Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Christening Cup

One of the other items Dad had left in his briefcase was his Christening Cup. It sits on my desk before me as I write. It is wrought in silver and hallmarked, although I have yet to consult the small hallmark book that Dad left me to ascertain its full provenance.
Here you see it (on my desk) and can appreciate the detail in the engraving of the initials G P McK S. Notice also the dents and distortions around the base. This was because - even although it was made in silver - Dad as a baby was allowed to use this silver Christening Cup as a high-chair beaker, and like all small people, Dad liked to bang the cup on his tray as hard as he could manage.
I know this detail for a fact, because Dad told me so, and even he was amazed that his parents allowed him to abuse this cup in such a way. But maybe they didn't. Dad grew up in a fairly well-to-do household ... with a nanny for the children. I do not recall much about what Dad said about 'nanny' - and maybe I should ask Auntie Mo - but I got the impression that she was not of the strictest. Perhaps she indulged Dad the infant and allowed a healthy disregard for the silverware.

A lovely small object to treasure - it is only about 6.7cm high - and looks great with a few of Gill's flowers in it. I find in it a special connection, and take real pleasure in the dents and dimples created some 85 years ago.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

George Stewart 1896-1942

I have been prompted to write this short post, as I came across some papers Dad had amongst his personal things left for my attention. I have not until now had or taken the opportunity to look at these - largely because they were in a briefcase that Dad had entrusted to my care some years ago, but without also entrusting the code for the combination lock on the case.
Our Stewart grandparents - Eileen (nee Atkinson) and George Stewart.
The lock as it turned out was easily negotiated. The contents of the case were few - Dad having himself removed some things about 5 years before he died. I had expected to see some legal documents; maybe birth and death certificates, but there were none of these things. What the case held was infinitely more precious.

There was a gold watch (not working) and a pair of gold cufflinks engraved with my initials that Dad must have had made for me but had forgotten about passing on. These though were not the precious things of which I speak.

Also in the briefcase were Naval documents from the time that Dad served in the Navy, and these included his discharge papers. There were school documents relating to exams held by the Oxford and Cambridge Examination Board from Dad's time at Glenalmond.

Then ...there was our grandmother's pocket Bible, containing the promise our grandfather made when Dad was born.
A small envelope addressed to Dad at Patchells House, Glenalmond contained 5 letters  dated 1940 and 1942, sent from his father giving him news from home - mentioning air raids or lack of them (for this was wartime) and details of events he thought that Dad might find interesting - the garden; the birth of some baby rabbits to the family pet. (I must find out who the Charlie was who took such an interest in the bunnies). And there was a gardener whose name seemed to be Averill although the writing is hard to decipher (neat though it is). All the letters, apart from the final one, are written in late autumn/winter and grandfather seems to have found the fields and garden 'dejected' without their greenery.

Maureen is mentioned in most of the letters, presumably because she was still at school, and trips to 'the pictures' were a feature of each week, even in wartime. Movies such as Johnnie Apollo*, Moon Over Miami** and Sealed Lips*** are mentioned and were usually 'entertaining', even if they lacked cinematic brilliance.

The final letter is heart-breaking. It was written only 2 months prior to our grandfather's death from a brain tumour, and bears witness to a great time of trial. Dad never said much about his father's illness - he was away at Glenalmond after all - but I recall him saying that his father used to sit of an evening with an icepack against his head to ease the pain of the fierce headaches. This last letter was written towards the end of May 1942 when Dad was still at 'Coll'

Dearest Tony, 
It is quite a while since last I wrote you, but altho' I haven't been writing you have been in my
 thoughts many times.
I haven't got the length of writing with a pen again, but I know that under the circumstances you will forgive me writing in pencil, and all to one side of the pad.
However dear getting back home again has helped me very much, and even tho' the hospital people were very kind and obliging, I missed the old surroundings.
Your letters too dear, were very cheering and helped me on my weary way. I didn't know I had so many friends, and the people who have 'phoned and called seem numberless.
Do be careful on your byke Dear, as we do not wish another casualty on the family list at the moment.
I hope I shall soon be up and about again as I am very tired of lying in bed.
I just get up for a little time in the evenings, when I try in a very haphazard way to get my childrens' letters written. My arms and legs are not very steady yet but I am always looking forward to the day when I shall be back to normal.
Grandfather's Obituary Notice (from the Glasgow Herald?)
The obituary notice has nothing written on it to identify date or newspaper. We can speculate that it might be from the Glasgow Herald, and dated late July or early August 1942. A family tragedy to be sure. What made it more so was the death of our grandmother later that same year.

But what made the biggest impression was the fact that Dad kept all these things locked away and preferred not to speak of them. I can only surmise why that might have been. A deep hurting may be the case, and I certainly do not blame him. However, I now feel that at nearly 60 years of age I am forming an impression of my Stewart grandfather who I never knew. He comes across as a kindly, thoughtful man, - maybe with a predisposition towards melancholy - but much concerned with his family life (although work must surely have been busy). 

Our grandmother leaves little impression of her character still, but I am told she had a lovely, sensitive nature. All I know is that in the last couple of days, these people have become more real to me. I hope to you also.
George John Stewart of Dalbuie
Kilmartin , February 2013

* Johnny Apollo is a 1940 crime film starring Tyrone Power as a man who resorts to crime to buy a pardon for his embezzler father (Edward Arnold). Lloyd Nolan plays the gangster he works for, while Dorothy Lamour portrays the boss's girlfriend.

** Moon Over Miami is a 1941 Technicolor musical film directed by Walter Lang, with Betty Grable and Don Ameche in leading roles and co-starring Robert Cummings, Carole Landis, Jack Haley, and Charlotte Greenwood. It was one of Haley's last appearances in a major, large-budgeted film; after 1943 he began making mostly B-pictures. 

*** Sealed Lips (1942) Directed by George Waggner. With William Gargan, June Clyde, John Litel, Anne Nagel. The warden of a California prison suspects that a New York gangster who is about to complete his sentence and be released is in reality a double for the real criminal, despite fingerprints and evidence that prove otherwise. The detective assigned to the case, aided by a girl reporter, ultimately establish the correctness of the warden' suspicions, following some adventures, misadventures, a couple of killings and some light romance along the way.