“How many camels are there in Holland?” My aunt struggles.
Aunty Lily, youngest of three daughters named after flowers, daunted by older sister, eclipsed by middle sister Iris, my mother, whom she considered more talented, more capable. Sparkly-eyed, dimpled Lily, mischievous, creative, artistic, she longed to go to Art College. Instead, she hammered keys on Remington and Olivetti typewriters. When War broke out in 1939, older sisters were married, children twinkles in their husbands’ eyes. Lily, yearning for Adventure, joined the W.R.E.N.S. and did what few others dared, going AWOL for nights of dancing. She danced off to join best girlfriend for a holiday in Switzerland, their friendship suffering when the favoured man glanced Lily’s way.
Her sitting room is bedecked and glorious with flowers. “Lovely, whose are they?” “They’re yours, Aunty Lily. You’re 80 today.” “Am I?” She is vague.
Asked if she remembers the bridesmaid’s gown she wore at Mummy’s wedding – vivid, diaphanous, my favourite item as a child in our dressing-up box – an unexpected torrent of memory pours forth. Aunty Lily had expected to keep it.
I visit the residential home. Her hair is silver, thinner. “Do you know these people, Aunty Lily?” I show her my parents’ wedding photograph. “Oh, yes. That’s my sister, Iris, and my brother-in-law.” “And there you are, Aunty Lily, wearing your floaty, silky bridesmaid’s dress.” She looks more closely. “They had three children. I’m the youngest, Margaret”, I continue. She nods politely. “Who am I, Aunty Lily?” “I don’t know” she replies.