My cousin Paul died of C-19 a month ago. His mother, Ruby Valerie Jane, my father’s older sister, was a favourite of mine. She was intelligent, rebellious, accomplished, a successful businesswoman and more than a little bit mysterious. Later in life, she painted, researched her mother’s family tree and was, apparently, a champion Scrabble player.
In her youth she was beautiful, an exotic-looking flower blooming in West Wales. There are conflicting family stories about her private life. I wrote this a few years ago about her and found it again recently. Some of it may be true. Or very nearly.
Guests at a wedding on a chilly March day, he stands behind her, leaning ever so slightly over her, head and shoulders and half a chest taller – a long, dark, solemn man with a lean-jawed face gazing at the photographer in the distance. No smile on his face but a hand, broad and bony, is resting on her shoulder, the spread of his fingers claiming all and more of the space between the edge of the velvet collar and the seam at the top of her sleeve. Mine, he says, and aren’t I the lucky one?
The coat is fitted neatly to an obviously neat waist, fastened by a single oversized button. Dark shoes with rounded toes, their platform heels just visible. Gloved hands clutching the handle of a small bag: a hat set at a jaunty angle, perched on formal and elaborate curls. And her eyes are looking at nothing. Even from the distance of over half a century, they’re shiny, dark and unfathomable.
I know now that she married him soon after, that they emigrated to Australia with her three almond-eyed children. Back home, he, her second husband, was seldom mentioned. She moved to Auckland, then back to Western Australia, was mentioned – the grown-ups whispered – in some scandal or other, and moved on again, this time shedding each one of my cousins in a different establishment – boarding school, art college, university – in different countries across the southern hemisphere.
When she returned, briefly, to the country of her birth, she had miraculously acquired money and respectability, along with an ampler girth and a lavender-coloured chignon. This was when I came to know and love her. Aunt Jane’s conversation oozed humour, a certain worldly, pragmatic wisdom, and common-sense. She was a small, powerful woman who was not to be trifled with!