Auntie Sylvia , my father’s cousin, was the daughter of Jack Best who until the advent of sliced, wrapped loaves in the early sixties, baked the village bread. By then however he had made his money and his family lived in an expensively furnished detached house at the smarter end of the village. His two daughters , Sylvia and Madge, had been to the fee paying grammar school. Auntie Sylvia was sad. She was the plain sister. Madge, her beautiful sister, had married but died giving birth to baby John who was then reared by Auntie Sylvia until he died of Diphtheria aged two. It was then Auntie Sylvia’s lot to mind her aging parents, Min and Jack. I remember them both in wheelchairs either side of the fire. Uncle Jack was grim and judgmental and Min had a ferocious temper. I remember her shaking her fists at Uncle Jack and the general atmosphere of bitter disapproval. Auntie Sylvia told how when she was twenty-five her father had found her powder compact and thrown it onto the back of the fire. Life had passed her by and she was negative and bitter. For years Saturday afternoon was spent visiting Auntie Sylvia with my mother. I spent eons there while Auntie Sylvia and my mother embroidered, gossiping about anyone and everyone. There was a lot of negative criticism …negativity in general and teatime though welcomed as an interval amidst the tedium was fraught, a balancing act with best china, nests of tables and impossible decisions; Auntie Sylvia was not a good cook… choose another piece of cake and it would be reported later that I made a pig of myself and if I refused then she would ask what was wrong with her cooking.
Throughout mam’s life she courted a succession of negative elder women seeking their approval. Dad may have been deaf, unskilled and broke but his family was a class above my mothers. This may explain why mam faithfully clung to Auntie Sylvia when many gave her a wide berth. Auntie Sylvia always gave me expensive but wholly inappropriate presents like a first edition Spode china cup and saucer which then had to be locked away and never used. I still have a collection of these up in the attic. Generally Auntie Sylvia could be counted on to disapprove. When short skirts were in she ‘d sniff and comment, ’That’s a bit short isn’t it?’ and when long, it was ,’That’s a bit long isn’t it.’ She was my godmother and despite everything I was fond of her. She died alone, sitting in her chair for two days before someone found her.