I know very little about my mother’s family and lately I have fallen prey to searching ancestry.com which is, apparently, rampant among the aging Boomer population who are all trying to stoke their ongoing fascination with the past (and indirectly death), by desperately trying to get something, anything, down on paper that will both document and preserve their own life’s relevancy. And lest anyone is about to point out the irony of a self-indulgent blogger snidely calling out other people, I absolutely agree. But I don’t think this is very unusual; no one wants to feel that when they duff off their mortal coil that’s it, do they?
But, let’s leave that for another post.
I decided to limit my search to my great Uncle Wilf (my mother’s uncle).
I had only heard scant details and exactly 2 stories of him throughout my entire childhood and begged to hear them over and over, mainly because of the uncharacteristically animated way my mother spoke about him.
Initially, I tried to engage my family’s help but my brother Spock, who is not a traditional “Boomer” (I hate that term, incidentally) to begin with, has no interest whatsoever in genealogy (“Tell me again why I would care about dead people?”) and has unhelpfully suggested that (Great) Uncle Wilf may well have been a complete arsehole.
Whilst this is undoubtedly one hypothesis, I do find this kind of thinking to be somewhat limited and retreat once more to my Two Stories in solace.
Story #1 – My uncle presided over his own small butcher’s shop in Trafford Park, Manchester. On occasion, my mum would be asked to run an errand to his shop for her own mother with the secret code message: Ask for something to go with a rabbit. When she reached the shop, my mother would gleefully repeat this to Wilf who would then feign shock and outrage: “The cheek! Something to go with a rabbit! Well, never mind then you’ll have to have something I suppose!” etc.etc. all the while rolling up a bulging parcel of chops, sausage and many other “extras” that were hard to come by at the time unless you had a butcher in the family. The general feeling was that he was more than happy to do this but couldn’t or didn’t display emotion (did I mention he was British?) and the whole back and forth became a kind of shtick between him and the kids. My mother and her own mother found it uproariously funny. Whether there was ever a rabbit actually involved (or indeed, rolled deeply away between the strong paper with the chops!) remains unclear.
Story #2 – Whilst under Uncle Wilf’s care at the shop, my mother and her brother were helping to make “treacle dabs” from scratch. This Brit confectionery involves bringing everything to a rolling boil and then like butterscotch or peanut brittle, it cools on a flat tray and may later be broken in neatly-sized shards. This is the stage we join the party at. My mother and brother had the idea that Wilf’s highly polished brass scale from the shop with all its little associated weights (of which Wilf was obsessively particular) would be the perfect tools for breaking up the treacle.
Let’s just say that this enthusiasm was not shared by Uncle Wilf when he returned.
Yet again, though, his bluster was a source of hilarity for everyone involved so I am assuming it was all in great fun.
As I re-count these cherished tales here, I am suddenly conscious of how crazy they sound and how the emphasis in both stories seems to focus on someone totally losing their shit.
I am really hoping here that my brother isn’t right.