I was lucky to have 3 maiden aunts. Lucky for me, that is, because, having no children themselves , their house was a second home to myself, my older sister and 4 brothers. For a while I lived there, due to lack of space at my own home, and it is at this time in my life I recall the following memories.
I remember sitting with my aunt on a summer seat in the back garden of the cottage, she catching the last rays of the sun, after her long day spent in the local linen mill. We would rest together, contented. I happy enough just to sit there with her, and she glad of the quietness and fresh air. At the bottom of the large, wild garden ran a railway line. Trains trundled up and down the line, spewing out great clouds of smoke, steam trains which made a clackety clack sound and tooted their horns, keeping us company, adult and child.
It was an old cottage in which my grandmother lived with these 3 unmarried daughters, my aunts. Granny was in her nineties and lived in a state of happy confusion. Some days she would decide that she wanted to visit her mother, long since dead. However, after a cup of tea or some other distraction, she completely forgot about it. One of my aunts had the task of looking after my grandmother, which must have been very lonely for her. If she had any frustrations, she never voiced them. She tended to my granny's every need, one of which was asking frequently for tea, accompanied by plain bread and butter. Her two sisters went out to work, one as a weaver, the other making fishing nets.
There was always a blazing fire in the big, black-leaded grate, winter and summer. My granny sat comfortably in a big armchair beside the fire, sometimes with the cat on her lap. She loved music and listened to the wireless. She tapped her feet and clapped her hands in rhythm to the music of Jimmy Shand and his band. But her favourite was Kenneth McKellar, a Scottish tenor. When he sang, she applauded as well. She loved a pinch of snuff and sometimes sprinkled a tiny amount on the cat's nose also. It would soon spring off her lap and she would chuckle at this. In the evenings, the gas mantles were lit, giving the room an amber glow and with the roaring fire, it was very cheery and cosy.
My three aunts had their own diversions to occupy them. One owned a Singer sewing machine and I would look on as she threaded the needle, spun the little wheel round, and then pedalled away, rhythmically. She made skirts, dresses, blouses, even trousers for my brothers. I would watch her light a cigarette and take great puffs, sucking in her cheeks, drawing the smoke into her mouth. This she held for a moment before exhaling it down her nose. I would watch, fascinated.
The aunt who stayed at home with my granny loved crocheting. Her deft fingers would weave the lace in and out, while she made intricate patterns. She made doilies, chairbacks, table centres some of which I still have, and even matinee coats. Everything and anything. This was her leisure time, with the two sisters home from work. She could relax a little. I would observe her as she worked away, quietly talking to herself, unaware that I was looking on, mystified. She became quite odd over the years with only the company of her doting mother during the day. However, she always remained fond of children, as she knew they would not sense her eccentricity.
My third aunt's pastime was knitting. I can remember the clicking of her needles as she turned out Aaron jumpers, cardigans or tiny bootees. We were never short of hand-knitted clothes. She also knitted socks for the troops during the war. She only occasionally looked down at her work and would chat away, laughing at some rambling or other by my granny.
I used to sit on a couch in front of the fire, reading a comic or book, my favourite being Rupert Bear. I loved sitting in the inglenook at the window listening to Children's Hour and watching the trains go by. Sometimes my aunt held out a hank of wool in each hand and I would wind this into a ball. The cat sat watching all this, her paw teasing out for the wool. When it was ready, she pounced unravelling the ball again. Then there was a flurry of activity while we chased her round the small room. Kittens appeared regularly and these tiny, fluffy things were kept in a box in the outside yard. They were snug here covered with all the pieces of wool and remnants of material. I loved to lift these little creatures and held each one in turn, stroking the soft fur.
I remember salty, country butter with a pattern on the top, lovely creamy, thick buttermilk. There were spice cakes, Paris buns, candy apples, apple tarts, jelly, lemonade powder and many other delights.
I remember going up the bare, wooden stairs to bed, almost always accompanied by my favourite aunt. She carried an oil lamp to lead the way or sometimes a candle in a heavy, brass candlestick. The light cast shadows on the bare walls. A big double bed, with a brass headboard, was ready, warm, with a stone hot water bottle in place. My aunt would tuck me in and tell me stories until I fell asleep. Great memories.
by Eithne Hamill