My great aunts were so old - well not always of course. When I met them first they would have only been about 70 years . The two sisters lived in London in a dark Victorian house with neglected overgrown garden. Florence tall and thin was a widow and her shorter sister Mary was unmarried. Florence had a daughter who had died young at about 20 years old. Her husband had died soon after. She and Mary had lived together for years. There were whispers of scandal, of disgrace, but which sister? I wanted to know but also realized no-one was going to tell me and asking would bring awful retribution so I kept my interest hidden for years. I discovered in time, when I was considered ‘old enough’
They joined us for Christmas, visited us for tea on the lawn in the summer and we would drive across London to have tea with them. Their gloomy damp house would stifle any exuberance in us children and we would sit, as good as gold, awaiting the exceedingly good cake they always served in generous portions. I was very fond of them both even if I did think they belonged in the Ark:)
Florence and Mary dressed in loose unstructured blouses skirts longer than fashionable, soft felt hats with long vicious looking hat pins to fasten them down,like the grannies sported coat collars with faces and beady eyes, brown laced heels and always, without fail, gloves.
Once Aunt Florence found a tortoise in their garden; the immediate neighbours denied all knowledge of the creature. The aunts did not want a tortoise, they were not too mobile by then and couldn’t face an extra walk into the town to report the find. They were also worried that if left to his own devices the creature would meet his demise on the road under the wheels of the rare car passing. So they hatched a plan. Florence stood by the front gate throughout rush hour, the next morning. Rush hour back then was more about pedestrians racing for a train or bus than traffic jams. She watched the smart young men passing by with brief cases, rolled brollies and newspapers. She was looking for the ‘right sort don’t you know’ Looking for the right face.
How could she recognize what she wanted, I wanted to know.
She was sure she would know.
She found him, accosted him and asked if he had children
I’m sure he was bemused, I would have been, but so polite, answered in the affirmative
Would they like a tortoise?
Well…um… He supposed they would!
If he could come back that evening with a box with straw or grass he could have the tortoise.
He came back with box, with straw.
Somewhere in the City he had found them.
He took the tortoise back home. I hope to delighted surprise. There were not so many phones around back then and I fancied he may not have been able to warn his family that a batty old woman had given them a tortoise:)
This both intrigued and outraged me for years. The tortoise must have had a home. What was the young man’s family like. Were they fit to have a pet. Would the tortoise stay put, he had wandered once after all. Every fibre within me which was concerned with the fitness and order of the world was outraged, all the fibres which were involved in giggling anticipation and excitement were delighted. The old folk in my family were continually having this effect on me when I was young.