worlds of wonder, bringing alive the tales in those beloved novels. But that is another story for another day.