Monday, March 23, 2009

As Indestructible as a Battleship

I almost hate to admit it, but my Grandmother, Eleanor Mildred Elley, known as Lena, was born in 1891. Which doesn't mean to say that I was born in 1930. Absolutely Not. Carefully examine  the above photo taken today, admittedly on the 'Soft Skin' setting. I'm sure you'd agree that it reveals   a middleaged but Not Quite Elderly Woman.

 I was crazy about Lena & never forgave her for dying of cancer when I was fourteen just when I may have needed her.
But for many years she lived across the road from my house where I used to spend a lot of time with her in her tiny, cave-like old apartment, cooking buttercakes, making cups of tea & watching v. early episodes of Roger Moore in 'The Saint' or Patrick Mc Goohan in 'Dangerman'.

Anyway, Lena or  Nanny as I called her, was an exotic mix of Edwardian Lady & Respectable Middle Class Matron with a hint of 20s Flapper. 
Look carefully at the photo taken at a Restaurant for my Second Birthday Party. I am the Poor Little Match Girl at the head of the table. My father stands next to me waiting for me to fall off the chair while my mother looks beatifically on. 
Nanny is the Old Dame on the left foreground. Look at her Firm Figure.

One of my favourite pastimes as a child was to watch Nanny put on her enormous peach coloured Whalebone Corset. She did this every morning after spending time in the bath scrubbing the nicotine stains off her hands with a pumice stone.  She also used the pumice stone on her corns .
After liberally dousing her body with Talcum Powder, & her feet with 'Vemo' foot powder, Nanny would ritually begin the challenging task of threading herself into the corset.
It was an Enormous Contraption that required  extreme concentration & expertise to get into. Nanny had worn a corset every day since she was eighteen, so was really expert at threading the laces & locking herself in. Once inside a Whalebone, a woman looked as indestructible as a Battleship & almost as attractive.

One day I witnessed a Shocking Sight.
 I walked in on Nanny just as she was getting out of the bath. I had never seen her naked before. Huge rivulets of skin were hanging down her body like there'd  been a Landslide. 
I was Shocked & Appalled.
'Nanny, what's wrong with you? Why is all your skin hanging down like that?'
'Oh, that's called Dead Skin. That's what happens to you if you wear corsets all your life'.
Nanny said it in such a Knowing, Matter of Fact way, that I completely accepted her explanation, & for many years thought that 'Dead Skin' was an actual technical term. 
If only I could meet someone now who could speak to me like that. Life would be sooo much simpler.

What prompted my reminiscence  of Nanny was a visit to the Sydney Justice & Police Museum last week to view their current, 'Femme Fatale' exhibition.  Fabulous mug shots & other photos of Sydney's notorious crime queens of the first half of the twentieth century were contrasted with covers of Pulp Crime Fiction of the same time. 
Don't think that Nanny was a Notorious Sydney Crime Queen, although she looked quite similar to a really nasty one that was prominently featured.  No, no, no...... Nanny loved nothing more than to lie in bed, smoking cigarettes through a long holder & reading crime stories. It was one of her passions. Here's some fab covers that I secretly photographed at the exhibition.
I need to start channelling some of that Cheap Sluttiness



rabespierre said...

this is such a great post!! that photo of you and all those little girls in hats is amazing. my grandmother was born around 1890 too --weird! time, that is, is weird. xx hilary

Della Street Dreaming said...

Thank you Hilary!
Coming from you I take that as a great compliment. How amazing that your grannie was born at around the same time

Mervat said...

I had a similar startled (startling to me!) question "mummy what is that all over your tummy?!" from my then 5 year old son shortly after my daughter was born. My reply was saggy baggy skin. And his reply? "Oh, like the saggy baggy elephant!". He's been cluey ever since!

janavi said...

My Grandmother was born in 1892, and also wore a loose fitting corset, because she couldn't stand wearing bras, because she felt they were too consticting.I hate bras too, feel like I can't breathe well- genetic?

Kelly C. said...

Wonderful post. How I long to be described as "an exotic mix of Edwardian Lady & Respectable Middle Class Matron with a hint of 20s Flapper." I must say that the prospect of that happening is quite unlikely.
You are stunning, as always!