Thursday, 26 February 2009

Story of a Doorstep

Thursday 26 February 2009

Great-granny Elizabeth

I have a rather tenuous connection to my roots, but continuity of place is vital to me and my sense of self. As a military brat, I lived in dozens of houses, but one building alone represents 'home'. In fact, I only stayed there for a few weeks when I was too young to recall it, but it's become a sacred repository of family memories.

It is a tiny stone cottage, part of the workers' ensemble of buildings on a large country estate in southern Scotland. Before the Great War, my paternal grandfather was head coachman to the Laird of this estate. In exchange for his services, he received his accommodation, new livery each year and a very small wage to bring up his three sons. At some stage in the early 1920's, the two-bedroomed cottage housed my grandpa, granny, their three sons, a middle-aged female relative and great-granny Elizabeth, (who seems to have lived in a set-in bed in the kitchen for what remained of her life). Elizabeth is pictured above, in a clean pinny, her best bonnet and with a bunch of violets in her hand.

The doorstep became the chosen site for what few family photographs there are of this time and the next picture is of my grandpa and granny, again in the early 1920's posing in the doorway. Some effort seems to have been made to smarten up for the occasion - a good cap, a string of pearls at the neck.

A few years later, they are all arranged for a family portrait, sitting on the step. (My dad is the lad on the left at his father's elbow.) This seems to have been a rather more impromptu affair, no time to brush anyone's tousled locks, wash a face or two or find the baby's socks and shoes.

A generation on, and it was my turn to take to the step for a photo-shoot, probably early 1952. The door looks like it needs a coat of paint, but the step still seems to be a favourite sunny spot for family and pets alike. I'm not sure how to explain-away my rather pneumatic appearance. Granny seems to be feeding me titbits (first wiped on her apron, I see) and no doubt a chubby baby was thought of as a good thing in post-war, rationed Britain. Well, that's my theory!

So that is the humble house where my family memories are deposited. Or, I should say, was the house. Last year I took my dad, sister and neice up to Scotland to visit some old haunts. Although we knew from previous visits that the buildings (which hadn't been occupied since my grandpa moved out in about 1960) were beginning to fall into disrepair, we were shocked to see that the cottages had been completely demolished, razed to the ground. All that remained were the carriage house, stables and kennels, the roofs collapsed and mother nature reclaiming her territory.

Dad and sis
Although the tale of the doorstep seems to have a sad ending, in a way I am glad that it no longer exists. It has done its job, the generations who posed there for photos are almost vanished too and although it may seem selfish, I am content that it hasn't survived to become part of someone else's story.


Chauncey said...

Chrissie, I really enjoyed this. I'm sorry the *backdrop* to so many family photos has been demolished but how wonderful that you have these pictures to hold onto.

On a Whimsey said...

What a super post! Funnily enough my husband's family had a similar doorway that was used for the same type of family photographs in Ireland. That house still stands and has been modernised etc which spoils the memories a little. However, we stick by the photographic memories instead which were implanted on our minds for ever.

thewildhare said...

What a wonderful story. It is lovely to see the generations and to imagine their everyday stories, and though the house is gone, the memories remain with your photos and telling. The pictures really are a window into another time and place for me. Thanks for sharing!

rosa said...

What a story!!! Families' memories are for ever in our hearts and help us to not forget who we are.
Love the pics, the dresses, the bunch of violets, the eyes, the white hair, the strong arms, the kids' smiles.....everything.
And I agree you didn't mind the door wasn't there was YOUR door, and it will be!
I adore your felt works!!!! you're great. I can't wait to see the vessels...
I've started felting last month, after a workshop on Jan 18 and.....I can tell you I'm definitely in love with it! Hi from Italy, Rosa

AltheaP said...

How lovely -- it looks like the cottage's history could be short story material.

ZudaGay said...

I loved your story! Old pictures are so wonderful! How lovely to have the same background in each one.

makeyourpresentsfelt said...

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments.

Rosa = your felting is fantastic and I'm not surprised you are in love with it, it's such a wonderful medium!

Highland Fairy said...

I am really touched by your story and your connection to this place..I love old photos and the history of where our ancestors came from...
This story will undoubtedly get passed down the generations....It's a shame that buildings are left to crumble and memories are left beneath the earth...but sometimes some are meant to be this way.... ♥