The Imposter


Another Genealogy letter:

My partner’s maternal Grandfather is a bit of an enigma: He vanished, apparently without trace, leaving his wife with three young children.  The children suffered a great deal as a result, their mother took them back to live with her parents, but as the progeny of a broken home, they were shunned by what passed for society, never invited to parties, at best pitied.  His daughter never told my partner much about him, only that she had nightmares about him returning.

Although he appears on the memorial for the Boer War in his wife’s northern home town, where all who served are commemorated, not just those who died; his identity is obscured with initials where everyone else has their full name.

On the wedding certificate the first names and father he gives do not tally with official records, and the date of birth is wrong, although the man he claims as father does live at the address he gives in the west country.

He did not apparently know his wife before his return from the  Boer War in the 1901 and married her within 3 months; in the census for that year the man he claimed to be appears as a tinker in another county. And why would he come to the north where he knew no one, rather than return to the west country where he claimed to have been born?

possible photograph of the missing grandfather
Possible Photograph of the Missing Grandfather

In a family swamped by photographs, there is only one picture which may be him (it may be his brother-in-law) However his first child was given an unmistakable name which proves that he must somehow be related to the family he claims.  There is no record of him serving during WWI.  It is possible he returned to South Africa, but again there is no record to prove it.

Subsequent research shows no evidence that he ever returned to the west country nor the north and has tracked him to a seaside town  hundreds of miles from his children and his potential parents, where the trail once more goes cold in an air raid in 1944.

The shop he worked in and lived above is still a hole in the ground.  But was he there on the night of the raid?

In this ‘letter’ in which I imagine what finally sent him into hiding, I have changed the names.  I’m not sure why, but the uncertainty over his identity makes me want to continue to disguise him.

Park Row

17th February 1913

James-

Although I now know this is not your name, how else can I address you-

I have long believed that you were a bounder, and as you bring Edith and the children more grief with each passing year, I have finally set myself to discover the truth.

I wrote to the man you claim as your father, and he never had a son James.  Moreover the only James Wyatt he knows, a young nephew, was born with a defect and made his living as a tinker in Yorkshire, and is dead.  Mr Wyatt’s only son, John, he has heard nothing from, since he set sail for Capetown in 1898.  He is rumoured dead also.

I shudder to think what secret history has caused you to hide behind the name of another, nor how you came by it.  Are you in fact John Wyatt, and happy to let your father believe you dead; or another man completely?  Are your rank and medals as false as your name?

I beg you, come to me by noon tomorrow with an explanation, or take the enclosed money and go back to the colony from which you came to ruin my daughter’s happiness.  If neither action is forthcoming, I will be taking my suspicions to the authorities.

Better by far that Edith suffer the shame of abandonment, than the discovery that her husband is perhaps a bigamist, perhaps a murderer; but without doubt an impostor.

S. W. Barry

More genealogy letters here The Arsonist’s Demise and One Finger Typing

Copyright Cherry Potts 2010

Wintermiddle


Wintermiddle Santa rally
Merry Wintermiddle

Wintermiddle is, as far as I know, an invention of Michael Rosen.  His alternative to Father Christmas is Aunty Wintermiddle, a cheerful rainbow-wearing bringer of good times and merriment.  When I was going through my ‘its all a patriarchal construct’ phase, I found Aunty very comforting.  These days I’ll go with any celebration on offer regardless of its antecedents, but Wintermiddle, and mid winter and Yule retain a special place (or is that time?) in my affections.

Its all about surviving the darkness, and some of my favourite carols are about this too.  I like a good wassail, but the best songs are turn-of-year songs, by the likes of  John Kirkpatrick who has written and or recorded several seasonal songs that hit the spot.  We usually have his Wassail! CD on when we decorate the tree.

On the shortest day of the year, complete with lunar eclipse, it is no surprise that we want to fill the house with light, set fire to  the yule-log, snuggle down with a mug of mulled wine and think about our friends.

So Merry Wintermiddle!

copyright Cherry Potts 2010

Haunted by Fairy Tales


So I’m on a business trip in Germany, slightly reluctantly (too close to Christmas, weather turning bad) and I discover that Kassel, where I am at a meeting of a European Project is the home town of the Brothers Grimm.  Drawing a veil over the journey which was definitely in the Epic rather than F-T mode, there are F-T references everywhere.  The Brothers huddle together in statue form in a slightly scruffy patch of grass, an open book clutched between them.

Kassel carousel
carousel decorated with scenes from Little Red Riding Hood copyright Cherry Potts 2010

The Christmas Market sports a kind of windmill driven pagoda with life-size figures from Snow White in perpetual motion, and the carousel is painted with scenes from Little Red Riding Hood…

The wine at dinner one night is called ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ too – the venue for this meal is the tower of a ruined church (Cafe Luther), which would fill in for Rapunzel’s tower quite well (the giant metal doors of the tower room were stunning).  Even the entrepreneurs we are here to meet bring us fairy-tale themed food.  Bettina Trautwein, owner of a cafe and catering company serves up ‘fairy tale soup’ which turns out to be beetroot with sour cream and pumpkin oil – reflecting the red white and black theme at the start of Snow White, when her Mother’s blood falls in the snow… This is followed by a salad (I was hoping for Rapunzel here, as it was stolen Ransoms got her parents in trouble in the first place, but no) a salad which represented the rose forest around the goats cheese castle of Sleeping Beauty with a pastry kiss on top, and almonds scattered in the leaves.  And the almonds? we ask… oh those are all the dead princes, Bettina says beaming.  Slightly disconcerted, I eat my almonds.  The food is excellent, and gets me thinking about how food features in fairy tales:  gingerbread cottages and breadcrumbs in Hanzel and Gretel (and the potential for baked boy, too), poisoned apples in Snow White, that stolen garlic in Rapunzel.

Frozen Waterfall
Frozen Waterfall copyright Cherry Potts 2010

The following day, business concluded, we are taken on a guided walk around the Bergpark Wilhelmehohe a fantasy landscape of folly castles, ‘ancient’ temples, and frozen waterfalls.  We are told a ghost story… and leaving out the ghost, its a very good story indeed, which really captured my imagination.

soon it will be processed into something else entirely.

copyright Cherry Potts 2010