Birthday Cakes and Secrets

On the first family trip to England, Mum had us pose in front of Buckingham Palace while she attempted to take a picture of Dad, Sister and me against the backdrop of the Changing of the Guards.  

The guards had changed and gone their way by the time the picture focused to satisfaction. Sister and I  teased her about it for years to come.

Smile please …                        

Everyone was using pocket cameras.  Sis and I were embarrassed by the ghastly contraption Mum still wielded with pride!

We flew on to Singapore where Dad bought us girls a Kodak Instamatic with disposable flash bulbs.  

Colour pictures … yay, finally!

Shudder to think of the environmental impact from all the used  flash bulbs we gleefully dumped in the trash can.

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“Smile please,” for the Yashica, at the Trevi Fountain, Rome.  Me with Dad and Sister (centre).  Have to check if Sis has the Palace picture (without the guards!)
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Dad, Mum, me (in rising order) on moving escalator in Zurich, Switzerland.  Instant focus with the new Instamatic captured moving subjects.  A new era in family photography.

Mum discovered the joys of photography around age 12 when she got a gift of a Brownie camera

She still had it when Sis and I were kids …       

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Kodak Brownie.  A later version of Mum’s camera. (Courtesy Google images)

Mum’s crisp black-and-white photos display an instinct for capturing the ‘moment’ and an unerring eye for placing and composition.

When sister and I were little, Mum acquired the Yashica, also sort of box-camera-ish

Sleeker, less ‘primitive’,  more sophisticated  …

It took ages to focus with Mum staring into the open Yashica ‘box’ in her hands, at an upside down image. 

She’d  murmur, “Smile, smile” through fixed grin and puckered brow, our features remaining in frozen limbo until we heard the click and a cheerful ‘thank you’!

Felt like forever!                                                                   

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Mum’s Yashica (courtesy Google images)
Latest in modern technology! Kodak Instamatic with disposable flash, wrist strap and film

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mum often said she wanted to get an ‘unawares’ shot.

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Preoccupied with underwear. What Sis and I thought we heard Mum say.  We’d go into hysterics! 

Sister and I heard … underwears! 

We hadn’t the foggiest notion what she meant.

 

 

She caught us unawares all right.  The delightful album-memories bear testimony to the fact.

 

 

 

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Puzzled.  “Okay, so what IS it?”  Little sister and me with oldest cousin, Sri. 
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“Did you hear that?”  Sister (right) and me
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Sheer joy, unawares.  Sister (left) and me with Dad.

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Mum’s was the era of stay-at-home mothers. Those who were in the professions were nevertheless the proud masters of the housewifely arts.  They cooked, sewed, hung for hours on the telephone with other women, shared recipes, discussed the current price of important commodities like sugar, rice and eggs, wrote lengthy, polite letters and never forgot birthdays and anniversaries.

At family concerts we kids ‘did’ Mum and aunties talking on the phone …

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Me pretending to be Mum on the phone with one of her sisters 

When Sister and I got married, we each received a special gift from Mum.    An album of photographs – mostly black and white photos and some washed out Kodak and Polariod colour pictures – each one tailored to document our lives from birth to early adulthood.

All meticulously labelled …

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A gallery of our early lives, with love from Mum.

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With Mum’s unexpected passing two years ago, I lost my best friend and discovered a treasure trove of old pictures while cleaning out cupboards and putting things in order for Dad. 

Eyes popped out of my head as a pictorial record of family history unfolded …

Who ARE these folks? (Dad has no idea. Dying to know!)

Entered a new realm.  Memories of bygone days surfaced from boxes, dusty files and disintegrating albums.

Mum’s voice recounting fragments of family legends echoing in the recesses of my mind …

The past came alive in a way that didn’t seem possible.  Moments in time frozen on faded bits of glossy paper,  pictures worth  thousands of words.

Family.  Grandpas, grannies, aunties, uncles, cousins …                                                      

Cousins might not necessarily be immediate ‘first’ cousins.  Sometimes you might not be quite sure how you’re related!
Me (left) and Sister on a play date with Mali (centre), our THIRD cousin.  Her grandpa and ours were first cousins.
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Birthday parties – just the cousins were crowd enough. (Me, a baby in cousin Chris’ arms, far left)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weddings were a huge deal, grand affairs.  Guest lists could run into the hundreds.  Your parents’ friends and business associates and in-laws’ in-laws might be invited. And the neighbours, of course.

No fib. Honest!

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The workers from Mum’s family’s firm at her wedding.  They arrive bearing a gift-wrapped china dinner set  (I own it now and use it on special occasions)
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Dad and Mum’s wedding

Little girls were dressed to the nines in scratchy, organdy dresses often ‘smocked’ by hand,  with stiff  ‘can can’ skirts underneath.  A nightmare to sit down in.  

Detested those cancans …

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Cancans and bows for Aunty Elizabeth’s engagement party.  Sister (left) and me outside Westholme, Kinross Avenue, Mum’s family home.

Engagements were solemn, formal family affairs, with a priest/ minister to officiate.

Pretty much as  binding as the marriage ceremony itself …

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All the cousins, uncles and aunts on Mum’s side at Aunty Elizabeth and Uncle Selva’s engagement.  Toddler Sister seated between the couple.  Cousin Shiro the only one still to be born.

You were as important to the aunties and uncles as their own offspring –

The aunties even cared enough to tell  you off as if you were their own!      

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She does!

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Sister (left) and me with Babby (Mum’s younger sister, Elizabeth), my godmother.  I lived with her family for two years while Dad worked in West Africa.  She sewed some of my clothes and treated me as her own. 
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Uncle Prince, my godfather, recently celebrated his 95th birthday.  (Mum’s sister Ruby’s husband).  He’d always visit, very late in the evening after work at his clinic,for as long as we were laid up in bed with sundry ailments.  He never billed patients who were financially in a bad way.  Treatment was free for clergy of all religions.

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Sister and me with Uncle Peter (Mum’s older brother) who lived with us for some of his bachelor years after Westholme, the old family home, was sold.  Sis and I hung around in his room whenever we got into trouble, until the situation cooled, knowing he would intervene if Mum hunted us down!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chances are your best friend was a cousin, the one closest in age to you  –

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Me (lying on mat) and cousin Dileeni.  Besties since we were babes.
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Gotta have a sun hat!  Rarely apart.  Dileen (left) and me.

 

 

Such secrets you’d share!

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And she whispers in mine …
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I whisper in her ear ..You  both could end up being flower girls together at several family weddings –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You both could be flower girls together, several times over –

Two for the price of one!

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Little flower girls.  Dileeni (to bride’s right) and me at Babby and Uncle Selva’s wedding.
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Flowers girls again!  Me (left) and cousin Dileeni at Aunty Betty’s (Mum’s cousin’s) wedding
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… and again!  Dileeni (left) and me, experienced flower girls at our oldest cousin Sri’s wedding.

No need to wonder why Getting Married and Having A Baby used to be our favourite dress up games!

We created our own entertainment, inspired by the Enid Blyton books we devoured. An active imagination and a bunch of henchmen was all a handful of cousins required. 

We all loved to read.

No one called you a nerd or geek.  It’s what kids did …

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This little girl reminded me of myself as a kid. 
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Puppy posing with some favourites from my childhood
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Sister and me with my doll, Cynthia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endless doll’s tea parties – 

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Dileeni (right) and me
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Sis and me With Baby Cousin Shiro and my dolls Cynthia, Diana and Minerva (Mum named them, probably)

 

 

Never seemed to outgrow the toys and board games.  Played with them for years.

Those were the days …

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Me with cousins’ toys.  We all shared.

Don’t recall ever being bored as a child.

Two cousins, Sister and I once crawled into our pretend kitchen, a curtained alcove under a desk space, to melt squares of chocolate over a burning candle.

Melted  chocolate is delicious spread over Marie biscuits …

We could have set the house on fire.

When best friend/ cousin set up a lab at home, you  followed suit. 

My lab sat on a rickety table in a corner of the kitchen …

Best friend/ cousin obtained test tubes from her dad’s clinic.  Litmus paper too.  And needle-less syringes.  She always shared.

We performed acid/base watch-the-colour-change litmus experiments with vinegar and lime juice …

There were those school-holiday cousin sleepovers, Monopoly games that went on for days, birthday parties and breathtaking birthday cakes –

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Sister and Me with my 7th birthday Humpty Dumpty cake made by Mum.  She handcrafted Humpty Dumpty out of parchment icing and painted him in with food colouring.

Rocking horses and fluffy pets –

Piano lessons and picnics, seaside frolics, Sunday School.  And cousins, cousins, cousins –

A kinder, gentler time, a different world.  No TV.  

Innocent and enchanted …

Though a late bloomer, I think I’ve inherited Mum’s love of photography and her desire to record the precious, never-to-be-replicated moments. 

And like Mum, I’m in less than a handful of photographs in my immense digital library!

So thankful for this gift of photo-memories from the past. 

Much to remember, much to write about.   That’s what next times are for.

So until next time,

sincerely

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Cousin Dileeni (left) and me.  Still close friends though we live at opposite ends of the world.

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