Let me introduce you to Jean. I have known Jean for nearly 20 years. She is the reason that I visit Aberdeen so frequently, and, quite frankly, love Aberdeen so much. Jean lived with her two sisters for most of her life, the last 30 years in a flat just off Union Street. 3 years ago, living on her own, Jean had a bad fall, to cut a long story short, no one realised that a piece of bone from her shoulder had become dislodged, then infected, causing serious illness. The prognosis was not considered good. Cutting another long story short, she was extricated from a Rehab Hospital into a Nursing Home and three years later she is healthier and fitter than she has been for many years. Jean is 91 years and 10 months old. When she moved into the home, I was privileged enough to be allowed to clear her home, ensuring all her possessions went where she wanted them to go. She gave me her tea towels, her collection of more than 50; tea towels that she, and her sisters, had enjoyed buying (and using) from holidays, home and abroad, days out and presents they had been given. They were people who believed that tea towels were for using, not just collecting.
“Would you like to be a Guest Tea Towel, in the Virtual Tea Towel Museum?” I asked. I could see a strange look come over her face, probably thinking ‘What is this woman talking about?’ Politely she said “What do you mean?” I explained that she would have to choose her favourite tea towel from the Collection that she had passed on to me and then tell me the story of the tea towel. It would then be on the internet and ‘go viral’.“I like that idea. I’d like to do it but I don’t know which was my favourite. I liked the Gordon Tartan one, but don’t remember the story. We had a lot of Scottish ones like the one about Wild Flowers of Scotland or Scottish Recipes. There was a great one from our trip to Beamish and I think there is one of Hitchin where David and Dorothy lived. We used to go down every year. There’s a nice one from a trip to Cambridge with Lyn and the children”. (I quickly persuaded her against that one because no reader would be able to see the picture; it had been bleached to death!!).
“I know” says Jean “It could be one of two: either the one from Ferryhill Church or the Aberdeen Guides Tea Towel”. I suggested that the next time I came up, I would bring both tea towels to see if that helped in her decision-making and I would be able to take a picture of her with the one she chose. “What a lovely idea. I’d like to see them again”. Two months later, I took the two tea towels to Jean. She had forgotten about her agreement to be a Guest Tea Towel, or, more importantly, what a Guest Tea Towel was. A very brief recap brought it all back. She struggled with the decision; each tea towel had different memories but eventually chose Ferryhill Church. I might make an exception and let her have a second favourite Guest Tea Towel in the future, maybe to celebrate her 92nd birthday.
”I’m choosing the Ferryhill one. Ferryhill Church was the church we always used to go to, ever since we were children. David was in the Boys Brigade, Betty ran the Brownies, Myra was a Guide Leader for more than 36 years and had a certificate from the church and her picture in the paper. There was a lot of socials to do with the church, some ministers were better than others but that would never stop us going. I can’t remember who decided to do this but to celebrate the Millenium we decided to have one of those tea towels with everyone’s signatures on it. A bit like one of those from school but at least we didn’t have to draw a picture of ourselves. How many signatures are there, Barbara?” Have you ever tried to count signatures, haphazardly written on a tea towel? But there were significantly more than 100.
”We all had to do it in our best writing. Betty always had the neatest writing. Mine was definitely not neat but I did my best. They had loads printed and everyone on it bought one and I’m sure they bought them for their friends as presents as well. We gave one to David and Dorothy”. We then spent some time looking for the signatures of Betty and Myra, as well as Jean. Just as we found one, we lost it looking for another. Jean got distracted by finding signatures of her friends, some of whom were no longer alive. She could remember lots about the lives of the people who had signed the tea towel. “That’s why this one is my favourite, just looking at it brings back memories of people, not so much of the process of doing it but those names conjure up great memories. The money raised from the sale of the tea towel was used towards developing new services at the church, like the cafe which opens in the week. I can’t remember if the money was actually used for that but it was something like that. It was a good idea. I’m glad we did it and that I signed the tea towel, even though my writing was scruffy. That’s what Ferryhill was, a nice community. When we moved to Thistle Court, it was not the local church but we would never have changed where we went. It was a good way to celebrate a new Millenium. Is that ok?” Thank you, Jean for that great story. You affirm the premise that ‘every tea towel tells a story’ and Jean still goes to Ferryhill Church.