Doris and Hilda – Part 02
My two Great Aunts, Doris and Hilda, both escaped a life in industrial Manchester and, after Doris spent thirty-odd years in New York, they both ended up living out the end of their lives in Lytham St Annes. They were the stuff my childhood was made of. And after Hilda died a visit to Doris had her confide to me two mighty family revelations.
The first revolves around the Second World War and Doris’s GI husband whose role it was, as best I can work it out, in some form of administrative capacity to help clean up Europe after the fighting. I don’t know how many people he worked with but they seem to have literally been cleaning up with their special method of: whatever they could carry away that wasn’t nailed down or on fire.
Thus, from the bunker for German central command, my Dad’s American uncle walked away with Adolf Hitler’s teapot.
It might be expecting too much of a man to hope that he might have transported a whole twenty-two piece tea set from war-torn Berlin, whilst doing the day job, all the way back home to New York and so I do give Doris’s husband plenty of credit for spiriting away Hitler’s teapot… and his milk jug… and his sugar bowl too.
Yeah. I was impressed.
Hitler’s tea set retired from New York in the eighties and thus had crossed the Atlantic intact twice by the time it reached Lytham St Annes. A destination where Hilda mistakenly sat on Hitler’s sugar bowl and snapped his sugar spoon asunder in what was possibly one of the most damning post-war strikes against the Nazi ideology since the Nuremberg trials.
How can you get over learning that’s in the family? And call it what you will it’s not like it’s something you could take it on the Antiques Roadshow, or put up for sale at Christies, as they’re fairly ordinary pieces of crockery and it’s only whether you believe in the story that makes them of any interest… And it’s a story that probably moves further from the truth with each telling.
When Doris died I got half a dozen china cups which, along with an article from the writer Douglas Adams, went on to rock my world, but that’s another story. However it was my love of history that secured their small collection of wartime souvenirs, as the executors broke up her stuff looking for the valuable antiques, and those souvenirs included some small pieces of Nazi memorabilia. The spoils of war, I guess. And yes, it included a teapot too.
I did say mighty family revelations.
And the second of these? I’m not sure if it tops Hitler’s sugar spoon or not, but across the living room an octogenarian conveyed to me, in all seriousness, how sometime prior to 1972 her sister Hilda had experienced a close encounter when aliens landed in her back garden.
I did say mighty family revelations.
I did say I wasn’t sure which was the most audacious.
And I know what you’re thinking. Don’t think that as many others must’ve witnessed the same thing as I was told that an account of the incident was printed in the Manchester Evening News.
This prompted me as a teenager – teenagers, always investigating things – at the first opportunity to go off to Manchester library and spend a day pouring through the microfiche archives of the Evening News to try and find this report… The only thing I discovered is that “sometime before 1972” is a hell of a lot of newspaper.
One day I’ll go back… One day I’ll find it. Or maybe the Manchester Evening News will get it’s finger out and digitise all of it’s records beyond 1903.And that was the story of my two great Aunts, Doris and Hilda, the best I can work them out. Although the best of the Brooklyn audio tapes, which took some listening, was recorded when Hilda went over for a visit in about 1969. I don’t know why they recorded it, but I was delighted when I realised that it was recorded on the day of the wig and that the two sisters were recounting their shopping tales of how Doris had kitted out Hilda to be dressed up like a proper fashionable New Yorker.
Doris listed the achievements of a hard day’s shopping for her husband, who was obviously excused from such an activity:
“A nice pink dress with a jewelled neckline and jewelled pockets, black silk pumps with rosettes on the toes, a black patent leather hand bag, and… of course her champagne-coloured wig.”
Before Hilda chipped in, with what you might describe as too much information to be secretly overhearing from your elderly relative:
“I thought she was going to say champagne underwear which is quite true.”
Before Doris ploughed through with her list to show she’d clearly been splashing the cash on her sister:
“An aquamarine ring. Green alligator strap wristwatch. Her Diamonte earrings.”
After this Doris got conspiratorial and continued:
“May I say something now…Because as I look at Hilda now, without her wig, and this is just between the three of us, because nobody else is going to hear this…”
How could Auntie Doris have begun to comprehend that these tapes, fifteen years after her death, would fall into the hands of someone that would play them, digitise them, take the time to listen to them, transcribe them…
How could she have begun to have imagined the internet through which you’re reading this now?
“But as I look at Hilda now, without the wig, it’s amazing how much younger the wig makes her look.”
It’s as if she’s inviting everyone to enter into the conspiracy of wig wearers. How discussion of such an item, not actually being real hair, can only be whispered behind closed doors unless someone should point it out and shatter the illusion.
“Your wig makes you look very young. And when you go home they’re all going to be very jealous.”
I love that, but with the overview of family history I’ve now assembled there may be so many stories and tales and details I don’t have, but here is one story – tiny and insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe – which I can now follow from its inception, the day of the wig, and explain away how it all ended with the day of the death of the wig.
As on the same role of film as the family gathering and my Grandparent’s house, the one with the odd-looking woman who I couldn’t recognise who turned out to be Auntie Hilda in a wig, I found the picture of my family’s reaction once she’d returned from a hip and happening New York to a much less fashionable Crumpsall in north Manchester, the land of cobbles and smog, and I now know my Granddad’s response when his sister turned up for a small family gathering in a champagne-coloured wig.
My Granddad plainly didn’t enter into the conspiracy of wig-wearers and pretend it was real.
He obviously didn’t pretend not to notice.
As in the only humorous photo I’ve ever seen of my Grandfather I was surprised to find a picture of him wearing it!
Acceptance and dignity were both absent.
Clearly out the window.
It turns out his isn’t a story about Doris and Hilda. This is the story of the wig.
Now that’s family history!