A FRAME WITH A HISTORY

This hardwood hand-carved picture frame from India used to house a photograph of my paternal grandmother. I never met her as she died while my Dad was still at school. My grandmother worked for a time as a governess on the Andaman Islands and married a Scottish tea planter – it would be interesting to know how they met! My father was born in the then Calcutta – his father died a few months later from the “Spanish ‘flu”, the pandemic that spread around the world with horrific consequences much as we face today with COVID-19.

I have replaced the image of my grandmother with a photograph of my parents on their wedding day on 9th August 1942.

My father is wearing his army uniform and my mother carries a bouquet of freesias – always one of her favourite flowers. Apparently my maternal grandfather was concerned about this young couple getting married during the war and so, the story goes, he consulted an old friend of his. According to my mother, this woman’s response was “Henry, look at me. I waited and my young man never came back” (from the First World War). Thus it was that he gave them his blessing.

The intricately carved frame must have been purchased in India by his parents – or received as a gift – and has travelled from India to Britain to South Africa. It serves as an interesting reminder of part of my ancestral roots.

CURROR FAMILY

My maiden name is CURROR, which has an Anglo-Saxon origin. It is a Scottish surname that is not only French in origin, but is descriptive of an occupation for it was given to a person who was either a messenger or who dressed tanned leather. The name is derived from the Old French words corëor or courreour, meaning courier or messenger. The family motto is Merite, which is the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.

First names are always an interesting link when delving into family history and I have been fascinated to discover how far some of the recurring names in our family go back:  a William Currour was assizer (a juror) in Edinurgh, 1402; William Currour has been recorded as a charter witness in Edinburgh, 1425; and it is thought that William Curroure held lands near Edinburgh in the same year. There are several variants in the spelling of the name, as surnames were only standardised with the advent of Poll Tax between 1694 and 1699. William Currour or Courrour, then a merchant of Scotland, had safe conducts into England, 1408 and 1410. A George Currour was charged with “trublance of the toune” of Aberdeen, 1512, and William Currour was factor for the abbot of Jedburgh, 1560.  Much of this information comes from https://forebears.io/surnames/curror

The original Curror to settle in South Africa was my father, William David Curror, who sailed on the City of Hong Kong from London to Cape Town en route to the then Southern Rhodesia, where he was to be a Premium Apprentice on a tobacco farm. This was in about 1932. He later moved into the mining industry in this country. My father, who could speak English and a bit of Welsh, would be surprised to know that his family now encompasses Afrikaans- and German-speakers too!

In his memoirs, my father wrote: “We do not know the exact time that we [the Curror family] came to Dunduff [Scotland], but we can assume that it was sometime before 1715. As far as I am able to calculate, the first Robert Curror, shown on the [family] tree, of Dunduff and Craigdookie, was born in 1715. It is extremely probable that he was born in Craigdookie; his son was. He, also Robert Curror, was probably born in 1745.”

My father was keen on farming and always wanted to restore the name Dunduff, the original family farm in Scotland, to the Curror family and eventually did so in the De Kaap Valley near Barberton.

That farm has been sold and another generation has continued the name in another part of the country.

A BUSHVELD BREAKFAST

Although it is over a month ago, memories of the breakfast after we had celebrated what would have been my mother’s centenary still linger. From the first cup of tea as the sun was rising:

Pots were already warming up next to the fire which had been lit earlier:

Meanwhile, a fire was already warming the oven for freshly baked bread – so delicious when spread with butter while the slices are still steaming:

I steal a portion of fried onions before the finely chopped meat left over from the night before and eggs are added:

Thick potato skins left from having prepared the roasted potatoes are quickly deep fried:

Excellent additions were mushrooms and baked beans, of course:

While not my cup of tea, others enjoyed the marrow bones that had not been eaten the evening before:

Breakfast was a peaceful interlude before the process of packing and tidying up began; before we bid farewell to each other and dispersed to our scattered homes.

A BUSHVELD BRAAI

Although I am inclined to be more of a ‘herbivore’, the rest of my family are solid ‘carnivores’ and so it was only natural for there to be plenty of meat to braai when we gathered in the Bushveld for a special celebration. The enormous fire was started early in the afternoon:

When I saw these ‘smileys’ (sheep heads) perched next to the kettle, I couldn’t imagine them being eaten:

Although these have been traditional street food for years, ‘smileys’ have been brought into mainstream restaurants as part of the nose-to-tail trend. I wonder how many patrons actually see their ‘lamb cheeks’ in their raw state like this:

Nonetheless, there were many people to feed and so a large gas braai was brought into use as well:

I assure you I did not starve for there were several delicious salads on offer too – as well as the most wonderful potatoes roasted over the fire:

Our special family occasion was to celebrate what would have been our mother’s hundredth birthday. She would have enjoyed seeing us gathered together from near and far.

MEMORIES

“What is your earliest memory?” We ask this of siblings and friends alike. Do we really remember those very early events of childhood, or have we become familiar with them through the repetition of family stories or from paging through the family photo albums so often?

What do children do now that photographs are digitally stored on an adult’s computer to which they have no easy access? Do families with young children go through their digital collections with their children now and then whilst recounting events from when they were really small?

“Do you remember when …? Conversations with family and friends can toss up, stir and retrieve memories of events we might have thought were forgotten – that we had even forgotten that we had forgotten them. Then, in those moments of reliving past events with others the smells, sights, sounds, feelings and people return in a flash. We find we can add details others may have forgotten as their anecdotes revive our own memories – all of which emerge stronger and clearer than before.

Some memories are attached to things. I don’t know who owns it now, or even if it is ever used, but my mother often wore a brooch that for some reason we children used to call her ‘flea cage’. Just thinking about it in absentia brings my lovely mother to the fore, along with the wish that we could still converse. There are other more banal items that do the same, such as her (now) very tattered Concise Oxford Dictionary that she kept at hand for cryptic crosswords and that was the arbiter of our Scrabble games.

Memories fade when they are not shared and revived when they are. Sometimes a particular sound, smell, texture or sight opens the floodgate of memories either happy or less so. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and writer, has been quoted as commenting that

We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jars of preserves in a larder, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and re-categorized with every act of recollection.

It is that act of recollection that we owe to our children: the sharing of their upbringing and ours; the threads that root us to our families; the lifeline for the years ahead. As families scatter across the globe in pursuit of better careers or more comfortable and secure lifestyles, memories are what keep us together. Nurture them!