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Christmas and My Great Aunt May

She was a bit of a goer!


May as a bride 1923

May as a bride 1923

When I think of Christmas, I always think of my Great Aunt May – she was involved in everything we did.  She was the matriarch of our family and could always tell you things about your parents that you never knew or even dreamed of.  She was also a bit of a ‘goer’ and had lived a very colourful life.  She loved to have a bet on a horse and always smoked DuMaurier cigarettes that came in an elegant red box.

Every year I bought her French Fern bath salts from a little chemist on Wallsend High Street – I’m not sure if she liked them but that’s what she got and whenever I smell that smell I think of her.  She was the housekeeper for a house that had been split into flats in Jesmond and she lived in the basement flat, which was amazing, with a tin bath stored under a bench in the kitchen.  Everyone who lived there was terribly genteel and used to give her presents, or invite her for sherry at Christmas.

Because she lived on her own, with not too much money, Mum and Dad always made a hamper for her at Christmas.  This was a box filled with the smallest tins or packets of goods, suitable for one person and then wrapped beautifully in paper and ribbons.  It was one of the nicest presents to put together, because everyone would trawl the shops looking for small or unusual things to go in the box.

When I was a bit older my dad had a car, so on Christmas morning our job was to collect Great Aunt May, drop off her presents and take her to Grandad’s house for Christmas Dinner.  Of course, you had to have a sherry at her house before you left and then we had to make sure that we packed the ham, sausage rolls and trifle into the car very carefully.  I had nightmares about the trifle every year, in case it tipped over.  (This had once happened to a chocolate mousse I’d made in cookery class, leaving me to travel home with it covering the front of my summer dress).

Great Aunt May came into her own after tea, when the cards came out.  She was a master of every game and had a photographic memory, so often won the kitty.  However, while we played, the conversation would flow and she had the most infectious laugh.  I can see her now, playing cards, smoking her DuMaurier cigarettes, and laughing outrageously as the play progressed.  Needless to say, she lived to a ripe old age and was much mourned when she died.

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