Saturday, November 18, 2006

Remembering Auntie Louie

There probably aren't many people left who'll remember Auntie Louie - Louisa Coultman; my brothers and aged Aunt Isobel are the only ones that come to mind. However as a result of a little late night digging on I've unearthed a rich seam of Coultmans and subsequently a correspondent with whom I share common great great grandparents. So out there somewhere there may be someone who can bring this plump little figure to life again for me.

Of course, that cannot literally happen. She hopped off this mortal coil in 1965 leaving my mother a sweet little oak side table which was handy to put the telephone on. I wonder what happened to the rest of the estate?

Probably the lives of one's parents are always something of a mystery - (unless you're Royal Family in which case there's an embarassment of information) - and as children we are so egocentric we never think much about the lives of others until it's too late.

So Auntie Louie was a figure from my mother's mysterious past who would visit us on our regular holidays in Yorkshire. She would arrive in Cropton, alighting from the small bus which plied for trade in the villages between Pickering and Rosedale and which carried farmers' wives to market and home again. She and our mother would share names and places and reminiscences, their conversation over cups of tea slipping into the Yorkshire twang my mother took elocution lessons to lose. Occasionally our aunt Isobel would appear too and they would for a short while be Libby, 'Belle and Louie - like in the old days. We were excluded from this tittle-tattle - as was our father - but it didn't matter. We children wanted to be off and out during those endless summer days. And out we went, romping and bowling along through the lanes, woods and fields.......but that is a story for another time.

Which is why I can't remember what they talked about and only recall a stocky little woman, her long thin grey hair plaited and wound around her head - not disimilar to Gertrude Jekyll in her later years. Always neatly dressed in plain dark clothes she carried a capacious handbag from which a sensible boiled sweet might be produced for a sensible child. I was 'Topsywopsy'. Robert was 'Robbity-bob-bity' and Anthony was 'Antypanty'. Cringecringecringe....... I guess that was about as a) affectionate and b) frivolous as she got. She did seem old too, but in reality was probably only in her 60's. She also owned a quarry on the road from Swainsea Lane to Cawthorne - that interested me then and interests me more now. You don't expect old ladies to own holes in the ground.

Because I was the girl, and in theory better behaved than my two brothers, I was often taken to Auntie Louie's house for tea. Her house on Swainsea Lane on the outskirts of Pickering was big, old, quiet and cold. Quite unlike our own. Clocks ticked away the hours loudly; otherwise time seemed to have stood still. In the kitchen - white tiled - a gleaming gas cooker stood proudly in state where a range might once have stood. An airer suspended from the ceiling was hung with laundry. Big baggy drawers - we didn't look at those.

Tea was always ham salad and bread and butter. A good Yorkshire tea. Perhaps a piece of cake or some bread and butter with jam to follow. And cups of tea, always cups of tea. And chatter, chatter. Would they never stop? I'd swing my heels ('Stop fidgetting'), listen to the clock and look at the big painting of cattle frozen in the act of drinking from a moorland pool. Perhaps I'd take a peak in the drawer in the hall - there were always coins in there, for the milkman perhaps. My father once said - with amazement - that they were sovereigns. I never got a chance to go back and look. Things moved on. I grew up, Louie died and that chapter closed.

And that's about it- this elderly woman was the little girl born at Keld Head in 1893, the youngest of the 12 children of John and Hannah Coultman. I wish I knew more. Perhaps I will.
And here, for what it's worth are two pictures of Keld Head.

Yawn, other people's family history is soooooo BORING...

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