Moreover, my ancestors' souls are sustained by the atmosphere of the house, since I answer for them the questions that their lives once left behind. I carve out rough answers as best I can. I have even drawn them on the walls. It is as if a silent, greater family, stretching down the centuries, were peopling the house.

Carl Jung (1875 - 1961)

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Sentimental Sunday - My grandma's autograph album

I have my grandmother’s autograph book which was given to her on her 20th birthday by a girlfriend, Venus Veronica Von Sierakowski. I don’t know too much about this lady’s life. She lived nearby to my grandmother, and may have gone to school with her although she was a little younger. Her father ran a decorative wire-work business in Columbo St, Christchurch New Zealand for many years. Venus, later calling herself ‘Vena’ appears to have lived at home with her parents, and never married.
My grandmother, Mabel Clarkson nee Joyce (always known as ‘Joy’) was born in 1897 although she fiddled the date a little. Until I sent for her birth certificate, our family always believed she was nearly three years younger. Her autograph album has suffered a bit: some water damage on the front cover and my cheeky father (I think he must have been about 4 or 5 years old at the time) practiced writing in it himself and cut out some of the pages towards the back for some project or other. I notice that there was a preference for the pink pages for those who wrote verses…

‘L.  Reed’ wrote a verse or quote I can’t place as yet:

Keep sweet, dear girl, the world’s great need

Are those who will this maxim heed;

Sweetness is more than greatness far,

Can’t be a sun? Then be a star

Someone Bradshaw wrote ‘Live like the rose’ which I can’t find anywhere either
A quite indecipherable friend wrote a quote from James Witcomb Riley with some underlining on the ‘rejoice’ which is an illusion to my grandmothers surname and Evaleen Munro misquotes Ralph Waldo Emerson with “What I must do, in all that concerns me..”
A careful draughtsman “Jas. C. Young’ quotes Stephen Grellet (although the authorship of this seems much disputed). This man could be a number of ‘James C. Youngs’ – he remains a mystery.

I didn’t have much luck finding out about her other friends either: Trixie Gidley and Annie Bradshaw both wrote in it. Grandma was a great one for socialising with her friends – always going to picnics and teas. Her recipe books are full of hand-written notes, cuttings from newspapers and torn pieces from shopping lists with instructions for dainty sandwiches, hors d’oeuvres and little cakes for entertaining. She liked everything ‘just so’. I’ll be writing more about her and her parents in time on this Blog. Her background was not as genteel as she would have liked to portray…. There is no doubt that her childhood was disrupted and painful, and that the family hushed up a big scandal relating to her own mother, Elizabeth Charlotte Scott, although it leaked out in the papers - into the Truth, no less (not a respectable paper!). 
Gordon H S Clarkson wrote on the 11.7.20 “smile, and when you smile…” I think at this time he was my grandmother’s fiancé, or soon to be. Mabel Joyce and Gordon Hua Samuel Clarkson apparently had a long engagement and did not marry until 1925. There is family information that they quarreled frequently and although they were together for the rest of their lives, my grandmother had a quick temper – possibly a family trait of the Joyce’s:  when she was riled, dishes would fly in the kitchen, according to my late father. Maybe this verse in her autograph album was a hint?

At Christmas 1920 Gordon gave her a custom-bound book of soprano songs composed by Amy Woodforde-Finden, Herbert Oliver and Daisy McGeogh. They could have been her favourites – my grandmother sang at amateur concerts (it was a popular social pastime of the day) and even when she was about 80 years old I remember her whistling and trilling like a bird when she was in the  bath, in perfect tune. This leather-bound volume falls open to a song called ‘Till I wake’ one of the ‘Four Indian Love Lyrics’ by Amy Woodforde-Finden . The musical pieces of this composer are described as:
“… noted for their sentimentality, their romantic fluidity and how they blend a particularly British, middle class sensibility with an Asian pastiche” Woodforde Family

I was delighted to find this website which offers lovely versions of the songs here:Indian Love Lyrics

The words were by Adela Florence Nicolson née Cory aka Laurence Hope and Violet Nicolson who appears to have been an equally romantic, passionate and possibly eccentric poet who wrote her formal verse “steeped in the Indian landscape and Sufi symbolism, [and] often assumes the voices of Indian dancers and slaves to engage themes of passionate love and loss.” 
In Christchurch 1917 Mary Pickford was playing in ‘Less than the Dust’ featuring the song of that name, also by the same composer and lyricist. From the advertisements, it appears to have been hugely popular and its odds on that Mabel went to see it at the Empire Theatre – with a box of chocolates, of course!