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!