She was my mother’s sister, one of the five children born to my grandparents. Trained as a teacher via a scholarship she probably agreed with the old adage, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”. She was a competent pianist and also organist at the local Anglican church to which we all belonged. She was also the one who married money. My Uncle Herbert was one of five brothers, none of whom spoke to each other due, it was rumoured, to some dispute over their father’s will.
On Sunday evenings after church those of the family who lived locally gathered around the piano in my aunt’s living room and heartily rendered various popular songs of the time. My Aunt’s favourite was titled “When you come down the vale, lad”, obviously aimed at my uncle for whom she had great love and respect. The youngest cheeky daughter of the family would say, “Are you listening, dad?” to which the reply was usually “Don’t be so daft!”
I had long learned to keep a straight face when this happened, but occasionally could not restrain a cheeky grin. If it registered she would apparently say to my mother that she ought to teach me to have more respect for my elders and betters. I once hear her say to my uncle , with a sideways glance at me, that “Our Bertha’s lad is going to come to a sticky end”.
When it was suggested, I forget by whom, that under her tutelage I should learn to play the piano I was torn between a fear of my aunt Polly and a secret fascination for the instrument. However all went well until I became overzealous and complacent, and she produced a 12 inch ruler.
“You’re not paying attention”, she said. “I don’t write those notes for fun. You are trying to run before you can walk. Whenever you strike a wrong note I shall do this.” She rapped me over the knuckles.
The war saved me. I was never on a ship which had a piano. I tried the violin and the clarinet, but in the end I gave up any ambition I had to be a musician and became a writer instead. Occasionally I saw my Aunt Polly. I was obviously not making much of my life and her attitude towards me seemed not to have changed. She saw me, I suspect, as a disappointment to my mother, as for many years I probably was.
I was surprised then, when in dying she left my uncle’s car to me. He had died the year before. Helping my mother to sort out the debris of my aunt Polly’s life I came across a portrait of me in my first uniform in 1941. Turning it over I saw the familiar writing. “God bless him and keep him safe”, she had written.
“We live and we learn” my grandmother would have said.