An obscure object of affection

A gift to my father, aged 12, from his mother.

A gift to my father, aged 12, from his mother. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

I’m always impressed and slightly amazed when friends and fellow family historians reveal a collection of treasured heirlooms, photographs and other memorabilia. How do families keep such treasures from being lost, thrown out or sold? How do they find their way into the hands of those who will preserve and treasure them?

I thinking about this because I’m now the custodian of a (very small) collection of photographs and objects given to me by my mother. At the moment, it’s all stored in an archive box, but I know I’ll need to do more not only to preserve these things now, but to keep them from being tossed out after I’m gone. The former task is easy.Β  The latter — persuading my offspring to preserve his heritage no matter how trivial it appears, because one day he will come to appreciate his connection to the past — well, that’s the challenge isn’t it. The boy-child shows absolutely no interest in the past. His father has only recently started to wonder about his own family, and yet, I feel as though I’ve always been connected to my ancestors.Β  Perhaps it helps that my mother is a great story-teller, and that I actually had living great-grandparents as a flesh-and-blood presence in my life.

It probably helps too that I’m a bit of a Borrower. Years ago — when I was a child in fact — I persuaded my father to give me his childhood autograph book. I have no idea why I wanted it, but suspect it has something to do with not wanting my brother to have it. It’s somehow survived my globe-trotting and years of living in rented flats. Although I haven’t consciously treasured it, I have always kept it safe — again, I don’t really know why, but I’m so glad that I did.

My dad was given the book by his mother when he was fourteen. It wasn’t a birthday present — his birthday is in July and the book’s inscription is dated Nov 29th 1946.

Nov 29th 1946. To Ronnie from his loving mum. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

Nov 29th 1946. To Ronnie from his loving mum. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

My grandmother died just three and a half years after she gave this gift. Although my father doesn’t talk much of his past, I know her death was a sorrow he’s never stopped feeling. He named me after his mother and I like to think that my family history project is, in some small way, honoring her memory.

William, Susan and Elizabeth Elder. Photo taken in Kirkcaldy, Fife, probably around 1914-15

William, Susan (my grandmother) and Elizabeth Elder. Photo taken in Kirkcaldy, Fife, probably around 1914-15

Most of the autographs in the book are footballers – mainly players for Dad’s local Club Raith Rovers, plus a few from Rangers F.C. and Celtic.

"Best wishes Ronnie, Sincerely Yours, Uncle ???" A page in my father's autograph book. Photo: Su Leslie 2014

“Best wishes Ronnie, Sincerely Yours, Uncle ???”
A page in my father’s autograph book. Photo: Su Leslie 2014

This page was a mystery to me; I’d never heard of the Gaumont British Junior Club. But is seems that Gaumont was a cinema chain of which the Rialto was part. I guess the Junior Club was probably a Saturday movie-fest for kids. The interesting thing about the page is that the inscription is:

Best wishes Ronnie,

Sincerely Yours

Uncle ??

I’m really curious about this entry, and will have to ask my dad which uncle it was, and about his connection to the cinema.

So my dad’s little book is not only a link through him to my grandmother — giving me the only example I have of her hand-writing, but also a clue to the story of a great-uncle I may not know about.

This post was written in response to the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge.

Here are some other bloggers’ posts that I have enjoyed:

41 thoughts on “An obscure object of affection

  1. I have my mother’s autograph book and my own. They are treasures. I have become a de facto keeper of family memorabilia,too, and, like you, don’t really know what will happen to it eventually. I am thinking, at the moment, about archival possibilities.

    • It’s a tough one, isn’t it? When my grandfather died, one of his daughters in law (not my mother) emptied out his house and threw EVERYTHING she didn’t like in the bin. Roughly translated that means that whatever didn’t look contemporary and useful to a (frankly airhead) young woman in 1964 ended up at the tip, including all of my grandmother’s heirloom silverware, my grandfather’s war memorabilia and heaven knows what else. My parents still talk about it!

  2. A lovely story Su as always. My dad was a mad Rangers fan but we were not allowed to talk about Celtic!

    I’m still reading and enjoying your blog. My husband and I are travelling in our caravan for 4 months and I am doing a travel blog. I’ve had to put my family tree on hold as I’m trying to do John’s since we are visiting some places where his ancestors were from. It is a private blog because of all the skeletons in the cupboard!

    Hope you get your questions answered about the autograph book. Great how some things throw up a whole lot more questions that keep the ball rolling! I have nothing from my family unfortunately so I envy you.

    Good luck.

    • Thank you Lynne. Lovely to hear from you. I hope you are enjoying the nomadic life — I’m envious! I was quite surprised to find Celtic autographs actually; my family were staunch Protestants, although I think it’s more my mum’s side. I also hope Dad can remember the entry in his book — he’s a bit forgetful these days. I hope all is well with you and look forward to more “news” when you start writing about your family again. πŸ™‚ All the best, Su.

  3. I have a book of recollections of my great great grandparents when they first came to New Zealand, along with their children. It is a fascinating insight into life in New Zealand in the late 19th and early 20th century. Plus I have a family tree which sadly is out of date from the 1970’s. It brings alive what the pioneers life was like back then, pertaining to my family. I feel more connected to them and to where I have come from. πŸ˜€

    • What an amazing thing to have. There is nothing like reading our ancestors’ own words to help us understand and empathize. I have some letters my mum gave me from the early days after they emigrated to NZ and a couple she wrote to her sister after my older brother died. They are so poignant; I weep just thinking about them.

  4. Thank you for linking my post to yours! I really enjoyed what you shared about old things. I live in Korea and haven’t been able to hold on to many old items from my family, but I do have one treasure waiting for me at my mother’s house: an old late 19th century bible. It is absolutely gorgeous and extravagant. The imagery is colourful and raw. Thank you for reminding me of this. πŸ™‚

    • You are welcome. Thank you for your comments; your family bible sounds wonderful – a treasure to be kept and enjoyed down many generations.

    • Thank you. I’m glad you have managed to preserve treasures from your family past; it’s such a wonderful thing to do. And I agree, the handwriting is very similar. I guess that everyone was “taught” the same way! Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment; much appreciated.

    • You’re probably right; fountain pen with blue or black ink. I remember being given a Parker fountain pen when I learned to do “joined-up” writing at primary school. Complete nightmare – I’m left-handed and the ink just smeared all over me and my exercise books. In fact, learning to write was a nightmare for me, but at least I was allowed to persevere with my left hand. My grandmother and a great aunt were both hit over the knuckles and made to use their right hands. And come to think of it; that probably showed in my Gran’s writing right through her life.

  5. A treasure it is. Lovely. When my much loved grandmother died and her children (two of them) threw away almost everything I cried for days. I regret I wasn’t there then, but thought I shouldn’t as I was “just” a grandchild. I wish I had understood what would happen. The shock was total.

    • Oh, that’s terrible! Maybe I’m just a hoarder, but I just can’t imagine how anyone could make an arbitrary decision to throw away someone else’s “life” – and in that situation, without consulting the wider family. 😦 I really feel for you. Did you manage to keep anything of your grandmother’s?

      • Fortunately I was once promised by my grandmother to have her chest of drawers and her Welsh dresser (the closest I can get in translation…) which I had always admired as a child. Now I treasure them highest of all furniture in my home. But the little things – the everyday things that she used to use – I would have liked to have some of them. Valuable because she always touched them – they were “grandma”. Many tears I have shed for this…years after her death. And still, when I think of her.

        I know you treasure your things from old. I’m still grateful I got something – and my memories. but memories will not last over generations, so things are valuable! Thank you for a lovely chat.

  6. I’m glad you were able to rescue your grandmother’s furniture Leya, but I know what you mean about the little everyday things. And I love your insight about memories not lasting, so things are valuable. That is a beautiful way to express it. Thank you πŸ™‚

  7. Touching post Su ! You have already a good archive,hope soon it becomes richer.I do the same;I keep every little object,handwritten diaries,recipes and very old photos,on dad’s and mum’s side,like priceless treasures.Apart from the fact that you keep a good record of family connections and you pass it on from generation to generation,it feels as if you keep them still alive.I did enjoy your post which was written with great affection and respect to your ancestors.

  8. A lovely treasure, Su.. as this was a cinema chain, I wondered if Uncle Mac was a personality of the time… unusual that the logos were pasted in. Many of the children’s entertainers were those who were in clubs.., often they would have special matinees and the personality would attend and give away small prizes. They were usually called Uncle or Auntie…. It could be worth checking.

  9. Thanks. This is a really good thought. I had assumed that Uncle meant an actual uncle, and I know my dad did have an uncle who was quite entreprenuerial. But it could quite equally have been, as you say, an entertainer. Will check that now. Cheers πŸ™‚ Su.

  10. An interesting read, Su πŸ™‚ I often wonder how come some people have a strong connection to the past. It seems to be more of a female trait. And your son will be far too busy living his life.

  11. Thanks Jo. It is interesting – and I think you’re right about it being more of a female trait. I think age is also a factor; when I started telling people I was researching the family, everyone under 40 sort of glazed over, while those over 40 all seemed to have their own stories to share!

  12. What a lovely, lovely story and post. I adore the autograph book with the little scottie dogs and the photos too.It’s funny, but in my family no one wanted to hold onto the memorabilia of the past, so I began stashing it away from a very young age. I also collect autograph books if ever I see them- they reveal so much. I will always remember that my Father wrote in mine ‘Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold’. Sadly, I no longer have that book. Thank you for sharing your story and for visiting my blog.-Karen.

    • Hi Karen. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Isn’t it interesting that some of us almost instinctively try to hold on to little pieces of the past – while others cheerfully throw things away. I can understand your fascination with autograph books – just flicking through my dad’s raised so many questions for me. I am loving the look of your blog – will be back to read more.

      • Thank you so much for your comments about my blog. Your post has been very thought provoking for me. My family was ripped apart by divorce when I was 4 and a message I have just posted to you about something my Dad wrote in my autograph book, I now see had a deep meaning for him. I did not manage to keep in touch with him. Easy to look back as an adult and think we should have acted differently I guess.-Karen

        • Hi Karen. That is very true. I have had a very difficult relationship with my dad for my whole life, and although I think we both try to mend fences, it is still quite tense. I know he has read some of my blog posts (he got an iPad for Xmas and has been “experimenting”), and while he has said to me that he was touched by a couple of posts, I heard from others that he was annoyed or hurt by others. I have never tried to be disrespectful towards my parents and thought I would be “safe” exposing me feelings in a blog. Hidden in plain sight! Apparently not. I’m fortunate that my dad is still alive and there is always hope. I’m guessing that is not the case with your dad. His words in your autograph book were lovely – and obviously did have great meaning for him. As children we see so much that we can’t understand, and so often by the time that understanding comes, it’s too late to change one relationship, but we can change the way we relate to others. πŸ™‚

        • These issues are so hard to sort out. In your case, in theory, if both sides want to resolve matters you would think a way could be found. But older generations often do not even want to discuss their feelings. If they don’t then you have no where to go. It would be so good for him to move towards being able to talk properly to you. All my family suffer from dreading making contact with their emotions or me asking questions. If my Father was still alive I really do not think he would be able to respond. They say there is always one person in a family who carries the truth and keeps digging. That would be you and I then!

  13. Thanks Karen. I think you are right; although I also have a reluctance to try and talk to my Dad about the “difficult issues. I still feel like a child around him, with all that entails. Sometimes I think the best course is to try and create a healthier, more open environment for my son. πŸ™‚

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