Thursday, 14 June 2007

About My Aunts

Aunts. We have aunts by blood (the sisters of our father or mother) and aunts by family (those who marry our uncles). In Jamaica we had a third kind of aunt and uncle ... any older couple who were good friends of the family, perhaps even distantly related. It was too formal to call them Mr. or Mrs. and we would never have dreamed of calling them their first names, and so we called them "Aunt" and "Uncle"
This post is about my real aunts, sisters of my father and mother. I had three: my aunts Sylvia and Elma Smedmore, my mother's older sisters, and my aunt Essie Levy, my father's sister, whom I never knew and of whom I'll write another time. My aunts Sylvia and Elma never married and lived at 49 Beeston Street until the house was sold in the fifties, at which time they moved with my Uncle Rodney and his wife, Marjorie, to 11 Dunrobin Avenue. As far as I was concerned, Sylvia and Elma were pretty old when I knew them. This picture of Elma, Sylvia and Rodney, must have been taken in the fifties or sixties.
I imagine that looking into the bright sun is the reason they look rather grim!
It's hard, sometimes, to imagine one's elderly relatives as having been young themselves, so we're lucky when we find photographs of them when they were young. Here is a photo of a much younger Elma.
Elma was the fourth child in the family, born November 8, 1889, at 11 Fishers Row, Port Royal. While in Port Royal the Smedmores also lived at No. 2 Fishers Row, and No. 2 Sime Street. Now, I have been fortunate enough to obtain a postcard in Gardner's Series, of A Street in Port Royal, which I imagine is probably very much like the streets that the Smedmores lived on.

The houses on the left show the same Georgian style of architecture as the house at 49 Beeston Street.

Elma was always somewhat serious and somewhat strict as I remember her. My mother claimed that she did have at least one suitor who wanted to marry her but she refused him. I have no idea who that might have been.

Sylvia was the eldest child, born January 20, 1884, at No. 2 Sime Street in Port Royal. I never found any early photographs of her among the family pictures, but some time ago I made contact with the granddaughter of my father's sister, Essie. Cheryl lives in Oklahoma and she sent me a package of photos, many of which, unfortunately, neither of us could identify. There is one which might be of Sylvia as a young woman. The picture was definitely taken in Kingston, Jamaica. On the front left corner of the picture is the word "Cleary's", and on the right corner "Fine Art Studio, Kingston, Ja." On the back is the photographer's name, "J. W. Cleary, Kingston, Jamaica". I sent a scan of the photo with the stamps to Donald Lindo in Jamaica and he forwarded it to David Boxer, Director Emeritus and Chief Curator of the National Gallery of Jamaica. He very kindly wrote me to say that he would date the photo between 1900 and 1910, before the firm became Cleary and Elliott, one of the best known photography studios in Jamaica.

So, is it my Aunt Sylvia? I don't know ... it could be, and it's a nice picture. I like to think that it is her photo, as my actual memories of her are of an elderly, tall, thin, somewhat tottery old lady who never seemed to be in very good health. Perhaps that's the reason she looks somewhat unhappy in later pictures. She died July 19, 1970, at Dunrobin Avenue. She was eighty-six years old. Her sister, Elma, died eight years later,at the age of eighty-nine.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely smashing, and thanks for the cultural note on "aunt/uncle" appellations!
Congrats again (still)...

Wounan said...

Got to this blog and article looking for something else. But it did attract my attention because it is the same way we handle "aunts" and "uncles" in the Hispanic culture with the addition that the parents of our cousins are aunts and uncles too. After taking a good look at the photos, I would dare to say that indeed, that IS your aunt Sylvia. I am not an expert, but I look into the things experts look for: the ears, the forehead, the shape of the eyes, etc, with the understanding of how age affects those features. How sure I am, above 85%.

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor