Friday, June 4, 2010


Miss Harvey.  Imagine a woman with a full waist, a full floral skirt and a chin full of whiskers.  Mrs Tiggywinkle, in fact. In my mind she wore sensible laced shoes and nude tights, probably stockings, and a cardigan even on the hottest days.  Her chin fell off her face to her ample chest and wobbled when she talked.  It seemed that she was always smiling, or chuckling, at least to us kids and calling us 'ansome'.  Did she wear glasses? I feel she must have, she was surely in her seventies and spent most of her time sewing. The combination must have resulted in the little round spectacles I remember.  Yes, she wore them on a string, like a necklace. The fact that she came to sew for my mother for a week in the summer seems alarmingly antiquated, but there you go.  Thinking about her brings back some of the magic of the summer term at school.  What was it that made it so special?  The summer uniform, a turquoise cotton tunic which meant we didn't have to wear a tie.  Or was it that we were allowed to play in the school garden rather than on the concrete parking area? There was a tyre swing at the bottom of the hill and endless shrubs to hide in.  Maybe it was athletics and the build up to sports day.  Or that when we came home it was still light for hours and the combine harvesters rumbled on past bedtime.  Was it knowing Miss Harvey was at home, perhaps even sewing something for me, for one precious week? My mother will say she mainly hemmed curtains and mended bedsheets. But I know she sewed me a tutu, with candy pink voile. I remember posing for photos in it, standing on the hot slate outside the kitchen windows.  I think I might have insisted on wearing it til bedtime. I have a horrible feeling it was too tight for me. Not so Cinderella after all.  I think Miss Harvey had to let a seam out.  I do remember that I got my pet rabbit's claw stuck in the trim and blood on the shimmery silk.  I wonder if I wore it again, I was no Darcy Bussell. I have a vague memory of an actual ballet performance - just the one - I was the marshmallow at the back.
In her youth, I think Miss Harvey had worked for my paternal great grandmother - as a full time seamstress? The luxury of it! Surely I must be in line to inherit a mansion somewhere. But perhaps I have it wrong.  I know she was proper Cornish and by the time I was observing the detail of her chin and wondering if I too would grow whiskers, she had decided to never again leave the county.  I think it was she who announced 'I don't go abroad no more', meaning she wouldn't travel north of the Tamar.  Beautifully put.  My mother tells me that as a teenager she was advised by her aunt not to marry her sweetheart or she'd be 'dead before she was 21.' We are only left to wonder whether the aunt was particularly vicious or especially insightful and wonder too about the boy and what became of him.  Miss Harvey never married.  All this has come back as I sit mending endless pairs of boys trousers.  Dom's been away this week so it's occupied my evenings - what a riveting life I lead - but I admit the idea of sewing for an hour is a lot more appealing than a morning out shopping, with or without a boy or two.  And you know, I think I've found the method for a near perfect patch...Miss Harvey would be proud.

1 comment:

  1. Emily! What a fabulous portrait of Miss Harvey, reminiscence of the summer days of your childhood, evocation of your home country, and tie-in to your life in the present. This post is a wonderful example, I think, of the concept we learned in Mother Words of the "occasion" of the telling, which is the instigator and collection point for our memories.

    I've sewed back a few buttons on my bed rest. It's refreshing to do something with my hands and I usually recall how my mom taught me to do these little upkeep projects. A good reminder to pass these skills on to our kids too.