My father was quietly terrified of his Grandmother and was schooled by his mother into behaving impeccably around her. Latterly, she lived in a large house, on the outskirts of a golf course with her second husband, a solicitor named Mr Hill.
My great-grandmother was imposing, utterly correct and very much an upper class lady. Millie was in complete awe of her. Of course, I imagine, she was also relying on Grandmother Dalrymple to pay her son’s school fees and I doubt very much Millie allowed her dustbin kicking gene to come to the fore in any dealings she had with the Dalrymples.
My father as a very young boy, was so awestruck that once, on a train journey, needing the loo, he thought about telling her, then decided not to as it was “common”. Needless to say, my hapless father ended up having an accident. Mortified, his predicament suddenly clear, he was treated with love and care and a fair bit of upper class humour.
Somehow, Grandmother Dalrymple was not as scary after that and his memories of her, ending when he was 12 and she was dying, were exceptionally fond.
So, what motive was there for treating my Dad as a legitimate scion of the family? Unless Grandmother Dalrymple left some money in his will for his education (and Millie would never have said), the family continued to support Dad, to the extent that after Oakwood, he was sent to Dulwich College, spending a miserable year there.
Even now, it smacks of upper class privilege and competitiveness, an environment in which my Dad would never have thrived.
Oakwood, whilst a private school, set in 160 acres of rolling park and woodland, was just as elite, yet had a completely different feel to it. And its relocation during the War, as well as the kind and slightly batty husband and wife who ran it meant that pupils were loved and cared for, rather than just seen as the next generation of leaders to be coldly moulded and shaped into clones of their parents.
I suspect in retrospect, that Grandmother Dalrymple may have willed Millie the funds, as no-one else from the family was apparent during those years and certainly, none popped up subsequent to them.
Further investigations into Millie discovered another small pack of lies. Her father was not in the army on a permanent basis … he was a travelling cobbler. Yes she was born in Woolwich, which at the time had an army presence but in fact his vocation was coldly noted as “journeyman”. Yet, he was self-employed so that did not make sense. Moreover, the family travelled. A lot.
Years and years ago, when I was still going through my sari and everything Indian phase, I pitched up at home with large hooped earrings, my eyes kohled and my skirt a flamenco riot of different colours. “Hell” said Dad, “our blood sure came out in you”. We laughed and caught up on news and it was only later I wondered what he meant.
This phrase hit me again when I started contemplating a few facts. Fact number 1: Millie was a determined blonde who refused to go anywhere near the sun. Fact number 2, her sister was dark, dark, dark. Her brother too. Fact number 3, Millie lied about her birthdate, her father’s occupation and in fact anything to do with her family.
My first job in the UK, I was pulled aside by one of the contractors who asked very abruptly where I was from. He could not believe I was from South Africa. Then he asked where my parents were from. He didn’t believe that either. He was a very quiet man normally, but in this he was quite insistent. I asked him what was going on. In Iraq, there is a small village where, down the female line, all the women have eyes just like mine. Nowhere else were these eyes to be found. He was incredulous and disbelieving that my family were simply British. He was convinced I was Iraqi.
Fact number 4, I had discovered I could not hit a funfair anywhere in the UK without being treated differently to my friends. Stallholders talk to me, gossip in front of me, I get extra rides, I always received solicitous attention on the teacups (where they spin you round physically).
In Germany too, my date at the time won a shooting competition (so he should have done, turns out he was not the american army quartermaster he told me he was but that is a whole other story) and much fuss was made of us, including allowing me to choose any prize I wanted. Typically, I chose the prize that was the daftest, a huge, cross-eyed white, mad looking dog who still adorns the top of my cupboard.
Lastly, my beloved Richard, Gods rest his soul had seen a photo of my Dad once and said, “blimey, he looks like a gypsy there”.
This, along with some very odd dreams, led me along a path. It had to be Millie of a thousand secrets whose blood and quirkiness I inherited. The Dalrymples were not ones for making silly marriages. I researched the Quick name – not a lot came up.
So there we were, R and I, poring over ancient records, looking at whatever we could find on the Quicks. Millie’s Mum had indeed passed away during the war years. Millie’s Dad? Uh, no.
We scoured military records, births, deaths and marriages during the first world war years. No record existed. Worse was to come. He had a family. Before Amelia Edwards had “married” John Frederick (ye gods, another bloody Frederick) Quick, he appeared to have spawned a few kids.
So poor Millie. Her Dad appears to have buggered off during the first world war rather than shuffling off this mortal coil, Mother succumbs to pneumonia and all of them are illegitimate anyway. No wonder she determinedly created a new life for herself.
I was resolute in finding the secret though, the one I was sure was lurking in Millie’s background. Everything pointed to it – marriages across the broom, dyed hair, gorgeous sister with dark hair and of course, our brown eyes. I inherited Millie’s brown eyes.
Then, there is my figure. I inherited Aunt Irene’s figure as did her daughter. We are big-bosomed, curvy, exotic looking women. My mother was slim, my sister is too. It was only when I came to London and met Irene’s daughters that I realised my life-long battle with my weight (ye gods, I really did try to stay a size 8, for years and years) was a shared battle.
Giving up on the Quicks and finding only obsfucation and confusion, we decided to look at the Dalrymples. Grandma Dalrymple was of particular fascination because she had behaved so out of the boundaries of her class and her apparent upbringing.
And oh boy, had I been looking in the wrong place.
My very correct, posh great-grandmother who loved and doted on my illegitimate father, all those years ago and made sure he had the best of everything she could, had not only lost three children in infancy only to lose her remaining son later in life, but also had come from a very well-known family.
Just not the type of family the Dalrymples would have naturally known.
I could have cried when we finally found her. Rosie Lee of the Lee family. So much made sense. My very posh great-grandmother was about as Romany as you can get.
I wanted to reach down, past the generations and give her a big hug. She gave my father so much – everything she had been unable to give her own children. No wonder she didn’t appear to give a stuff which side of the blanket he had emerged from.
Married to a posh bloke, in a posh house and assuming all the trappings of the elite, losing her children and her husband and then going on to make another good marriage (Dad remembered Mr Hill the solicitor as being kind to him), she must have felt so damned lonely.
I wonder if she, like I sometimes did and for years and years never understood why, had a hankering for wild open roads, the comfort of her big family and a campfire away from it all?
The search ended there for the moment. It was way too much to take in all at once. R has continued to look up the Dalrymple side for me while I deal with Stuff and it appears that they were a nautical family through and through, some of them even being born on boats.
And as for Grandma Millie? Well, no wonder she and Great-grandmother Dalrymple appear to have got on. They might have just had more in common than they thought …