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U3A Writing: Baby

Lesley Baxter tells of an "aunt'' who lived a solitary life in a one-room home in less-affluent times.

I grew up in a small nuclear family. I had no Granddads and only one Grandma. I had no direct Aunts and Uncles, so consequently, no first cousins.

The wider family did not have a big impact on my childhood. There were no large gatherings at Christmas; no Uncle who dressed up as Father Christmas and smelt of beer. My parent's friends were always addressed as Aunt and Uncle, even though they were no relation.

So the nearest I got to a relative to call Aunt was my mother's cousin. As they had both been brought up as an only child in a single parent family (my maternal grandfather was killed in the First World War) they were quite close, being the nearest my mother had to a sister.

My Aunt Eva never married and led a quiet life in the caring professions. She visited us on a regular basis and we in turn called at her house. I have no recollection of eating a meal there, but this does not mean that I didn't.

Dad parked the car on Long Lane at Dalton, and we walked down a long ginnel, across a wide back lane, unmade and nearly always wet, then down another passage at the side of a row of houses. Eva's home was a one room under-dwelling in the basement of one of these houses. The outside privy that you passed at the end of the row was shared by five households.

The house had one door and one window.

As you stepped onto the stone flagged floor the foot of the double iron bedstead was straight in front of you. That was where you hung your coat. As I recall Eva shared this bed with her mother until she died. I do not remember her at all.

On the left hand wall was the black leaded stove with fireback boiler and oven. To the side a stone sink with solitary cold tap. A peg rug in front of the fire gave some semblance of comfort but there was no three piece suite, only two wooden Windsor type chairs with cushions. Sitting on one of these chairs at the scrubbed wooden table, even I as a small child could practically touch the bed.
I do not recall a radio, but I think there must have been one.

It was a very compact and sparse home.

Two items stood out. Firstly the treadle sewing machine placed under the window to get maximum light. My Aunt sewed all her life. Then, to my eyes, the only item of beauty in the entire room.

On top of the large mahogany chest of drawers behind the door was a china Baby, about one foot long and laid on its stomach with one hand raised. This was only to be looked at. Not for my sister and I to play with. The chest was tall and I never got to touch her until I could take her down myself.

When my Aunt retired she moved to an upstairs council flat with ifs own kitchen and bathroom. Baby still lived on the chest of drawers, but as this was now kept in the bedroom I did not see her again for many years.

When she was approaching 90, Auntie Eva invited my sister and I to visit her. There she gave us both a keepsake. As she knew I had always had a soft spot for her, I got Baby.

We brought her home with great care. She now lives on a shelf in my lounge and I look at her every day.

After Eva died last year, my sister Kay and I walked back through the ginnel and down the passage to take one last look at her home for old times sake. It was obvious from peering through the window that the room now belonged to the house above and they were in the process of converting it into a very swish modern basement kitchen.

How times change. Now it is a kitchen. It used to be a whole house where my Aunt Eva lived out the largest part of her rather solitary life.

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