It is a story handed down by the generations in my Mother's family of Sunday summer evenings in days gone by. How my Grand-Aunts Kate and Mary, who took over the running of the original family household after their Mother died reared the other eight siblings who came after them; of how they used to have tea in the front garden on Sunday evenings in the summer. The best china, fine damask table cloth was brought out, and delicious cakes and treats were served. All prescided over by Kate and her nearest sibling Mary. One of their younger siblings - the next eldest to my Grandfather - is alleged to have asked why the table cloth had to be changed when a smudge was found on it. "There's no one here but us" he pointed out, and the reply came sternly from Grand-aunt Kate "Precisely, because we ARE here ourselves".
It was the standard that was set for the generations to come. Those who descended from the seven of twelve children who were my Great-Grandmother's children. Two died of diphtheria, and neither Kate nor Mary ever married, one emigrated to New Zealand, and that was the last that was heard from him. I am the fourth generation to live here, my daughters making up the fifth, but the descendents are now down into the sixth and seventh generations in some branches of the family in one branch the eighth is invoiced.
In nearly every generation there are those of us for whom this standard resonates; there is a tie to those formidable women who kept things going when their Mother passed on leaving twelve children, my Grandfather being the youngest at the age of 13. For others it has passed them by, this link; there are a goodly few who don't know the family history, and couldn't care less about it.
For my own part I have always been interested in family history, but have always had a leaning towards my Father's side of the family. A bit to my Mother's disappointment in some ways, but as I grew older and my own girls were reared and independent, the fascination with the maternal side of the family grew just as strong, if not stronger. Since she died, I have come to realise just how strong that link is within me, how certain traits have come out in me that resonate with things she told me about her family history.
For the past year we have been tidying the garden; clearing, removing, restoring, replanting - OH and I. Busy days happily spent pottering about and clearing a huge overgrown part of the garden, lost to furze, bramble and weeds. We decided on the layout, kept part of the wilderness for those animals that needed feed and shelter from these regions, and while we are never going to acquire a carpet soft smooth tennis style lawn we will have something that resembles it. This has opened up a whole new world for the local birdlife, not to mention the foxes. Slugs and leatherjackets, worms and - well you name it - hitherto safely hidden deep within the thickets are having a disastrous time of it as Magpie and Thrush, Robin and Dunnock, Wren and Siskin take their toll on the life of the local invertebrates. We have a wolfpack of Robins who have quartered the would-be lawn, and woe betide the worm that wiggles! Biggles has nothing on it for dive bombing.
OH had cleared a particular part of this future lawn, and I took a ramble down to it on Wednesday. My eye was caught by lumps of coal, a badly twisted buckle, damaged by previous gorse fires, and a piece of red glass and the crest from a Valor parafin stove. Away with me to get a light rake and I set to work scraping out what I figured must be the family dump, in use from sometime in the mid-19th century and up until the mid Twenties.
An hour of industrious digging brought forth half a Willow Pattern cup, enough pieces of Willow Pattern plate to nearly restore it. A 1920's dessert dish [glass] that I can accurately date because I broke it's twin when I was five and never lived it down for the next half century. It was part of a set which had belonged to my Grandmother. I had committed a major criminal offence which was referred to everytime my two girls dropped anything. "Do you remember when you dropped, AND BROKE...". How could I forget.
Various pieces of fine bone and other china were turned over, a castor from some long forgotten chair, more willow pattern, a vial, smashed at the end but still basically intact, its original use was for the collection of blood samples from the cattle, a cork stopper would have been put in at the top end and it would have been sent off to some laboratory somewhere to ascertain that the dairy's 36 cattle were in good health. There are four medicine bottles, an old leather shoe [mans] which has survived in surprisingly good nick, and I can date this to before the 1930's because it appears in a picture of my Grandfather and he died in the early part of the 30's. There are tins of boot polish, one of brilliantine [which seems to have done a runner out of the shed where I stocked my booty].
I had pulled a muscle in my back in May and after weeks of agony was just restored to good form, believe me when I say that Wednesday undid all that, and it will be a while before I can resume my excavations. YD has suggested that I wash up the broken bits of china, put them on a wooden tray and call them my "Samian Ware" - just as Lucia did in one of E. F Benson's novels. Mmmmm, don't think the ancient Romans went in much for Willow and Floral patterns, do you?
Apart from back trouble, and OH telling me to dump all that old rubbish [not a chance], one thing has come to me. In digging out all these "treasures" I have, in some unexplicable way, found myself and my ties to this house, and this village. As soon as the weather improves it's back to the tea on the lawn on Sunday evenings with my own Willow and Floral pattern tea sets. Somethings never change, somethings should never change.