Sunday, 22 March 2009

Sunday mystery

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Here's a nice little Sunday afternoon mystery. There I was, sorting stuff out (as you do when daughter is coming home from Uni next week and you have to turn what has been a handy dumping ground all term back into something resembling the bedroom she left in January) and I opened up a box (yes, I know, big mistake) that I'd retrieved from my mother's bungalow and found a mysterious envelope bundled up inside.
Stamp Helvetica 50 somethings, postmarked Geneva, date possibly 1945 (but possibly not)

Address label: "The Lancet" which is a British Medical Journal that as far as I am aware my family has no connection with at all.
Inside was a pile of wooden jigsaw pieces. Curiouser and curiouser.

So I shook them out. They were hand cut and not at all regular so... Well what do you think? I made the jigsaw, of course.
Now - this is the weird bit. I KNEW that girl in the pink dress. And I nearly knew the woman in the yellow blouse at the back. And the little girl on the right had a haircut the dead-ringer for one I had when I was five or so. She could almost have been me at that age, except I knew she wasn't me.

At this point I had a cup of tea. I mean, she really wasn't me, right? Because this photo-print-jigsaw thing must be a lot older than than that. And why was it in a Red Cross envelope postmarked 1945?

I looked at the jigsaw on and off for the next hour. "That woman at the back looks a bit like Nanna," said son on one of his passages through the kitchen. "No, it's not," I said. "Nanna never looked like that." And then (after another cup of tea) it hit me. The little girl on the right - the one that definitely wasn't me - that was my mother. Which meant that the girl in the pink dress (that I'd KNOWN I'd known) was my aunt. And the woman in the yellow bending over at the back was my Nana.

I rang my aunt to ask if she owned a pink dress with a white collar when she was about eight years old, but she was out.
And I still don't know why it was in a 1945 Red Cross envelope addressed to The Lancet.
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21 comments:

Jenny Haddon said...

Oh Jan, how fascinating. Real hair lift on the back of neck stuff. And what a start for a story!

Jan Jones said...

Isn't it just, Jenny! And I can't tell you how spooky it was doing the jigsaw with bits of faces I nearly knew on all the little blobs and curves of the pieces.

liz fenwick said...

Fascinating! I await the update when you speak to your aunt!!!
lx

Lesley Cookman said...

Fantastic, Jan. Of course you'll use that as the start of a story, blast you - when it's just what I need to get mine going!

Can't wait to find out more.

Jan Jones said...

You can use it if you like, Lesley ("Murder in Pieces"?). If you give the same scenario to six writers they'll come up with two dozen different plot lines, anyway.

Besides, mine will probably only be a short-story.

Kate Hardy said...

I'm with Jenny, there - how interesting. And I'm dying to know what your aunt has to say!

Anonymous said...

What a treat!

Julie Cohen said...

(whoops, that was me, Julie.)

Cat Marsters/Kate Johnson said...

Curiouser and curiouser! how exciting--and I agree it'd make an excellent jumping-off point for a story!

Liz Fielding said...

That really did make the hair stand up on the back of my neck, Jan. And oh, yes! This is definitely story material.

Liz Fielding said...

Actually, wouldn't it be a fun exercise to give that to a dozen or so authors and see just how they all handled it?

Susie Vereker said...

Maybe they needed somewhere to put the jigsaw so they reused a Red Cross envelope... (how mundane a solution!) Or they sent the photo to somebody in Geneva to have a jigsaw made and he reused the envelope. Or...why would the Lancet want a jigsaw? Wot a mystery.

Jan Jones said...

Excellent idea, Liz! If things flag at the RNA Conference I shall introduce it as a divertissemente

It was a treat, Julie. Even if doing 70-year-old jigsaws didn't get the bedroom cleared up (It's all right, daughter, it'll be done by the weekend)

Kate and K8 - story idea already taking nebulous shape.

Susie - sadly, you're close to the truth. Will do an explanation comment on its own.

Jan Jones said...

Oh dear. No big mystery after all. Not that I really expected there to be one, because that only happens in fiction (Ahem, editors - watch this space!)

It turns out that my aunt's first job after finishing secretarial college was at The Lancet. Her mother was very proud, not least because it meant she was allowed to take home the used postal envelopes (well, there was a war on, you know). Nana was really pleased with the good stout ones. The sort you could put stuff in for safe-keeping knowing it would survive for the next 64 years or so.

My aunt doesn't especially remember owning a pink dress, but they did used to go to a lake for an afternoon out now and again. And sometimes there was a photographer there. (You had to stand still for quite a while.)

And as the last piece of the puzzle (sorry, couldn't resist it) - the father of one of my mother's friends used to take people's drawings or photos, glue them onto 3-ply wood and turn them into jigsaws for you for church funds.

So, mundane after all. But it was a nice mystery while it lasted. And the spookiness of building up faces I nearly knew remains with me. It'll come in, as a certain illustrious friend of mine always says.

liz fenwick said...

I love all the different possible twists of fate that it could have been from a writerly perspective- but if its part of my own life I would be glad of the ordinary.

lx

KAREN said...

What a great real-life story, I love it :o)

Debs said...

What an incredible thing to find. I love it.

Anne McAllister said...

It makes the genealogist in me start breathing faster and makes my fingers itch to get busy figuring out the story behind it. Brilliant start to a story, Jan!

Jan Jones said...

Thanks, Karen, Debs and Anne. The problem I have now is that the everydayness of the real answer is getting in the way of my writing juices! (This is one of the reasons I can't write fantasy, even though I love reading it)

As soon as I've put the mundane truth out of reach on the top shelf I'll be away.

Suzette Saxton said...

What a neat story!

Jan Jones said...

Thanks, Suzette - I'm still tickled by it.