Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Guest Post: Cousin Maggie (part 2)

Guest Post: Cousin Maggie (part 2)

By: Anne (U.K.) - December 15, 2011

Part 1 here.

A year passed. Occasional letters and cards to Cousin Maggie indicated she was alive, well, and living at the same address. Time arrived for the annual trip to London, this time armed with a specially purchased macro lens, which my amateur photographer spouse assured me would do the business.

After a couple of days staying at my mother’s home, I announced at some point we would be visiting Cousin Maggie again, but wasn’t sure when. Really I should write to let her know, but I had no idea which day we would go, what time … my mother was appalled at the idea we would descend on the poor old lady without any warning. I agreed, and promised to write the next day.

However, the next day was a Sunday, and I woke with the pressing feeling that This Was The Day. “Get up now!” I hissed at my husband, “we have to go to Maggie’s NOW!!” But, he remonstrated, it was Sunday, she had no phone, we couldn’t warn her we were coming, she might not even be there, she could be on holiday or in hospital, or anywhere … I didn’t care. We had to go there and then, and that was it. Scrambling to get ready, I felt we should not take the children this time, so my Mother reluctantly agreed to look after them for as long as it took, probably knowing well enough by then, that there was no point arguing with her daughter when the red genealogical mist descended.

As we embarked on the hour- long journey on the Underground, I literally prayed silently the entire journey. My husband was far from pleased at being turfed out of his bed so early, and my rational self acknowledged the scheme was reckless. Clutching the camera bag with a venom which would surely have deterred any would-be mugger, we discussed strategy as we walked along the road to the flat. We agreed that my husband would silently monitor the light levels; when the light was suitable for taking photos, he would make a certain signal, at which point I would ask permission to take copies. Things didn’t look too hopeful on a grey, cloudy morning; but come what may, Operation Photo Album was underway.

The first hitch occurred when nobody answered the door. This did not bode well. We went for a walk along the riverside, returning in an hour, by which time Maggie had returned home (we later discovered she had gone to change the flowers for the Service at the Seaman’s Mission, a cause close to her heart). She answered the door, but seemed different from last year — more confused, she struggled to remember who we were, but eventually invited us in. She had nothing ‘in’ to offer us, she apologised, but we said water would be fine. We chatted about family matters, I showed her some photos of the children, we exhausted many topics, all the while waiting for my husband’s signal. Eventually the situation became almost painful, but with no break in the clouds outside, gloom descended and I said to Maggie: “Do you remember last year you showed us the photo album and the sampler? We have a camera lens now which should enable us to take copies of the album without removing the photos. Could we try it?” She looked slightly unsure, but agreed to fetch the album.

While she was out of the room, the situation deteriorated. My husband hissed at me that there wasn’t enough natural light to take a decent copy; I hissed back that we had no option and something would have to be better than nothing. It was a mess. I’d been wrong, and would have to accept it; the album would have to remain in my head. As Maggie staggered into the room clutching the book, I grabbed an envelope out of my bag and asked her to tell me, page by page, who the photos were, which she did, whilst my husband assembled the equipment. There were two windows in the room, but neither provided sufficient light to take the required photos. Although it was overcast, it was dry; there were clouds everywhere and the built-up nature of the area didn’t help. I took a deep breath and asked if we could take the album and the sampler outside into the back street, directly underneath the window, to photograph it; Maggie looked concerned, but eventually agreed, very reluctantly.

Standing outside the Edwardian building didn’t seem to help matters at all. Flats surrounded us on three sides, an old Victorian school on the fourth. “All I can suggest”, said husband, “is that we take the album over the road to that old car park we sat in when we were waiting for her. There might just be more light there”. So, for the benefit of an anxious Maggie peering at us from behind her net curtains, I launched into a complicated charades-type routine which I hoped conveyed the message: “There is not enough light here, so we are going to go across the road to the car park to try our luck there”.

It was a two minute walk to the car park, but to access it we had to cross one of the main traffic routes in London, called Tooley Street. It is one of the main arterial roads serving south London, and is busy at all hours of the day and night. It is also a bus route, and part of me wondered what those sitting in their cars or on buses waiting at traffic lights would make of what was about to unfold in the car park. To add to my woes, it looked perilously like rain, my husband was in ultra ‘this was always a mad idea’ mode, and Maggie was carrying out surveillance from her front window, watching our every move. This was a disaster on every possible level. She would never speak to me again, I decided.

We found a broken wall in the carpark, on which it was agreed I would, out of shot, support the album, and turn the pages whilst the photographer did his stuff. By now I just wanted to get this over and done with, go home, and have a nap. It was already past lunchtime, and I was so hungry, the road was busy, and I would have to spend the rest of my life being told how stupid the whole idea had been.

“Right. You support the book, open a page, I’ll take the photo and then you turn the page to the next photo. Hopefully we might just get this done before the rain starts”, said my husband. I nodded forlornly. In the days before digital cameras, we had no idea of knowing if the plan would work. It was, literally, a one shot opportunity.

And then, as I opened the album, the miracle happened. From out of nowhere, a ray of sunlight broke through the clouds and fell on the car park. Husband and I looked at each other in astonishment. “Go, go, go!” I yelled, as if leading a special forces raid, and as soon as he had taken each photograph, I turned the page. We didn’t speak – in fact, I could hardly breathe. Time felt as if it was standing still, but eventually he worked his way through the album and all the pictures were copied. Still the sun shone. I hurriedly put the book away in the carrier bag we had placed it in, and said “Now the sampler. Let’s try the sampler”. We spread the 140-year-old sampler out in its glory on top of the carrier bag on the ground of the car park. Several shots were necessary to record the sampler in decent detail; the minute my husband said “That’s it. I’ve got it all”, the sun disappeared and the sky clouded over. We both relaxed. I noticed Cousin Maggie cease her window vigil across the road. Mission accomplished.

“Can you believe that?” I squealed in utter joy, feeling completely vindicated and filled with gratitude for the intervention. In fact I relaxed a little too much — suddenly a minute gust of wind blew up out of nowhere, lifted the edge of the sampler, and before I knew what was happening, the sampler was blown down the busy street, and I still have the image of it turning cartwheels as we watched, burned into my brain.

There was nothing for it. I ran as I have never run before, or since. Usain Bolt could have learned something that day. Even when running, my brain found time to wonder how I would explain to Cousin Maggie that her precious heirloom had been crushed under the wheels of a red London double decker bus. The thought spurred me still more. If I had to fling myself under the wheels of the bus to save the sampler, I would. I had given an undertaking it would be returned safely, and it would, at any cost.

Thankfully such heroics were not necessary. Somehow I caught level with the sampler, and executing a swoop-like movement, grabbed it by a hem as it was about to blow off the kerb and into the traffic. No Olympic gold medal winner has ever felt so victorious. I stood on the kerb, simultaneously exhilarated, trembling, and suddenly aware that the drivers and passengers in several cars were applauding.

Thankfully the sampler had come to no harm during its bid for escape. We put it back into the paper bag, and crossed the road to Maggie’s flat, where it soon became evident she had missed the latter drama. Her only comment was: “You were lucky there, weren’t you? Just at the right time for the sunshine. Only, you know, it’s the strangest thing”, she continued “There wasn’t any sunshine anywhere else. It was all cloudy. The only place the sun seemed to be shining was on that car park. Funny, that!”

“Funny”, indeed.

Loose ends: I never saw Cousin Maggie again. Christmas cards stopped arriving, and I later checked on a civil records site, and learned that she had died. I have no idea of the circumstances. I don’t know what happened to the photo album, or the sampler. I have no idea who cleared her flat.

My mother died in 2000, and two years later my husband and I separated. He left the negatives of the photos, which have never been printed up, because I am too scared to hand them over to a developer. Ironically, I periodically lose – then find — the envelope, on the back of which is listed who is who in the album. My goal for 2012 is to find the list again, record it properly, then summon up the courage to hand over the negatives to a reputable photo service, in order that the Palmer family photos can see the light of day!



  1. This ended better than I thought it would. It reminds me of too many lost opportunities of my own that I did not follow through on. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by kevinf — December 15, 2011 @ 9:41 am

  2. Funny, miraculous, sad, all at once.

    (If anyone wonders, that’s a contact sheet of some of the actual photographs Anne made — you can see enough to realize what a treasure that album was!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 15, 2011 @ 9:46 am

  3. Wow! … Thanks Anne and Ardis.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — December 15, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  4. Anne, I’ve emailed you a link to a gadget you can buy that plugs into your computer and scans negatives.

    Comment by Alison — December 15, 2011 @ 10:31 am

  5. I’m with comment #1

    I’ll bet Anne knows somebody with a negative scanner. She could digitize the negs (and make multiple copies of the digital files) without them ever leaving her possession. The local Wal-Mart here in town has a self-serve machine with this capability.

    Comment by The Other Clark — December 15, 2011 @ 10:32 am

  6. Definately worth the wait.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — December 15, 2011 @ 10:37 am

  7. Terrific story, Anne! Thanks for sharing it. Too bad there were no video cameras recording your Usain Bolt impression.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 15, 2011 @ 10:41 am

  8. Maybe the Linwood Asda in Paisley would have one of those machines–depends on how much of Wal-Mart has invaded its UK subsidiary.

    If that works, I’ll expect a follow-up post before Christmas! With pictures!

    Comment by Mark B. — December 15, 2011 @ 11:06 am

  9. Should that be “the Asda in award-winning Linwood”, Mark? 😉

    Comment by Alison — December 15, 2011 @ 11:34 am

  10. I’ll plead complete ignorance on that, Alison. 🙂

    Comment by Mark B. — December 15, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

  11. Thanks, again, for your comments.

    You know, I really am stuuuuuuupid, with a capital S. I have heard of slide scanners, and considered buying one to digitise my teenage years, all captured on slides (cheaper processing).It had never occurred to me to digitise the negatives, rather than entrusting them to someone else. Thanks so much for the suggestions! It’s my birthday next month, will drop hints (subtle and otherwise) to the offspring.

    Since sending Ardis my story, I have found the list of who is who, so that’s another challenge down, and somewhat miraculous in itself (it surfaced when my daughter decided to redecorate my flat as a surprise whilst I enjoyed a quiet weekend away, oblivious. Unfortunately she’s nowhere near finished yet, but the envelope turned up!)

    And Mark, really, I was howling with laughter at finding reference to Linwood on Keepa, on the day in which Linwood was awarded the dubious accolade of being named Scotland’s most dismal town in the “Carbuncle Awards”.

    some pics:

    I learned today that the Health Centre there has been invaded by bats. It’s that sort of a place!

    Comment by Anne (UK) — December 15, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

  12. Wonderful story! Wonderful comments as well! The Carbuncle Awards is a marvelous name.

    And with this discussion, I had to look at where all of my Renfrew people were from. No Linwood (too bad!) but such exotic names: Cathcart, Mearns, Neilston, Paisley, Erskine, Johnstone, Lochwinnoch. Sigh. One of these years I’ll get around to my Scottish research.

    Good luck with digitizing the pictures, Anne!

    Comment by Amy T — December 15, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

  13. Amy, do you have your own ancestors from Johnstone? Not the RL Campbell connection? (I live in Johnstone and work in Paisley, but sadly must inform you that neither is very exotic! Lochwinnoch is pretty though, when it’s not flooded).

    Comment by Anne (UK) — December 15, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

  14. Yes, and I see from my files that they’re also ancestors of a certain politician, formerly of Massachusetts, who may have been mentioned a time or two recently in the news media. (Phrasing my reply this way in case Ardis has her filters set higher than normal in these rather peculiar times. : )

    Comment by Amy T — December 15, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

  15. Goodness. That’s a surprise!

    A certain politician who shall not be named has ancestors from this neck of the woods?

    If you would like any local photos etc, or if there’s anything I can do for you locally, just let me know.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — December 15, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

  16. How nice to fall completely by accident into the Carbuncle Awards–more specifically, apparently, the Plook on the Plinth! I’d ask what on earth a Plook is, but since this is a family blog, etc., etc., I’m not sure I want to know the answer.

    And don’t knock bats. They eat bugs, mosquitoes, and other pests, by the ton.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 15, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

  17. Oh, and thanks for the link to the BBC report. When I clicked on that, I got an ad (or should that be an “advert”?) for McGill University–a place dear to me. I didn’t go there, but my daughter and a lot of my money did.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 15, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

  18. What a wonderful story, Anne. It’s so nice to hear that people are continuing to plug away at these projects, even when time manages to insinuate itself in unwelcome ways. Even the telling of it takes time. Your story-telling is as good as the story, and we are cheering you along.

    Comment by Ellen — December 15, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  19. Mark: it’s safe. ‘Plook’ = ‘zit’ in your language 🙂

    Comment by Anne (UK) — December 15, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  20. Never say Keepa isn’t a fount of unexpected learning!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 15, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

  21. Dang! I am glad to learn that! Perhaps we can move on next to French seals.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 15, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

  22. (French seals: Private joke shared by Mark B., Helen Waite, and me.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 15, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

  23. What a treat this has been. Anne, you are a natural story-teller. Thanks.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — December 16, 2011 @ 1:18 am

  24. I can only echo the other commenters who’ve already marveled at both the content and the telling of the tale. I felt like I was right there with you, Anne, heart-in-throat the whole time. Thanks so much.

    Comment by SLK — December 16, 2011 @ 10:06 am

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