Auntie Olive anecdotes
Here’s another series of anecdotes, after Grandma and Monsieur Père. It’s a real pleasure to talk about Auntie Olive, because relations with her, for me at least, have always been great, perhaps because she wasn’t in a position of authority regarding us. I don’t dream of Grandma anymore, I think, but of the two great-Aunties, yes. In those dreams, I’m crossing over from n°9, and arriving in the kitchen at n°7, where I’m only half surprised to see them both alive, even if a little diminished, and they’re busy with some needlework or baking, and faintly they answer my questions. I understand they’re rather weak and shouldn’t disturbed too long…
Auntie Olive was a great one for games and books. On the first score, she’s the one who introduced us to such standards as Snakes and Ladders, Spite and Malice, and Roulette, but the wonderful thing is that she was usually ready for anything! She had lots of resources: music, drawing books, reading books (there were some quaint French ones, learner’s books, with records! which perhaps served for long ago students of hers – she wasn’t bad at French), and she was ever so nice with us, not minding it a bit if she lost. She served as a kind of friendly duplicate to Grandma: you could go over to n°7, and find the same welcome, the same interest, the same quiet loving and discreet attention, the same (if not better) conversation. There was also fantastic food at n°7 (Auntie Olive’s larder, so deep and full!!)
She was certainly the one who encouraged us most to read in English, and went out of her way to find the books we wanted or suggest some new ones. Ah, this was where the former headmistress was at her best! She used to take us to the Library in Broomfield Lane (and of this place too, I still dream!), where I would always, rather ridiculously, check the French books department… but anyway, I had all the English books I needed thanks to her: the Enid Blyton ones in particular. There was the Secret Seven series, the Famous four, the Adventure series (the Sea of Adventure, the Valley of Adventure…) And I also swallowed up the Adventurous Four. Auntie Olive was active in providing us with the books of the series we hadn’t yet read, either by ordering them or being on the lookout for them when they were difficult to find. The Famous Five were a particular thrill for me. Arriving in Palmers Green for the holidays often meant the unadulterated pleasure of yet a few unread volumes from a beloved series! I would hope, or half-know, that two or more new books lay waiting for me, freshly out of the shops, and I spent days on mummy’s bed, plunged in the fictitious world that Enid Blyton had invented, a total dupe of her clever art. But I have no regrets. Enid Blyton was loved. I ask for no excuse!
With Tini we have been trying unsuccessfully to locate a book which we both fondly remember Auntie Olive reading to us, called the Story of the Little Round Man, but it isn’t the one you’re liable to find if you google the name (there’s another story with the same title). This funny round man lived in a ball-shaped house that could roll around very fast. In the story he saves some children wandering in the woods who find some beautiful shoes which, it seems, someone has left there for them to try. Tempted, they do try them on, but the shoes immediately force them to follow them all the way to a cave where a bad witch lives. They are her prisoners! The Little round man has to find a way to be directed to the witch’s lair. He puts on only one of the magic shoes, and, asking his rolling house to follow him, controls the shoe enough to discover where the witch lives, and can plan the escape of the children. The house is left outside the entrance and is spotted by the witch. Intrigued by the house, she steps inside, but the Little round Man jumps out from hiding, bangs the door shut, and orders the house to move as fast as possible with the witch inside (she’s all bones and angles), until she relents and accepts to save the children. We loved this story, and I don’t know how many times Auntie Olive told it to us. If anyone knows where this book is, that is, if it still exists somewhere…
(later addition: here's the book's whole story! - it's Roundy, not round!)
I have decided to tell a rather embarrassing anecdote, because anyway now time has gone by, and really it was innocent: I once actually prodded Auntie Olive’s chest, and asked her “What’s that?” Can you imagine? I remember exactly the spot where we stood, at the junction of the two gardens. With a slightly demure tone, she answered “It’s my bosom”, and I was to remember that word so generously proffered. Until this day, I swear I had never felt attracted in any way, and I don’t quite understand what had made me do this, but happen it did.
One habit of the Aunties was, when we ate together at n°9 (often on Sundays) to get up before dinner was over, and start the washing up in the scullery, and while I didn’t realize then why it was they didn’t stay with us until the end of the dinner, it became a sort of joke: whoever did the same in our family in Bonnebosq later on, was likened to them. Perhaps they felt it was their way to show their gratitude for the invitation? Or a do-gooder’s attitude of people who anticipated the duty which everyone would feel of giving a hand, and wanted to be there first? Also they never ate much pudding, so this might be another reason: they thought their time was best used in a helpful way.
Once in Bonnebosq when Auntie Olive was staying with us, we went for a walk together in the countryside, and I made a mistake in the choice of the route back to the village: instead of the shorter, normal one, I chose the much, much longer one, and we did a walk three or four times what I had planned for her. When I realized my mistake, it was perhaps not too late to go back, but I was too proud to admit it, and we walked all the long way. I never knew whether she knew, whether she too had realized, because she didn’t tell me. An old lady of 70 keeping quiet about her 10 year old grandson’s blunder, which meant reaching much later and tired: for me today this is a sign of her discretion and wonderful tact. I think she wanted to trust me, to appear to be guided by me. Amazing. Will I be like that with my grand-nephews and nieces?
There is a little gesture which I do every day and that comes from her. She taught me to wash my hands by placing the four fingers of one hand in the hold of the four fingers of the other hands, and rub nails and fingertips one against the others in a sort a twisting gesture. Before she showed me this gesture, I remember distinctly that my handwashing was palm against palm only. You might think that this is insignificant, or worse, a puritan-inspired teaching aimed at keeping children’s nails clean. I see it as a handshake with her.
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