The Cottage Smallholder

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Great Aunt Doris and Great Aunt Lillian. Flowers bring back old memories.


Photo: Gerbera Lillian looking peaky

Photo: Gerbera Lillian looking peaky

It must be 40 years since I last saw Aunt Doris and Aunt Lillian. When my mother married my stepfather he came with a great big pack of relations – Doris and Lillian were amongst my favourites.

I first met these elderly aunts at the wedding reception. All I can remember about the event was that we ate Baked Alaska, I was wearing my first new shop bought dress and those Aunts.
Aunt Doris peered at us and exclaimed
“You are so thin – we’ll have to fatten you up!”

From then on they were always referred to as The Thin Aunts.

Both unmarried they lived together. Aunt Doris was tall and slim with thinning hair (always in a net). Aunt Lillian was the quiet one with perfectly curled grey hair and pastel clothes. Her elder sister had had a rackety past – dancing on tables and looping the loop in a biplane over Paris. As a child it was difficult to believe that they had ever been young. But Aunt Doris was still fun, hugely well read and interested in a vast swathe of things.

Being a child I enjoyed the lunches that they treated us to and the trips to The Dartmouth Bookshop (run by Christopher Robin Milne in those days). They were always generous at Christmas. They must have been well off as they always sent ‘main’ presents – which was a joy. But most of all I appreciated the fact that they accepted us as nieces and the whole family was in a good mood when they were around. 

I had almost forgotten about The Thin Aunts until I was researching pinks for the garden and came across Doris which is a highly scented variety that my mother used to grow in our house in Torquay. Back then Doris was a very old fashioned name – so my aunt and this flower were the only two in my life bearing this name.

A few days later I noticed that my new gerbera plant ‘Lillian’ was looking very peaky.  A quick bit of online research pinpointed the answer immediately – she needed to be planted in much sandier soil. Hopefully my precious gerbera will perk up now she had been repotted in much lighter loam.

So flowers led me to remeber The Thin Aunts who went to The Great Bookshop In the Sky years ago.

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  1. freerangegirl

    I love your writing – Your aunts sound amazing. I have my own fabulous great aunt whose still with us. When she was younger she used to run her own Annie Oakley stand with a travelling fair and would bend over backwards and shoot at targets – who said womens liberations started in the 60’s!

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