Memory Museums:- The Lost Scarecrows
Some of our regular readers probably know that for a living, I work on a frontline emergency ambulance in London. So I go into people’s homes a lot. Mostly invited but always with good intentions for the health and wellbeing of the person inside. On those occasions where it turns out not to be a total gun-blazing emergency, I often have the opportunity to look around a bit. In an ‘interested third party’ sort of way, not a burglar sort of way. You never know what you might see when you step inside the home of someone you’ve never met before, who might be of a completely different generation or culture than yourself.
Going into people’s houses is a very special and unique thing. You might go into a home that was moved into 40 or 50 years ago and hasn’t been decorated since. You might see a collection of art and memorabilia that goes back decades and decades. You are walking into a museum of that persons life and interests. I would say it’s like walking into a cemetery except that a cemetery houses the dead and these homes and the pictures that hang in them, the ornaments and collectables and books and furniture and the wallpaper – these things are completely alive, without exception. It’s a privilege to be able to see these personal museums and art galleries. To see a beautiful painting on the wall or a striking, well kept garden or a photograph of the person as a young man or woman – during the war or on their wedding day. There’s not many professions in which you get to enter into this very private sphere of existence. And the very best thing of all is when you step inside a home & see something there that transports you back to a time in your own life. A link with your own past. Maybe something you had forgotten.
I am telling you all of this because the other day I walked into someone’s house and was immediately greeted by these in the hallway:
(Photograph taken with permission)
These simple, knitted scarecrows immediately took me back to my childhood – my Grandma had knitted them for my brother and I. These exact scarecrows! Everything matches, even the colours used for the boots and the hats! We didn’t know what they were in reference to at the time – they just seemed like generic scarecrows and the closest thing we could come up with was the Thursday episode of the children’s television programme Playdays, which featured a scarecrow. I liked the detail on them – the little knitted snail that sat on top of Grandpa scarecrow’s hat and the ladybird that perched on another member of the family. They were so bright and cleverly made, and personal, because they had been created just for us.
It never occurred to me that there would be more out there. Until I walked into this house and saw a chair full of the very same knitted dolls! The very same, except I should say – and I’m sorry Grandma – these ones were knitted much more carefully and looked a shade more professional. Indicating that perhaps knitting was not a skill that came naturally to my Grandmother, and my Mum remembers that she would get impatient and rush things to get them finished. Also, ours were not in pristine condition because we had played with them so much.
You get the impression that somewhere along the way, my Grandma had got impatient with the hair and not finished it properly. Still, I loved him just the same.
Sadly, my brother and I lost most of the dolls as we grew up. They most likely got thrown away as we entered that far-from-precious stage of adolescence where childhood memories mean very little, and mementos from days gone by, especially those most associated with childish ways, get thrown aside to make way for the new stuff – in my case books and CDs and then make up and shoes. The Grandpa scarecrow pictured above somehow managed to survive, and after my encounter with the chair full of scarecrows, I went to my Mum’s house and rooted around on top of my old wardrobe and there he was. Relatively unscathed though long forgotten.
And I remembered this part of our childhood that seemed so unique to us, and thought that if I could walk into a house belonging to someone of my grandmother’s generation and find the very same knitted dolls then they must have come from a popular knitting pattern, maybe one that came with a craft magazine in the 1980’s, and then I would know people who would also remember the dolls, because perhaps their grandparents would also have knitted them. I posted the picture on Facebook with an explanation and sure enough, a handful of friends said they too had come across the scarecrows in childhood. Then one of them, my fellow Blogger Samantha Sparrow went one better, and told me about their origins…and just like that I learnt something I had never known or thought to question as a child. Something that may have lay forgotten about forever and never properly understood, had I not been able to walk into a strangers house as a trusted member of the community and ask about the history and art that lay inside.
And here they are! Picture taken from the Jean Greenhowe web page. Notice how much neater Grandpa Scarecrow’s hair is (far left)!
It turns out that Jean Greenhowe and her family were responsible for the knitting booklet that my Grandma would have got the patterns for the dolls from. In fact, she might even have got the patterns from Women’s Weekly Magazine, which published them as a series in the late 1980’s, because they were so popular. She died in 2001 and I can’t ask her and would never have thought to as, being a teenager, there were far more stupid and vacuous questions on my mind and the origins of things I encountered as a child just did not occur to me.
My favorite thing of all is that Jean Greenhowe’s designs, far from being lost and forgotten in a time before the Internet, are still going strong today. And they aren’t merely limited to scarecrows. These are things that I never knew and would never have found out if I hadn’t been greeted with such a strong visual reminder of my past that morning last week. Aside from the fact that I’m (hopefully) helping people and making a difference to their lives and their health, this is the thing I love most about my job. Every day is a new museum of memory, of a life well lived and off mementoes that people just do not ever think to share with the outside world. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be allowed to see it all.
Taken from Jean Greenhowe Designs
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