It’s strange how the contents of one old cigar box can bring to life a period of history. My mother didn’t even smoke cigars, let alone know anyone who did, but somewhere she found the cigar box and kept it because, “It’s made of good wood, and you never know when it might come in handy.” That type of thinking is common in my family.
Somewhere back in the mists of time I had a great aunt Edie, (or a cousin several times removed – my family tends to be fuzzy on such details), who lived in a rather posh English seaside town. She was the local eccentric and recluse. When Edie died, they found dozens of old tea chests all stacked and carefully labeled. It’s the labels that that worry me. All neatly penned and attached to describe the contents of each tea chest, the labels read things like : “Dust” and “String Too Short To Use.”
So “String Too Short To Use” has become my criteria for keeping things. Is it worth keeping, or is it STSTU? I guess I’m worried about turning into cousin Edie one day. But I do like little collections that tell a story, so here is today’s collection from my family archives, via the cigar box:
“…Street Savings groups provide a pleasant and valuable voluntary type of work for women.” Sounds a bit patronising to me, especially considering the contributions Australian women went on to provide for the country in the areas of manufacturing and agriculture. I can just hear some male committee member on the subject, “The ladies, bless them, can have nice afternoon teas and raise money…”
The house behind the group was built during the Depression, when the owners found themselves homeless, but in possession of a block of land out “in the sticks”. It was an eco building before anybody ever heard of the term. They constructed the walls of the house from sandstone boulders grubbed out of the ground on the property and chiseled into shape. As a child I ran my hands over those walls, and marvelled at their uneven grittiness. They were nothing like the smooth, plastered suburbia I grew up in. Gum saplings provided trellises to shade the house and to grow grapes. Pioneer stuff. And the ladies (bless them) did much of the building.
Notice the problem with this photo? The motorbike owner worked in RAAF ground staff at Richmond Airbase, but no one was going anywhere on the bike that day judging by the state of the front wheel. It’s nice to know that in the midst of all the hard work and war shortages, there was still time for clowning around and posing for the camera.
Snapshot number three shows the family planting a field of potatoes. Many foodstuffs were in short supply during the war. With their vegetables, a fruit orchard (the huge mulberry tree was still standing when I was a kid) and a few chickens, this family lasted out the war with a reasonable supply of food. Which brings me to the next…
ITEM: a recipe for Turnip Cakes clipped from a woman’s magazine, and lovingly pasted inside the front cover of a 1928 edition of “The Commonsense Cookery Book.” Probably a family standby, because meat was rationed.
The first page explains how to care for your dog in a bombing raid or gas attack. It illustrates the high level of threat that Australians were expecting.
On thin flimsy cream paper, with minimal decoration, these two unfilled invitations are strangely poignant. Were they just surplus to requirements, or were they intended for absent friends?
And with that, I’ll quietly close the lid of the cigar box.