Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mystery of the Ring

My father was one of three children, there was he . . My Aunty Marian and my Aunty Daphne who remained spinsters for all their lives. Marion swore she was passed over by a Swede named Sven but we have our doubts.

My grandad died when I was about 9, and their large two storey house in Henlow became too big so they downsized to a modern little cottage in the oh-so Elizabethan village of Shillington, overlooking the crop fields and thatched cottages. It was the most beautiful spot. The three women pootled on through their retirement and when my Grandma died in the early 80's the two 'girls' remained in their parental home.

Daphne was a strange one. If you could imagine these two women living together, she was the 'male' in the partnership. Both sisters lived with my grandparents all their lives. One was a High School Headmistress, feminine, intelligent, funny, social, intuitive, subordinate, pretty (if not very overweight), subservient and domestic. The other, Daphne, a secretary at Alsey Pit Brickworks was masculine, efficient, pragmatic, practical, mechanical and handled the accounts and the bills, the banking and the administration of their little domain. The two were joined at the hip so to speak.

I went back to England twice whilst both were still alive and stayed with them both times. Daphne was gruff and quiet, rarely smiled, hardly ever laughed and in my entire life I've never seen her wear make-up, a dress or a pair of shoes with heels. She had no connection with the young, was obsessed with the news and Match of the day. Had few culinary skills although I know she could cook. Both women had been raised as the daughters of a fine baker - in fact in my juvenile life she would make the most wonderful birthday cakes. Little ladies in beautifully iced crinoline dresses and a porcelain bodice with the most dreamy Victoria Sponge and jam fillings. But I only saw Daphne in the kitchen at breakfast which entailed daily doses of All Bran and over-brewed coffee. Marion did most of the cooking. What I do remember about Daphne was something my mother told me years ago.

My parents met whilst my father was visiting his mother in hospital after a gall bladder operation. My mother was one of the nurses taking care of Grandma. This was in 1952 and a romance ensued. Daphne apparently was very jealous of her younger brother's happiness. Already almost 30 years old, she resented the pairing of a 20 year old nurse and her baby brother and never really made my mother welcome although on the surface she was polite enough. Not so Grandma, Grandad and Marion, they were delighted with the union and gave both their absolute blessing.

After two 12 months of courtship, (I love that word - so romantic!) my father became engaged to my mother. It wasn't like today. My mother lived in nursing accommodation and had a curfew, if she wasn't in the dorm by 11 she had to crawl over the high brick wall, damaging her very expensive post war stockings and and sneak in hoping someone would unlock the door. However the deal was done. They were in love and remained so after 49 years of marriage.

Daphne it seems became even more jealous as their relationship became more certain and until the day she died my mum swore that only months before their wedding, Daphne poured perfume into my father's jacket pocket. Of course, he went to meet his sweetheart and suspicions were raised. Dad being a man, had hardly noticed the tang of 4711 (do you remember that? In the pretty circular bottle with the turquoise and gold label?) My mother of course put him through the Spanish Inquisition. Daphne had (again my mother suspected) been the culprit and had also on occasion tainted his shirts with smudges of lipstick in a vindictive attempt to wreck their romance.

Water under the bridge - they married in 1954, Daphne did not attend the wedding which says reams about her feelings for the loss of her younger brother and how she felt about my mother stealing little Charlie away. I never knew of this tension between them until I was well into adulthood. There were never fights, never discussions, never any disparaging remarks about my Dad's older sister. Until, about this time of year when my parents went home after my Gran's death. Daphne had produced a little ring. A small, inexpensive, obviously quite old small sapphire ring and had announced that she'd like me to have it. (Whatever brought that on I don't know - possibly we'd formed some sort of bond due to having stayed with her as a young adult). My father, thinking that finally after 12,000 miles and many years of separation, Daphne had finally embraced her younger brother's love for my mum and his progeny, appreciated the gesture and wrapped the ring in it's little velvet box and packed it into his suitcase in preparation for the trip home the next day.

It was traditional that whenever my parents travelled overseas, and they attempted an overseas trip at least every two or three years, they would return with gifts. Not necessarily expensive but for me, usually duty free perfume and cigarettes or alcohol for the boys and some toy or trinket for Babysis who was so much younger. Perhaps underwear from Marks and Sparks or Boots No. 7 cosmetics which we missed here. English chocolates such as Walnut Whips which we can't get here or Lemon Sherbet Bon Bons were also brought home. So their homecoming after a long holiday was always a 'What did you bring me?' family affair.

This particular time, my Dad was proud and satisfied and announced he had something special for me. He rummaged in his luggage. The little package he had dutifully packed was not there. He was becoming more aggravated by the moment. "Bloody bitch, she's taken it out of my suitcase! . . ." We were full of 'surely not' and 'no way' or 'perhaps someone nicked it during luggage handling' but why? Why? I was already sporting a rather pretty white diamond engagement ring so it had little other than sentimental significance for me. But with a suitcase full of gifts and chocolate and T shirts and cameras and nicknacks, why would anyone target one small inexpensive, obviously second-hand ring of no monetary value?

He got onto the phone. He got her out of bed. He berated her over the phone and she denied everything. There were tears on her end and vitriol on his. That was the last time he ever spoke to Daphne. I've rarely seen him so angry but he was convinced that it was she who retrieved the ring!

Ironically, both sisters are now gone. He went home (Isn't that funny, he always referred to England as home although he had no desire to return there permanently) after Daphne died to help Marion with her affairs and they both searched for the ring . . it was never found.

Years later, Marion would come to Australia and live with us, then in a retirement villa for a short while . . after she passed . . again he hunted fervently for the ring, more out of wanting to solve the mystery than anything. No ring was found.

She left nothing for her grand nieces or nephews, her brother or his wife. Whilst reaching for a glass this evening, I noticed one thing . . a home made mug that Daphne had made in a ceramics class that was once one of a pair - one for Marian - one for Daphne. Encrypted with her own hand . . A simple blue mug, rough but bearing her name . . perhaps it's partner, bearing the name of my other Aunt "Marian" abides in the same place that odd socks go, along with the ring!


Thriftcriminal said...

aren't families odd sometimes? My three aunts and my mother have constantly shifting allegencies and arguments over omcpnseqiential stuff.

Baino said...

"omcpnseqiential" stuff - can I borrow that?. . .I want what you're having! Yeh, I was totally unaware of any angst between them until I was a 'grown up' (use the term loosely!). She was never mean to me, quite the contrary. . .the mystery still bothers me tho!

Anonymous said...

Great post.

I had an aunt like that, she stole her own money and blamed my father.

It divided the families for 15 years.

Families are mad.

Megan said...

Fascinating! It opens up whole avenues of speculation. Especially since you were so far removed from them. Who knows what might have been going on between Daphne and Marian? This post is like a short story that could turn into a novel someday...

And oh, you could use Thrifty's new word! It's quite Joycean!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant story! Baino

It was a GREAT read.

How I admire your parents' fortitude in not influencing your relationship with your aunts when you were growing up. Having said that, I wasn't one bit surprised at your father's outburst when it finally came. T'was sad though that he and Daphne never got an opportunity to sort out their differences.

As Thrifty and Maxi say, families are strange things!

I'm intrigued to read that Marian didn't leave anything in her will to your family. Do you think Daphne had a hand in that as well?

Ces Adorio said...

Well, you are a terrific writer. I usually get bored with long posts without photographs and I savored every word. Very captivating. Really. "The Sex Lives of Cannibals" can't even hold my attention after the first chapter but you did.

Very interesting family dynamics. I am beginning to think that my family is boring. I stll consider the Philippines "home", especially my parent's home where I grew up.

TCL said...

I've troubles with my sister. We're both in our 30s and haven't sorted it out yet. Perhaps later...only time can tell.

I've no desire to return to Los Angeles ever. But I still consider myself Californian and reply as such when people ask where I'm from.

Lovely post!

Anonymous said...

There is nowth as queer as folk! We all have oddities in our families! Bet my lot think I am ODD! lol!

Anonymous said...


There used to be mugs like that on sale in the smarter souvenir shops in West Country seaside towns. (I can't think of the pottery name - my grandmother had a jug in that blue and white)

kj said...

fine piece of writing, baino.

i was puzzled why your father automatically blaimed daphne about the ring instead of considering the fault may have accidentally been his?


Anonymous said...

Well, my brother and I are very different. He is more outgoing, for him it is easier to make friendships, he is not strict at all so there are opposites in many families. I guess even wives and husbands can be opposites but I have never been married so don't know.

Anonymous said...


I found that pottery: it's called Devon Ware or Devon Blue Ware. Daphne must have been inspired by holiday memories!

Anonymous said...

I loved the bit about Daphne pouring perfume into your dad's pocket and putting lipstick on his shirts. Crafty so-and-so. Fortunate that she never put a spanner in the works and they married anyway.

As Megan said, it would all make a great short story/ novel.

Baino said...

Stole her own money! Now that's just odd. There's a black sheep in every Family Maxi.

Megan I think perhaps so much time went by she could never have confessed and 'saved face'. Any contact with them by my parents was to Marian directly after that.

Steph, Daphne left her small savings to Marian. They lived together so that made sense. She had little to leave frankly. I didn't expect her to 'leave' anything for her only nieces and nephews and certainly not to a brother of whom she was jealous.

Cec I get on a bit of a roll with these reminiscences, I'm trying to make my posts shorter . . funny how expats always refer to their country of origin as home even after so many years. And no, there's nothing particularly interesting about my family. Most of the time we are incredibly mundane.

TCL . . living in a hugely multicultural nation, I avoid asking people 'where are you from' because nine time s out of 10 they're more 'Australian' than me . . it's only their race that indicates they might be from China, India or somwewhere foreign.
I have an ongoing stand off with one of my brothers as well and no idea what it's all about!

What a photographing, photoshopping, blogging not granny called GrannyMar? What's odd about that?

Actually Ian, Devon was one of their favourite holiday destinations. I may be wrong about it being 'made' by her, perhaps she did a class in Devon or had it done whilst on holidays. I have no one to verify that but it sort of makes sense!

kj, my dad was an incredibly reasonable man. Very rare for him to be angry and he was so, so, confident that he's packed it safely. Plus my mother was there with him. Neither had any doubt that it had been 'removed' by someone.

Ropi, that's true, I'm one of four children and we are all very different. For the most part, we get on well except for the brother 2 years my junior. We don't see him much but that's his choice.

Ian, pretty incredible isn't it. She actually confessed re the perfume and lipstick thing which is why she didn't go to the wedding. I think she was embarrassed. Apart from that, they seemed to get on OK until we moved to Australia and then it was brief trips home every few years. My mother told me these stories after I married would you believe!

Paddy in BA (Quickroute) said...

My Mum didn't speak to her sister for 10 years over some comment that upset my Aunt - Strange indeed

Anonymous said...

Aren't families weird? My father had a sister like that. I don't call her my aunt because I never knew her as 'aunt'. I don't even remember meeting her, ever, because it got so bad that they were totally estranged.

And there's an old lady in the village here that I stopped to help one night at eleven pm, wandering around accusing her neighbour of all sorts of things, including stealing her door key. She was very convincing, but when he returned home (eventually!) from his evening out, he told me she often hid it herself! And I believe him. He is the one person who takes care of her.

Kath Lockett said...

It's often the way that we don't know about the dramas in our parents' family until we ourselves are 'old' and find out years later.

As for 4711 Eau de Cologne I still wear it during the summer. It may remind some people of a KFC towelette, but I love it!

Miladysa said...

Lovely story.

TCL said...

That's a toughie. Same thing in the US, to see someone dressed up like they're from Mumbai or Saudi Arabia but speak with a perfect California or New York draw. Funniest was that movie "Fargo," in which an Asian spoke with a perfectly good Minnesota accent. Nothing wrong with it but I still thought it odd. In immigrant countries like the States or Oz, what is an Aussie or American anyway?

I get asked about "where I'm from" all the time in the States. I know they mean "what country you're from" but I honestly have to say California. Proper question might be "what is your ancestry?" In that case one can answer English, Irish, Chinese, Indian, etc.