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My great-grandmother was a very eccentric woman.
My only memory of her is of a large woman dressed all in black, sitting in a chair beside the fireplace in my Great Aunt Ada's house. Her resemblance to Queen Victoria in her later years was marked but that may just have been due to some confusion in my young mind about matriarchs. I was not mistaken about her being a large woman, though. I inherited one of her rings after she died and it was so big that it fitted easily onto my big toe.
The fireplace was made of some sort of pink marble which looked like a cheap variety of salami - the sort with more fat than meat in it. I used to spend hours looking for pictures in its patterns. The fireplace itself never threw out much heat so that seat by the fire was probably the only part of the large room which was warm. My Great Aunt Ada had been left the house by her far-sighted father who had died when she was young; he had possible felt that, being a very plain girl, she was unlikely to marry. This mysogenistic attitude to women was ubiquitous in the men of my mother's family. My mother once asked her how she put up with having her imperious old mother and surly bachelor brother living there with her and running her ragged. "Well, dear," she said, "I always remember that it is my house and they are only here because I let them stay."
My great grandmother, when young, was the most beautiful woman in Adelaide. She grew up in the country, near the town of Goolwa, and at the age of eighteen left home to seek her fortune in the city. Looking for work she approached the owner of the biggest department store in Adelaide, a consumptive man of forty-five. He gave her a position in the millinary department, escorted her home at the end of the day and married her three months later. He died a few years later, leaving her a young widow with five small children. She subsequently re-married and had one more son who didn't inherit the family requirement of a beautiful wife, and who married a delightful but plain woman.
In order to defend herself against unknown predators Mama, as we called her, always kept a loaded revolver close to hand and once managed to shoot herself in the hand with it. I don't believe that she ever shot anything else.
My mother was sent to stay with her grandmother and aunt after she left school so that she could attend the university and find herself a husband. She was given very clear instructions as to how she was to behave. "If you come home late at night, Dear, be sure to make a lot of noise. Otherwise I might mistake you for a burglar and shoot you."
One night one of the maids arrived back at the house after her evening off and claimed that there was a man lurking in the driveway. Mama, armed with a walking stick and her revolver, and my uncle with a shotgun went out to "see him" off the premises. Beating the bushes with her walking stick she charged around the garden shouting, "There he is, the brute! Shoot him Roy, shoot him!"
They don't make them like that any more.
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However, the story that the staff of John Martin's Store was instructed to leave by the back door at the end of the day while Miss Tucker was picked up by car from the front door and driven home appears to be true.
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