zondag 7 mei 2017

Bertha's wardrobe

Yesterday, it was exactly 112 years ago that my maternal grandmother, Bertha, was born.

She arrived in this world on the 6th of May 1905, and must have caused quite a stir, as she'd brought along her twin brother, Augustinus, who would go by the name of Gust.

The twins were my great-grandparents' first borns and they were joined in 1909 by a little sister,  who sadly didn't get to see her first birthday.

Although my grandmother sometimes alluded to her being a twin, I'd no idea what had happened to her brother, nor that she'd once, however briefly, had a little sister.

Bertha & Gust
Many years ago, my Dad gave me several boxes containing photographs and documents belonging to my Mum's side of the family.

Among these was my great-grandparents' "marriage booklet" (called trouwboek in Flemish), which is a kind of marriage register every couple tying the knot here in Belgium is issued with. In this booklet, all children resulting from the marriage are officially entered, with their full name(s) and date of birth. It also mentions the date of death of any children still living at home.


It is from this booklet that I learned of the existence of the little sister, and that Bertha's twin brother had died in 1931, aged 26. When I asked my father if he knew what had happened to him, he said that Gust had died as a result of an accident at work, but that was all he knew really.

It was also from my Dad that I learned that just before the First World War, my great-grandparents acquired a plot of land in our village (I have the original deed, found at my dad's a couple of months ago) and were making plans to build a house. When war broke out, however, they abandoned the project, and fled to neutral Holland, living with family relations of my great-grandmother, Aloysia.

In Holland during the First World War
Bertha is the girl in pigtails in the middle row
According to her "praying card"  (called bidprentje in Flemish, a small memorial card, which is distributed to all those who attend a funeral), she was actually born in Ossendrecht, Holland, and it is possible that she was at least part Dutch.

My mum on my great-grandmother's lap around 1937
My grandmother sometimes mentioned her Dutch relatives and I vaguely remember some of them being present at her funeral.

In one of my boxes of photographs are several portraits, printed on carton, mentioning the name of a photographer in Bergen op Zoom, Holland.


The lady on the right is my great-grandmother, Aloysia.

When the family eventually returned after the war, the house was completed, and it was there they, and later my grandparents, continued to live, until the house was sold by my parents after both my grandparents had died in the late 1970s.

I have many happy memories of that house, where I had lunch every weekday and spent many a Wednesday afternoon (school half day), until right before my grandmother - the first to go - died in 1974.

It was there, in one of the attic rooms, that all the photographs were kept in a chest of drawers, along with a beautiful, shiny conch shell.


By the time I came along, my grandmother's health had seriously deteriorated. She - like my mum after her - suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, and painfully hobbled along aided by crutches. Later, she even slept on a pull-out couch (bought from a mail order catalogue: how peculiar that I remember that part) in the front room, as she was no longer able to get up the stairs. As she wasn't very mobile and hardly left the house, she had gained quite a bit of weight, which is mainly how I remember her.

It is me she is holding in the photo on the left. Taken in 1962, it is hard to believe that she was just one year older than I am now. The photo on the right was taken in my parents' house in the late 1960s.


My Dad used to tell me that Bertha was reputed to have been quite a beauty when she was young, pointing to a couple of framed photographs on my grandparents' mantlepiece, depicting a glamorous lady in old fashioned clothes, which he claimed was my grandmother!

Now, back to Bertha's story, or at least what I know of it, as it all seems to be shrouded in a veil of mystery.

Let's fast forward to my grandparents' wedding photograph.



Bertha married my grandfather, Alphonse, in November 1934, when she was 29 and he was 31.

I often wonder at the fact that they married so late in life. It's so sad that there's nobody left to ask. How I would have loved to talk about all this with my Mum, who wasn't very forthcoming on the subject of her own accord.

It strikes me that the couple isn't smiling in their one and only wedding photograph. The wedding group, all dressed in black, look as if they have gathered for a funeral, cowering in the bottom of the photograph, with that great big sky above them and washing drying on the line at the edge of the frame.



My Mum was born almost exactly one year after the wedding, and I particularly love the photograph of Bertha proudly showing off her little girl in her pram!

But I keep getting diverted.

Among the myriad of photographs I inherited are quite a few showing my grandmother - pre-marriage, I suppose - posing in different outfits and locations, always dressed to the nines.


In some of them, she is posing with her equally stylish friend.



The garden was a favourite backdrop, while both the photographs below, where she is posing on her own (left) and with my grandfather (right) are taken in our village, which is only just recognizable today.



She really had quite a wardrobe and I presume she made most of it herself. There was, after all, an ancient Singer in a corner of my grandparents' dining room.


The bottom line is that I might very well have inherited my passion of clothes from her, along with her name, Bertha, which, her being my godmother, is my second name.


I wonder what she would have thought of this Polyester Princess lark ...

34 opmerkingen:

  1. What wonderful old pictures and such an interesting family story.

    My maternal grandparents were born in 1902 and my grandfather died in 1974 as well. My grandmother lived to be 88 and died in 1990.

    You have clearly inherited your sense of style from grandmother! I love your outfit in the last photos.

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    1. Thank you Veronica! It saddens me to have lost my maternal grandparents when I was only in my teens, but I have fond memories of them both, as I spent so much time at their house. xxx

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  2. Such a fascinating post, and great photographs. Your Grandmother's fashion sense is remarkable-and yes, I do think you've inherited it.

    I suppose war and economic uncertainty between the wars led to people marrying later in some cases. My own grandmother was nearly 40 when she married and quickly had two children in a row.

    It is such an eerie thing looking at family photos and realising you're the same age as your grandmother, etc.

    You wear a cloche well!

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    1. Thanks Goody! It was the perfect opportunity to finally wear that cloche. xxx

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  3. What a fascinating read punctuated by some wonderful photos. You've definitely inherited Bertha's superb sense of style.
    I love Aloysia's hair! xxx

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    1. I love her hair too, Vix. It must have been quite long and thick. I didn't inherit her hair, that's for sure! xxx

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  4. What fascinating photos. Fraternal twins run in my family (both sides) and there are some incredible names going back! Although spookily we found out AFTER my sister and I were born there were some 300 year old twins with our first names!

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    1. That's quite fascinating, Perdita. I'm wondering what your sister's name is? xxx

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  5. I loved reading about your grandmother and your family Ann, it was a fascinating history and they must have needed a lot of resilience at times, having to flee to Holland for example and later you speak of both your grandmother and mother suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Yet you paint a happy picture of visits as a child, it's a beautifully balanced account. The photos are lovely and I love the photo of you at the end, I had to look twice at the one next to your grandmother, it looked like an old photo until I realised it was you! xxx

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    1. Thank you Sally. I do have only good memories them and the house often appears in my dreams. xxx

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  6. What a great read Ann and coincidentally my maternal grandmother was also born on 6th May!(1913) and also, my mother died on this day 2011. My grandmother also had a sibling that did not reach adulthood as was so often the case back then. War separates so many families...so glad that yours made it back to Belgium. Love your outfit Ann and no doubt your love of fashion was passed on from Bertha. Xx

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    1. What a coincidence that your maternal grandmother was also born on 6th May! My mum died in 2001, on 14th August, which is a day before Mother's Day in Antwerp. As my dad died in August too, that month will always be bittersweet to me. xxx

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  7. Such a lovely and interesting post. I was only talking yesterday to some friends who married in France and were given the "marriage booklet" with space to list children. They were nearly sixty!

    It is so interesting to see the threads running through the generations. I had an Aunt Mabel and I seem to have inherited her love of 'make do and mend'. So common at the time of course, but she apparently took great pleasure in it rather than feeling it was a burden. Since being a young teenager I have dyed fabrics, shoes, made clothes from household linens, curtains, altered clothes, etc. etc. all of which she did.

    Unfortunately, my mother was not very forthcoming about family history either, and there is so much I should have asked when she was still alive.

    Like 'spicyphilosophy' I too had to look twice at your photograph next to your grandmother. You do indeed suit the cloche very much. And who is that beautiful cat!

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    1. Thank you Julia, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Had a chuckly when you mentioned your friends' marriage booklet ... It's only as I've grown older that I started noticing the things I must have inherited from my grandparents and parents. Oh, and the cat is our little "monster", Phoebe! xxx

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  8. Happy birthday Bertha! Fabulous post and I like to think if times were different, she would have blogged too! xxx

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    1. I'd like to think so too, Melanie. When I'm seeing the photographs of Bertha and her friend, I'm always reminded of my friend Inez and me. xxx

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  9. What history you have! You are lucky you know as much as you do and to own so many photographs from that time.

    I found it fascinating.

    Your outfit is fabulous. Green and pink are wonderful together.

    Undoubtably the gene for style was passed down through the generations.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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    1. Thank you Suzanne. I was going to wear something completely different for my Bertha impersonation, but apparently I'd already put the dress in storage. The green and pink outfit was just thrown together, but I'm quite happy with the result. xxx

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  10. Oooh! She would have loved the Polyester Princess blog! I love your beautifully written and poignant post...concluding with that lovely, vintage-t outfit, zowie!!

    Thank you for sharing your cherished, family snaps.

    Happy thrifting ;)

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    1. Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed my post and outfit! xxx

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  11. The marriage booklet called to mind ancient stories of your family...

    This is a sweet post, I think that your godmother would have loved your style!

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  12. I think she would've loved it :) what a fascinating set of photographs, thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Hazel, it was my pleasure. That post just wrote itself, really. xxx

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  13. you´r totally the granddaughter of bertha!
    i´m impressed that there are so many photos. you guys are really a family of keepers :-)
    thank you for sharing this heirlooms with us!
    huge hugs! xxxxx

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    1. Thanks Beate. Both my parents were only children, so all the photographs and heirlooms ended up at my parents' house, which I guess is why there are so many. xxx

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  14. such an interesting post, and fascinating old pictures too!, glad you shared with us!
    I love that picture with the cat, you're a worthy heir of all that elegance, dressed to the nines and wearing a cute cloche hat!
    besos

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    1. Thank you so much Monica. Phoebe (the cat) was trying to steal my limelight ;-) xxx

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  15. Happy birthday to lovely Bertha and Gust! I also have twins in my family - my Mom's younger sisters. I think you definitely take after Bertha, her love of clothes and sense of elegant style! <3

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    1. Thank you Natalia. I've always found it fascinating that Bertha was a twin. Must have been so sad losing her brother so young ... xxx

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  16. It's amazing what family photos can reveal. Yours are fascinating Ann. I sometimes wish I could just step back for a while and get answers to all the questions in our heads.
    My nana has expressions on her face as a young woman that I would to know what she was thinking.
    Xxx

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    1. Thanks Lynn. I too would sometimes like to step back in time for a while, as there are so many unanswered questions ... xxx

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  17. Your grandmother was clearly a very stylish young woman.

    It is weird to realise you're the same age as relatives were 'then'; I get it when I think about how we're as far from the 1990s now as we were from the 1960s during the 1980s, when I used to be baffled at why my mum still listened to all that 'old' music. Makes me laugh! And she's still istening to 1960s music and now so am I. So perhaps your gandmother would like all your clothes for the memories they evoke.

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    1. Thank you Mim. I sometimes find it hard to believe it wasn't even twenty years since the war ended when I was born ... xxx

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