Thursday, 1 December 2016

A Little Bit of Family History

I had two great aunts called "Bertha" but the one I knew best and was very fond of, was Bertha Lazarus, my paternal grandmother's sister.  I think they were close friends as well as sisters, although my gran was seven years older.  Theirs was a large family of nine children, as far as I can remember but there could have been more!

I was thinking of great aunt Bertha today whilst doing some mending, using the compact sewing kit which she designed and made out of lovely soft leather.  These kits were known throughout our family as "the Aunty Bertha", as in "have you seen the  Aunty Bertha?" or "Where could I have put the Aunty Bertha?  I know I had it last week!" Mine is about 63 years old now and a little worn, but I love it. I gave another one that I had, a lovely yellow one, to my granddaughter.  I think she was quite amused when I arrived in Australia and told her that I had not come on my own because I had brought "Aunty Bertha" with me! Mira was only 9 at the time but loved sewing, so I thought she would enjoy the company of her very own sewing kit.  I know she has been looking after it very carefully.

As a young woman, Bertha took up nursing as a career and never having married, she worked for most of her life in a large hospital in London, where she became head matron.  She lived in an hotel, the Hotel Vanderbilt, 76 - 86 Cromwell Road in South Kensington, which was an imposing Georgian Mansion, once the home of the Vanderbilt family.  It was later converted into an hotel.  

I, of course ,only met her once she had retired and come to live in Cape Town, South Africa,to be near her sister, my grandmother. She spent her days doing handwork, making stuffed felt toys; weaving; doing leather work and other crafts. She made a handsome toy camel for my young brother, David, which he aptly named "Humpy".  I received books from her as regular gifts.  Even then she knew of my love of reading. 

I was eight years old when my family left Cape Town and settled in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia as it was then, and I only saw Aunty Bertha again when I was eleven and about to go to boarding school.  However, she had continued to supply me with books during those intervening years and I remember them well.  I usually enjoyed the stories but the illustrations were boring, mostly black and white or ink sketches and some were quite alarming.

My beloved grandmother died on the 7th August 1955 and sadly Aunty Bertha passed away twenty days later on the 27th. In the  short time I had known her she told me many  things about her life as a nurse and then as a matron.  She was always keen on handwork and she encouraged many of her patients to to take up various crafts to suit their abilities.  She said it was an important part of their healing process to keep as active as possible. 

My younger daughter is an Occupational Therapist and she knows the value of this too. In fact, she has just published a book on the subject, called "Healing your life through Activity".  I wonder if Aunty Bertha knew of Occupational Therapy as a profession all those many years ago?  It's an interesting thought and connection, isn't It?  That relatively new profession when my Aunt started nursing has grown tremendously and now covers almost every aspect of life, from before birth until the inevitable end, as my daughter has so carefully pointed out in her book.  Read it, if you can!

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