Sunday, 23 October 2011

'Y' is for Y

'Y' is for Y, another instalment in the ABC meme set up by An Accidental Knitter


Section of Y's sampler of what was called Plain Sewing
I first knew Y when I was a little girl.  Her name was Ynona, but she was always known as Y.  Born in 1916 she was educated in a Belgian convent.  She struggled through her sampler at the convent, having little interest in needlework and it always reminds me of a sampler described by Rozsika Parker in 'The Subversive Stitch'.  In contrast to other seventeenth century samplers with verses about love and duty, diligence and obedience there is Polly Cook's, whose sampler reads

'Polly Cook did it and she hated every stitch she did in it'

Y would have felt the same.  She didn't really understand my fascination with embroidery and knitting.  She was completely baffled by my interest in how to launder things properly.  But she used to tell me about her attempts to knit a pullover for her first husband and how she would knit on long train journeys to see her brother at his RAF base on the east coast early in World War II.  She described the result as 'full of holes' but her husband wore it anyway, out of love for her.


Knowing my interest Y gave me all the crochet and embroidery pieces that her beautiful mother, Belle and her aunt had made.  Some of them were in a sorry state and I'm still working to launder and restore them.  Y couldn't understand why I would do all this just to pack them in lavendar in a box, but was happy that they gave me pleasure.

Y was related to dukes of the realm, to princesses in fact, but her branch of the family had no money and so she had to earn her living.  With no practical education, she capitalised on her looks and style, did a little work as an extra in films and also took what she called 'a dancing job' in Milan, a great adventure for her.  She also modelled lingerie at fancy department stores.

From Y's scrapbook, the programme for her 'dancing job' in 1935. 
She was part of a troupe known as 'le Young Ladies of Mayfair'
She was a lively, beautiful young girl during the last years of the 'long party' between the two World Wars, living in London and having a wonderful time.   She had so many stories, like the one about being chased around a large dining table at a smart London address by an over-amorous young man and we laughed together as she described skidding round the corners on the wooden floors in her party shoes.  We shared an absurd love of slapstick.  Now I come to think about it, she never did tell me whether he caught her.
Programme for Gala Evenings, 1939
Y's husband died in 1943 after attempting an escape from a Japanese prisoner of war camp.  Her beloved older brother and only sibling, a Flight Lieutenant was killed in 1942 in a Lysander near Alexandria.  Y also lost many of her friends.   Her only son died tragically in his thirties during the 1960s.  After the war and right into her seventies Y worked tirelessly to support herself, learning whatever skills were needed to earn her living, something her upbringing had not really prepared her for.

Never, ever bitter or self pitying, this courageous lady had no surviving close family and invested her energies in building a circle of friends, most of them many years younger than herself.  A highly intelligent, sometimes challenging lady with an enquiring mind, Y would have made the most of a decent education if the opportunity had been there.  She would have absolutely loved the internet for the world it could open up to her.

Y in 1935
Y died on her 86th birthday after a long battle with her last illness.  She died in her own bed at home with her lipstick on.  As she would have wanted.

I think of Y often.  She taught me so much about standards, about endurance and style, about life between the wars and during World War II and about the world she came from.  As always in these circumstances, I wish I had asked her more.  I'm priveleged to have known her.

2 comments:

lyndagrace said...

Your touching tribute to Y made me want to know more about her and more about how you came to know her.

witchyknits4ewe said...

What a very sweet post. How did you know her? What an extraordinary life she had...