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Hindsight or new perspective                              November 2010  

Hindsight or new perspective? 

by Maggi Stamp

Maggi Stamp I’ve been doing a lot of looking back of late. It is a year since my eldest brother died. There were so many things he was planning to do, we were planning to do, and so many things I wanted to ask him about our family.

What struck me when meeting again so many people from my childhood were the stories that connected with what I already knew but had never put into context. As a counsellor I have for years seen how my clients have recounted stories they have known for so long but not realised what those stories told them about themselves. To tell the story aloud to another person helps us hear its message as thought for the first time, and many times I have seen that look of realisation lighten – or darken - a person’s face as they speak. There is a pause, and then a quiet comment, “I didn’t realise”, or,”I never knew I knew that until now”. Those messages are there in all our memories but, to paraphrase the convoluted words of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in the chaotic, dying days of the Bush administration, “There are known knowns and unknown knowns…..”. They didn’t know they knew the story carried deep in their memory.

One of the many things I have thought about and remembered is the way patronage worked in our village. This has come to the fore as I have, at last moved to a house which affords me a separate space of my own where I can spread out my arty-crafty spare time projects and indulge in making things. I have always loved creating things, be it stories, poetry, clothes, embroideries, paintings and other craft works. Along with baking, home decorating and gardening, I’m trying hard to make time for it all.

Back to the patronage. My home village, where my remaining brother still lives, was the home of and originally belonged to, a famous family of artists and architects. They had given the villagers a reading room and many other amenities in days past and although they no longer held the land, still carried weight within the decision making groups. When I won a place to go to art school I was a recipient of one of the small grants they set up to assist poorer children in their education. All of my books were bought with a grant from that fund. I was also invited to tea at ‘The Big House’ several times to talk to the then very elderly widow of my benefactor about my course and art in general. On my second visit she had a little parcel for me. Inside were a thick pile of original Georgian and Victorian fashion plates. She thought I might find them of interest and gave me the loan (sadly) of them while I was working on a particular project I had told her of. I had no idea at that time that her family were behind the book grant I had received and therefore was unable to thank her personally. How subtle the help was.

In my early teens, when every girl was expected to go to church on a Sunday, I was also taken under the wing of our Vicar and his wife, former missionaries in China. They encouraged me to take a class for them at Sunday School for the little ones, coaching me on teaching and story-telling technique, gave me wonderful breakfasts with honey on the comb from the estate apiary and hand churned butter from the dairy. I’d never tasted such combined nectar! I was encouraged bake cakes in their large kitchen and trusted to take all of their priceless jade collection from a locked cupboard to look and wonder at the exquisite craftsmanship. When I left for art school I was given 4 Chinese watercolours of extraordinary beauty. Painted on raw silk they are delicate in colour and elegant of line. That was in 1963. I have just re-hung them on the walls of our new house and never tire of looking at them.

The question has only now arisen - thanks to my husband, who seems to see things about me that I never noticed - why did those kind and generous elders of my home village take such troubles with a farm worker’s daughter?

When I look back now I see my life through a prism, whole series of events and trends show up like facets of the prism. In one I see the gawky, shy and dreamy girl, wandering the fields, staring at trees, listening to seasonal sounds of pre-motorway countryside, picking berries, primroses and cowslips, pressing leaves and weaving dried grasses into placemats for my mother and collecting sweet chestnuts with my big brother and polishing his shoes for pocket money. In another it displays my rather unusual style of dress in the 60’s – unusual that is in the confines of my home village but totally acceptable at art school – I would buy scraps of material and run up something unique over the weekend and wear it at college. Rich coloured leotards and little shifts, canvas bucket bags of my own design to carry my pencils and brushes – and the compulsory old teddy bear! I remember the village men in their twenties, who would stop and give me lifts to the bus-stop or to the local town, commenting on my appearance and flattering me, offering to take me to jazz clubs in London once I found work there. (I never took them up on their offers!) I see the lecturer, using skills instilled by the gentle coaching of the Vicar’s wife, the counsellor, listening attentively to every nuance, learned from my mother as she listened to all who confided in her knowing she never gossiped – a rarity in small villages. Another shows me nursing my babies and immediately I recall their indescribably beautiful smell. I see a grandmother who happily sits for hours with her grandchildren – making things and the practical person who spent years at her father’s knee as he gardened, decorated, repaired shoes and made things to eke out his meagre wage to feed and clothe us. In another facet I see the person who has weathered painful events and financial hardships but used so many of the skills learned as if by osmosis throughout life.

I have absolutely no doubt that you too have such a prism to look through now, in later life. What I see now is a girl who was perhaps rather striking in appearance, though I failed to see it myself – but when I see old photos – well, who was that!? I see that adults looked at me and saw a hunger for life, even though it was shyly expressed, and guided me towards things that would stimulate and interest me. To every one of them I am eternally grateful and sad that I cannot tell them how much they have helped and shepherded me. To my joy, it still happens, through my dear, late and much missed friend Helen Franks, who was features editor for Laterlife and through my wonderful husband, who saw what I failed to.

As children and teenagers we all have some sort of potential and promise. It takes adults, older and more experienced, to see, guide and support the young person as they stumble into the grown-up world. We don’t see it at the time, but now, as we can look back at most of our life, we can join the dots and make sense of our path, giving light to a pattern we never dreamt existed.

Take a look and prepare to be amazed.

 


 

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