My Great Aunty Phyllis was born in 1918 and has just died at age ninety.
She worked like a Trojan, cooked like an angel, and protected like a lioness.
As my Da’s Aunty she was also Aunt to the Wilson mob, that rabble of eight unshod kids my Da belongs to.
She always treated them: with shoes, knitted socks and scarves, and their favourite cake. Each kid would get a day with her for lunch and a treat.
All her family remember her knitting and baking: roasts, flummeries, chocolate ripple cakes, trifles and plum-puddings.
She worked as a public servant in the defence department and lived her life with great Aunty Sissy, her sister and companion. They bullied each other, minded each other’s manners, kept each other in line and between them were fabulous aunts to (from the Wilson mob) 8 siblings, Great Aunts to 23 cousins, and now Great Great aunts to around thirty (with two on the way between cousin Kerry and me).
I recall Aunty Phil as a series of tastes, smells and textures:
Her own scent of some soft floral talc.
Choc-ripple cake all creamy and crumbly, the light sour-sweetness of pale yellow pineapple flummery, a house that smelt of lemon beeswax, lavender and tea tree, those old cleaning smells of a generation of women who took care that things would last.
The heady perfume of gardenias for the tree in the yard was always in flower.
The crackled yellowing and musty pages of the Mills and Boon collection dating back to the fifties that lined the walls of one shady bedroom. Aunty Phil lent me, aged twelve, my first Mills and Boon romance. I had forgotten that and now know how I can reconcile those books with a Literature degree. It is in the comfort of the books skins more than their narrative, the comfort of the extended family that made a child’s world sensible and safe.
She is survived by Aunty Sissy and lots of family who between them will keep her recipes alive. In her honour I’m making flummery this weekend for my friends’ visiting children. If they have never had it before I suspect they will want it again after a taste!