My family contains equal portions of two types of people – pack rats and clean freaks. Two extremes. Some of our pack rats would these days be correctly diagnosed as hoarders and this is not healthy. Others in my family feel somehow threatened by the weight of family past and don’t even have photographs on their walls. They don’t want to remember anything earlier than the present day. I’m sure this is a psychiatric condition too, and one which has proven devastating to our family heritage.
When I was a child, I saw three family bibles, a working 1860’s pocket watch, a grandfather clock, a set of hand-made lace tablecloths, a suitcase full of photographs from World War One, two treadle sewing machines, a bridle brought to Australia by an emigrating great great grandfather, a photo album with photographs of my grandmother’s great aunts and uncles taken in the 1880s .. and many more items.
They are all gone now – sent to the tip – not a second hand shop, actually the rubbish tip – while I was away at boarding school or busy interstate with babies and not around to save them. We can’t go back, but sometimes I remember and my recent road trip brought it all back to me. Hence my last few blogs as I work through a technique to stop the tragic loss.
The oddest thing is that my own research is so extraordinarily popular in my family. They all love it. They threw out valuable records but now they get in touch with me and say “Uncle’s neighbour says our ancestor did this. Do you know about it? Do you have any pictures?’
No, I can’t help but think. You got rid of all that. But I don’t say it. I used to but it’s over. Now, I’m educating my family to prevent further losses. I’m teaching them what family is about because they are fifth or sixth generation victims of poverty and limited opportunity and they simply don’t know. I didn’t properly understand it myself until I married and saw how beautifully my mother in law cares for her special family items.
Now, I’m taking stock of what I have and this is an extremely pleasant task. I was given a wonderful present while at Mannus and I’ve been looking forward to writing about it. A clock.
My mother has a set of photographs from Mannus taken around 1949 or 1950. A family friend took them, we don’t know their name. We have deduced the year from the pictures of children who are little more than toddlers. The house was in good condition in those days and my grandmother (actual great aunt) was a careful housekeeper.
This is the room in which the ceiling has collapsed. You can see the clock on the mantle piece.
I have always admired the clock. It’s a Winchester clock of unknown model and used to chime every fifteen minutes, half hour and full hour. As children we loved it, although my mother felt she did not need to know when each fifteen minutes had passed. The family usually left it unwound but would wind it up whenever visitors arrived, so the ticking and chiming of the clock were a ‘special occasion’ sound to everyone. It was a wedding present to my grandparents Peard. On every visit, as child and adult, I went to look at it, dusted it and cleaned the glass just because it was a symbol of family. It stopped working about twenty years ago and the family sent it off to be fixed. It took months to get it back and even then it only worked for two days.
It sat on that mantle shelf for its whole life with only the one exception for repairs, and after the roof fell in it received water damage. Possums climbed over it. Then, the family realised – after two weeks – that the roof had caved in and they tied up the door. First of all, they rescued the clock, solely because my interest and care of it had given them the idea that it was worth saving.
Here it is now:
I didn’t even ask for it. When I heard about the roof collapse I asked “Was the clock destroyed?”. My relative said they’d saved it for me and I could take it with me if I wanted. I said yes with great enthusiasm.
In the plastic bag are the side piece and the pendulum. The clock has water damage (in the left of the picture) and I suspect has been under a leak for some time. It doesn’t look so big in this picture, but it is a fair sized clock and I’m going to take expert advice before attempting anything with it.
The clock has a new symbolic role now. It’s a sign that the family can change their ways, and start preserving their memories. Even if it never goes again as a clock, it is something which will always be on display in my home and encourage me to persevere as a family historian.