Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

Contrary to what I had intended I have (due to being distracted by other projects)  been neglecting my little blog. In view of that fact I thought I’d share a little something that I started some time ago. It’s still a work in progress and as you may have gathered from the title; it’s a complete work of fiction.

Windsor House

September 1894

The old wooden chair rocked unsteadily as the octogenarian carefully lowered himself down onto it with the aid of two walking sticks and a flurry of women. They (his daughters and wife) constantly fussed over him and, at times, it became far too much for an old, grumpy man who (for most of his life) was used to standing on his own two feet. Today however Enoch made an exception. He was tired and he was in pain. He gingerly fingered the lump that was growing at the base of his neck and swiftly received a smack on the hand.

“Don’t touch it!” his wife snapped.

He scowled at the woman who had been his wife for the last 17 years. She was right, of course, but he had to put on a show nevertheless. Mrs B (as he and the rest of the Colony affectionately called her) knew it too. She was a strong willed woman with a surprisingly good head for business but she still knew when to let a man have the upper hand. Her eyes sparkled with amusement as she looked at him but she said nothing in response to the look he gave her. He held his gaze and though his mouth remained in the same position he couldn’t stop his eyes from softening and eventually smiling. He’d married her not long after the death of his first wife and all-in-all, throughout the years, Maria had been a good wife who looked after him well.

She patted him on the shoulder affectionately and went over to join the conversation between his daughters, Elizabeth and Emma. He watched her slightly hunched back recede and turned his attention inwardly. Women’s talk held no interest for Enoch.

It was essentially a sobering sort of day further enhanced by the continuing cool weather and naked trees. He looked at the one on his right; a cape lilac. A scraggly looking tree in winter, this one had a child’s wicker pram parked in front of it. He recognised it as belonging to his little granddaughter, Edith. She’d probably be around somewhere, watching the proceedings with her pet dog by her side. Poor little mite, he thought to himself. Elizabeth’s death three years earlier had left Edith motherless at only six. It had shocked and grieved the whole family but none more so than James, his son.

Enoch took off his hat and smoothed what was left of his hair in readiness for the photographer. The man was running late as usual. Firmly planting his walking sticks on the ground, he used them as a lever to carefully swivel himself to the side of the chair. He turned his head and looked up at the sign above the door.

“M. Barratt. Wardrobe Dealer & Registry Office”

“Office hours from 10-12am & 3-5pm”

He owned it but it was really Mrs B’s business. She’d been running it for 15 years; almost as long as they’d been married. Enoch chuckled. She’d probably still be running it if she had the chance. But it was Enoch’s sickness and his ever increasing need for care combined with Mrs B’s age that had resulted in her eventual decision to retire. He was grateful but he knew it wasn’t an easy decision for her to make. It was probably why she wanted the photograph taken.

Enoch lowered his head and examined the assortment of goods within the shop. Ladies’ and men’s clothing, sewing machines, beds and bedding, drapery, furniture and an assortment of groceries all vied for space on the shop floor. He looked towards the spot where Baker’s Patent Mangle had sat for nearly three years. It was such a heavy, awkward contraption. They eventually sold it, but they may as well have given it away.

It dawned on Enoch that this particular moment would probably be the last time he would see the shop looking just as it was. The auction (arranged by B.C. Wood & Co.) had been scheduled to take place in one week. All the stock would be sold as well as the counters, showcases and fixtures. The shop would be gutted; an empty shell of what it once was. Not one for showing emotion, Enoch grunted and thoughtfully rubbed his right hand over his whiskered chin. It was starting to feel like the end of an era. He too was at the end of his life. He was now 82 and the cancer that he’d earlier been admonished for touching had been diagnosed at the start of the year. The doctor couldn’t predict how long he had left but Enoch knew, within himself, that the curtains were slowly closing.

“Pa? You look so thoughtful. What are you thinking of?” He looked up into the concerned face of his eldest daughter, Elizabeth. So engrossed in his thoughts, he hadn’t seen her approach him.

Her hand rested on the back of the chair. Enoch patted it absentmindedly.

“Not much, my dear. Old times. Reminiscing.”

Elizabeth nodded and smiled. “The photographer has finally come. Do you need a hand turning around?”

“No. No. Let an old man have his dignity.”

Under the watchful eyes of the women, Enoch again used the trusty walking sticks to help swivel his body so that he was once more sitting facing Murray Street with his back to the shop. He sat quietly as he felt the presence of both of his daughters directly behind him. To his left stood Maria; proud and staunch to the last. Directly in front of him, on the opposite side of the street, the photographer was putting the final touches on the setup of the camera. He listened as Emma told her sister that she’d given the man strict instructions to ensure the whole shop was photographed.

His adjustments complete, the photographer stood up and raised his hand as a signal to Enoch’s small party that he would soon take the photograph. Enoch shifted his weight to make himself more comfortable and ignored the unnerving wobble as the chair failed to sit plum on the uneven ground. He positioned the walking sticks between his legs and held his hat firmly upon his knees. He knew his wife and daughters were doing similar such things and that, like him, they had adopted a face devoid of all expression.

Resisting the urge to move, Enoch sat motionless as he stared at the box on stilts that, remarkably, would capture the three of them and the memory of Maria’s shop for all to see.

Several minutes passed and Enoch spent them in contemplation of all that had been. So much had happened to him in his lifetime. So much great change had occurred. The photographer lifted his head. It was over.

7 thoughts on “Maria’s Shop

  1. njsresearch6 says:

    Only you could come up such a great interlude in the task of maintaining of a blog. Keep up the writing Jess.


    1. Jess says:

      Thanks Neville! 🙂

  2. Heather says:

    You have a wonderful gift of making the people you research come alive, Jess. Imagining the story behind the photograph is fantastic.


    1. Jess says:

      Thank you Heather. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. 🙂

  3. ronbarratt says:

    A lovely piece of writing, Jessica. I have looked at that picture many times but never through such imaginative eyes. Fiction it may be but you have brought the characters to life and given that treasured moment in our family history a warm human perspective. Ron Barratt

    1. Jess says:

      Thank you Ron. I’m thrilled you enjoyed reading it. 🙂

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