Lila Melitza Pio-Ulski-Parks (née Nozadze) ~ 1917-1997

I will admit that I really wasn’t that interested in my parents’ or grandmother’s past lives when I was growing up so I never bothered to sit down with with my mother and get her to tell me as much about her life as she could remember.   Therefore this is a rather hit-and-miss biography, based mainly on my hazy memory  🙁

Balia married my grandfather, Joseph, and they were living in Baku, as that was where his regiment was stationed.  I don’t know why Joseph was in Vladivostok but he sent a telegram to his wife urging her to leave Baku immediately and get to Vladivostok.

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Apparently it was Balia’s namesday on the day she got the telegram so she was wearing an expensive diamond cross which her godmother had given her.

She had no need to have money on her as all her purchases used to be charged to accounts at the various stores, so she had to sell the diamonds on the cross one at a time to get enough money to fund her travelling arrangements across the vast Russian continent to get to Vladivostok.

I’m pretty sure that Balia’s family (her father, stepmother and half sister, Lida) must have been on that train as well as mom told me about her father buying a cow for Balia to help her to feed my mother when Balia’s milk dried up  😮

Certainly they all ended up in Vladivostok together.

Mom was born on that journey, delivered by a vet, and added to Balia’s passport at Alma Ata. They arrived safely at Vladivostok, probably some time during Spring 1917, and they stayed there for a few more years as my aunt was born there in October 1922.

Mom also told me that she and dad found out years later that they lived really close to each other when they were in Vladivostok, just about a block or so apart! Amazing 😀

So mom must have been about 5-6 years old or so when things got too difficult with the Bolsheviks there so they made their way to Shanghai with Joseph following later.

Akim, Lida and Maria (Click to enlarge)

Her maternal grandfather, Akim Borodinoff, was a great big bear of a man who was a wealthy and well-known engineer – one of his projects was building a pipeline to Baku.

I recall my mother telling me that her grandfather was very lazy as a youngster and refused to learn anything at school. However when he turned 21, he changed and couldn’t stop studying!

According to Sasha, mom’s cousin (who was living in Queensland at the time), Balia’s father remarried after her mother died and his new wife, Maria, was Sasha’s grandmother.  That marriage produced another daughter, called Lydia (who was his mother), and she and Balia were very close.

Joseph’s father’s name was David Nozadze and he married Eva (Evgenya) Saginashvili.

I remember mom telling me that this grandmother of hers used to ride bareback on her horse when quite old! She said they had an estate near Gori, in Georgia, and that, as a boy, her father used to play with another boy whose mother used to come and do the cleaning in his parents’ house. This boy was called Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili and ended up being known to the world as Joseph Stalin!

I don’t know how true that story is, especially as Stalin would have been 10 years older than mom’s father, so I wouldn’t have thought there’d have been much connection as children. But that’s what she told me and I am passing the snippet on for posterity’s sake.

Mom went to school in Shanghai and she told me how embarrassed she was because her parents’ couldn’t afford to buy new shoes when she grew out of her old ones, so she had to stuff sheets of crumpled paper down her 2nd hand shoes to make them wearable 🙁

Her father was a gambler and so whatever Balia managed to earn from either piano lessons or from her cooking seemed to be swallowed up by his addiction.  Most times he lost but when he did win, he’d fill rickshaws full of food, flowers, wine and other goodies and take them home to the family.

When mom finished school, she got a job working in the Ladies Department at Whiteaways and when she turned 18, Balia approved of her suitor, Jack Seaby’s, request for her hand in marriage.  I don’t think my mother was keen to marry Jack but Balia’s thinking was that mom would be looked after and her future would be secure.

She went through with the marriage and soon after they went to England on home leave. Mom was fond of Jack’s family and enjoyed her time in the UK but she had a telegram saying her father was very ill and that she should return back to Shanghai.

She did and soon after asked Jack for an annulment, as she really didn’t love it and couldn’t face spending the rest of her life with him.

Fortunately he gave mom her annulment without argument and then, some months later, she and some friends went to the St George’s Night Club and my father was playing there on the piano. He noticed mom and it was love at first sight!  🙂

Mom was very wary of getting into another relationship but dad wouldn’t give up and they were soon a couple.

In 1937 it became evident that times were not getting better in Shanghai so dad got a job as Orchestra Leader with the HK Hotels and they moved to Hong Kong in November of that year.

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Daddy on the “Chak Shan”, going to HK (Click to enlarge)

1937 Nov 15 – at Swatow on the Chak Sang en route to HK (Click to enlarge)

 

They had a flat in Kowloon on Hankow Road and finally life seemed to be on the up!  Daddy was playing at four hotels – in the Gripps at the HK Hotel, in Central; the Repulse Bay Hotel at Repulse Bay; the Gloucester, also in Central; and the Peninsula, in Kowloon.

In 1940 mom started the Linen Chest as the manageress so life was good for both of them.

Friends gathered around the dining table at the Peninsula Hotel

Friends gathered around the dining table at the Peninsula Hotel (Click to enlarge)

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Lindy was born in 1939, they had a happy family life and many friends and it was a lovely peaceful time after the turmoils of Shanghai.

mom lindy collage Sadly the halcyon years were not to last.

Slowly the storm clouds began to gather, culminating with the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong in December 1941.

They were turfed out of the Gloucester and had to find their own accommodation, which they did in Kowloon.  So not only did they have a little kid to look after but also Baba Manya and Victor Petrovich had come to HK in 1939 so must have been an added burden for them to have to find food for two more mouths 🙁

Fortunately mom, dad and Lindy all survived the Japanese Occupation and two years later, I was born and finally my parents were able to bring both Balia and Jenny out from Shanghai to live in Hong Kong.

Ronald and Joanna Ramsay with my parents (Click to enlarge)

Daddy resumed his job as Orchestra Leader with the HK Hotels group and mom resumed her job as manageress for the «The Linen Chest» on Chater Road in Central.

Mom and dad were good friends with Ronald Ramsey, who owned the Linen Chest, and his wife Joanna.

They used to see them when we went to London on leave, as well as Joanna’s sister, Izzy Gawler, who was was a staff member of Cambridge University during the 1960s but what she did, I’m not sure.

In December 1947, dad decided that Pio-Ulski was too much of a burden for us to have as a name so he decided to Anglecise his surname to Parks.  He also realised that working as a musician was not the most responsible profession for his growing family so he applied for an inspector’s position with Hongkong Tramways.

When he got the job, Balia moved into our old flat on Cameron Road while we went over to HK side to live in a flat on Morrison Hill Road.

When Ronald Ramsey, the owner of the Linen Chest decided to retire, he sold the company to Anker Henningsen, who was at the time the owner of the Coca Cola franchise in HK.   Anker changed the name of the boutique to «Paquerette», relocated it to the Gloucester Hotel, almost next door to Lane Crawford’s, and put mom in charge.

Paquerette on Des Voeux Road Central

Paquerette on Des Voeux Road Central

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Another name for «daisy» in French is pâquerette, so that’s where the name for the boutique came from … as you can see from the design on the carry bags and boxes they had 🙂

The boutique flourished and was one of *the* places to shop for all the «tai tais» (the Cantonese name for the rich and idle matrons), as well as the foreign community and any visiting film stars as well.

One of the sales ladies during the ’60s was Bunny Carlos and her father was the actor, Charles Bickford 🙂  Wiki says he had a daughter, Doris, who was Bunny but who hated the name Doris so much she refused to answer to it!  LOL!  😀

Early in the 1970s, Paquerette was sold to Joyce Ma, owner of Joyce Boutique and mom was asked to stay on but, as my father’s retirement was happening at the end of 1973, she said thanks but no thanks and handed the reigns of the business to Joyce.

In January 1974 mom, dad and Balia boarded a ship and sailed to Australia.  A lot of their friends had gone to Sydney but really good friends of theirs, Joe and Ida Close, were living in Perth, as well as Jenny, so mom and dad opted to live in the West.

They originally lived in Applecross but their Aussie friends, Eric and Susie Cummings, thought that dad would have a better chance with his piano teaching if they lived in a relatively new suburb, as that’s where young families with kids would be so mom and dad bought a house in a spanking new suburb called Hamersley.

Duppy with her grandchildren Click to enlarge

I think mom had a hard time adjusting to doing nothing, as she’d always been active, and she had some health issues but she managed to overcome all hurdles and turned out to be a great grandmother for my three kids when they were growing up.

Balia developed dementia and had to be put into a nursing home, which didn’t sit well with mom but she realised she couldn’t look after her mother at home.  Balia died of pneumonia in 1979 and then dad died of extra complications from his melanoma 15 years later in 1994.

By this time I think mom was tired. She was lonely and I know she missed dad terribly, she said she could feel his presence in the house :/

In June 1997 she developed pneumonia so I got the ambulance and she was taken to hospital.  She was there for two-and-a-half months when the doctors discovered her neck was in a bad way and said she needed a fusion.  Mom was not keen to have it and actually said she was scared about what would happen if she did go through with it, but having spoken to the doctor and being told it really was necessary, I told her that I was sure it would fine.

Sadly I was wrong 🙁

The operation went well but she got a Vancomycin Resistant Enterococcus (VRE) infection as a result. The doctors wanted to put her on strong antibiotics but she asked the doctor how would she be afterwards – would she be allowed to go back home to be with her animals and resume life like before.

The doctor shook his head and said no, she’d have to be admitted to an old people’s home. Well, that was that for mom – she declined the antibiotics despite my protestation – slipped into a coma and died on September 11, 1997, aged 80 years old.

 

 

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Lila Pio-Ulski-Parks nee Nozadze

Some photos of Lila taken over the course of her life :)
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