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Book Dedication

dedication page

Nan & I at her 90th birthday
I've often wondered who the people are that authors' dedicate their books to, what their relationship is and why they chose them. What a huge decision. But I knew very early on that I would dedicate Shiny Bits In Between to my grandmother (Nan) and Sheila, her eldest daughter. Both women have been muses for me, and many of my artistic endeavors are rooted in their persons. I couldn't have written this book without either of these extraordinary women.


It was the early 1930's when my curious and fearless grandmother found an advertisement in the newspaper about a job in Brasil. It sounded like an adventure, so she applied and got the job. She boarded a boat in London and crossed the seas to Brasil where she met my grandfather. Nan had children late for the era. She was over forty when she had my uncle, her last child. She had adventures to enjoy, after all.

Ethel Kenning (Nan)

Nan and Sheila as a baby
My Nan has now joined her beloved daughter Sheila, who tragically drowned in Nepal when she was only 23 years old. It was 1963 and she left behind a husband and two baby boys. My mum spoke of her sister often, although my Nan did not. I had seen the grief behind my grandmother's eyes every day of her life. So I began adding my own narrative around these stories, embellishing the details that were left out. The following are my mum’s recollections of her sister, Sheila.

"I have tried very hard to take myself back to our childhood and the times we spent together. As with most siblings, we tended to live our own separate lives, her being 18 months older than me. We grew closer as we got older, and she helped me out a lot during my first pregnancy, offering sage advice as well as some of Phillip’s baby items. So I offer my memories of Sheila and hope that they offer a glimpse into her too-short life.

Sheila was born in Rio, and soon after her birth, our father was transferred to Manaos. We lived in a big house on cement pillars which had a huge green double-door wooden gate leading into a scrubby garden. Our nanny and maids had rooms under the house, and I remember once we were told there were ghosts in there and we weren’t to go in, so we wouldn't bother them I suppose.

My own memories of Sheila don’t really start until we moved to Sao Paulo when Sheila was about 5. When we first arrived, we lived temporarily in a little cottage on the grounds of my parents’ friends’ house. I remember they had a cage full of colourful canaries that we used to talk to. Soon we moved to the Green House (so called because it had a lot of green paint).  Sheila made friends with a girl called Vallee who told us there was no Father Christmas and who took us to a “viewing” of a young man who had died. I think Sheila probably learnt a lot (maybe too much) from Vallee!

We then moved to the Iron House (every window had iron bars) which was surrounded by very tall walls with glass shards inserted on the top of them as protection. Sheila tended to be inside a lot with our Mother - they were very close. One night Sheila woke up and saw a man passing her bedroom window, so she woke Mum and Dad who turned on the lights and found a man trying to steal clothes off the washing line! It was there that I got polio. While I was in hospital, Sheila gave me a musical box with a dancing ballerina that I loved. Unfortunately for me she asked for it back when I got home! Another memory I have of that time was when Ian and I raided our piggy banks and went to this really tacky bar area and bought candy. Sheila found out and told Mum, so we got into deep trouble!

The next house we called the Bonde Line House because it was next to the tram lines.  There weren’t any girls Sheila’s age nearby, but she would have play dates with some who lived within walking distance or tram rides.  We never had a car in Brasil. Something else I remember about that house was that a leper would occasionally come by ringing his bell to warn people he was coming. We, at that age, were morbidly interested.

Sheila's first school was a Roman Catholic school, and then we transferred to an American school, St. George’s. She always did well and made many friends. When she was 10, she started boarding school (Dad’s choice was Scotland, being a Scot and because he thought the education there was better). She was very excited at the prospect, and so was I because I got her bedroom and, at last, didn’t have to share. When she got to Scotland, my great aunt and uncle (Queenie and Jack) took her in. She really enjoyed her stay there. When Nunky Jack took her to school for the first time she told him, “Put your foot down!” She couldn’t wait to get there! She enjoyed boarding school and did really well academically, but we led separate lives there, her with her friends and me with mine.

Our first holiday home (a sort of boarding house for children whose parents were overseas) was in Crieff, Perthshire. We didn’t stay there long because they didn’t normally take boys and we had Ian with us. Our next one was in Crail, near St. Andrews. That was a really nice place run by two women who took us on a lot of picnics, swimming in the cold Atlantic, bicycle rides, etc. We all thoroughly enjoyed our holidays there.
L to R: Libby (mum), Ian, Sheila
When Sheila was 14, we went back to Sao Paulo for our summer holidays. On our way over we stopped in Lisbon to refuel, and while waiting we wandered around the terminal. We came across a glass jeweller's case and a man came up and asked us if we liked the pieces. We said yes and he opened it up with his key and gave Sheila and I a beautiful silver filigree brooch each (I still have mine). Once in Brasil, we took a trip into the interior to visit a coffee plantation. We had Bird’s Nest Soup for dinner, and afterwards we found out that one of the guests had asked Dad if he could marry Sheila! We were all flabbergasted.

Sheila was always open to meeting new people and having a good time. She left St. Columbus when she was 16 or 17 and went to Kingston Tech to take a secretarial course. Our parents had come back to England by then. I remember when I came down from school, a term after her, she opened the front door of our maternal Grandmother’s house, and I was astounded at how grown up she looked after such a short time. Sheila had her first heart break then. She had been going out with this boy (there was some connection to Brasil) and he broke up with her. She soon got over it though. She joined the tennis club (Courtlands) which was just up the by-pass from us and made many new friends there - male and female. She was a pretty good player too. While there she went out with a few men but nothing serious. Once she went out with Roger Becker (ranked #1 in Britain at the time) while there was a big tournament going on. She also had breakfast with a famous English actor (James Robertson Justice) on her way down to visit Mum and Dad. When JRJ asked the waiter to see if she would have breakfast with him, she of course agreed.

Sheila as a young woman
So my sister was open, friendly, kind and good. People were really drawn to her. She was also a klutz which she openly admitted to! Strangely, Georgina is the same way. Mum missed her so much, and even towards the end of Mum’s life, she often said how much she missed her still. At the time of Sheila’s death, Mike and I discussed starting a family so that maybe it might help distract Mum a little. When Georgina was born, I think it did help. And again, strangely, I can see a lot of Sheila in Georgina who got very close to Mum as Georgina got older. Sheila has remained a part of all our lives. We have often brought her up over the years, and all three of my children know her story. In fact, Georgina has been inspired by her (and Mum) in her writing and art. Her life was tragically cut short, but she lived a good one and was a beautiful person that none of us will ever forget. Both her sons have pieces of her in them that she left behind and that will continue to leave a part of her in this world.

Libby x


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