Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A double lightning strike

Isabel Frame, Oamaru Gardens

Janet Frame’s younger sister Isabel died on this day in 1947. Isabel drowned in Picton Harbour while on holiday with her mother, almost exactly ten years after her sister Myrtle had drowned in the Oamaru public baths. As Janet Frame says in her autobiography An Angel at My Table:

“On the second afternoon of the Picton holiday, the phone rang, and June answered it, and heard through the static and crackle, that it was ‘Picton calling’. Dad was at work, and Bruddie [Geordie] was out. Aunty Grace was calling from Picton. Then there was an invisible commotion in the kitchen, like static leaked from the telephone: Isabel, swimming in Picton Harbour, had collapsed and was drowned. There was to be an inquest, after which Mother would bring Isabel home by train.
There was no use even supposing that there had been a mistake: Isabel drowned. It was almost ten years since Myrtle’s death, and this new blow, like a double lightning strike, burned away our thinking and feeling – what was there to think about, to feel?

The phone rang again. It was Dad: he’d heard the news and was coming home. Bruddie was coming home too. The news was everywhere: Family tragedy of ten years ago repeated. Oamaru girl drowned.

Some called her ‘girl’, some called her ‘woman’. Isabel May Frame in her twenty-first year."

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