Thursday, September 04, 2014

RIP Brenda Tilley

My Aunty Brenda died on Wednesday. She was 94, or maybe 95.

When I was a child she lived with my family. She was my father's sister.

Brenda caught viral meningitis aged twelve. She recovered but mentally she developed no further. I image the diagnostic skills and help available in 1931/2 were not that precise.

My mother tells of the day she first encountered Brenda on being taken back to my Dad's home to meet his family. 'How old is your sister?' she asked, 'Fourteen or fifteen?' She was looking at a girl wearing a pinafore dress and playing in the garden. She was twenty-six.

Thanks to the goodwill of her father's business she was able to work in an office, without qualifications, for many years. She did basic filing and secretarial work, retiring in her late fifties.

The house I grew up in was left jointly to her and my father after their mother died in about 1958 or so. The living arrangements, which had seen me and my parents live on the first floor as a separate flat and Brenda and her Mum live downstairs, were changed. Brenda lived in a two room bedsit on the first floor and we lived in the rest of the house, joined by my sister about the same time.

Having an Aunty Brenda, who popped her head round the door two or three times a day, was normal for me. She usually coincided her little trips to family mealtimes - she liked to see what we were eating.

She was a creature of habit. She visited her sisters on particular days of the week, joined us for meals on family celebrations, ate at the same time each day. When she went to Selly Oak, a Birmingham suburb, she was one of the last people I knew to refer to it as 'Going up the village'. She attended St Stephen's, Selly Park for the evening service each week, sitting in the same pew all the time.

I won't pretend this was an easy arrangement for my folks - there were rows about tidiness and cleanliness. She wasn't very good at cleaning her cooker so upstairs ponged a bit sometimes.

She loved the TV soaps, adored the pianist Russ Conway but beyond that was a person of simple taste and few diversions. For many years she prided herself on not eating chocolate but in later life her willpower flagged.

She was my godmother. I still have, and use, a copy of the Book of Common Prayer she gave me as a baptism gift (aged 4 months).

Don Humphreys persuaded her to come on a CYFA Venture (holiday houseparty for teenagers) at Clevedon as a cook. She did it once only though.

After Dad died my Mum and Brenda sold the house. Brenda lived independently for a year or two but then had a hip operation from which she did not fully recover. She ended her days in Selly Park Nursing Home. Her remaining family gathered for her 90th birthday, which she seemed to enjoy, but since then she has barely communicated or recognised us. My cousin Gordon, many years older than me, has been a great support to his Aunt in her last years.



Anonymous said...

Aunty Bren da was 97. I am updating the Tilley Family Tree, can you give me the following information?
Your Father's Birthday - your Birthday - your sister's Birthday and your second Son's Birthday. I am Gordon's wife Dorothy and you can send your answer to

Anonymous said...

Sorry I should have mentioned your marriage in my last request Dorothy Hadley