Story submitted by Angela:
They could not believe their ears! Their precious daughter had been allocated a place in the countryside!
All around them now in the heart of London was death and
devastation. For the parents their was no choice but to stay, as
thousands of others were and pray that they would somehow be lucky. That
they would live to see the end of this horrific war and
one day life might be normal again.
For their daughter though, this was a chance to ensure her safety
and not have the constant fear of her short life being ended almost
before it had begun.
When they told the ten year old Margaret that she was to leave
next week with lots of other evacuees her response was of course to
cling to her mother and beg not to be sent away.
Her pleadings had to be in vain for her own sake and she found
herself a week later on the station with fifty or so other children all
with their gas masks and little suitcases or in some cases just a large
cloth bag, the best that could be found at short
notice in poorer households.
Margaret had begun to see that their was no escape from the
terrifying ordeal which was to befall her. Being a naturally positive
child and of a sunny disposition she tried hard to be brave and not to
show her dear parents the depths of her fear and feeling
of loneliness. She hugged them both, smiling valiantly through her
'I'll be ok Ma. Write to me won't you. Bye Dad'
She was the apple of her dad's eye and he fought back the tears as he watched her go.
The train trundled them out of London; gradually the tall grey
buildings gave way to smaller houses, rows of them, and then things
began to get greener and the space wider. There were fields with cows
and little villages with church spires in the distance.
As they disembarked and stood on the station, name tags hanging
from their necks, identification for prospective foster parents, they
were a forlorn and sorry sight.
A kind looking lady came towards Margaret.
'Hello my dear, I think you are to be the new member of our family. My husband has the car nearby we'll soon get you home.'
Inspite of herself and the hole of emptiness within her being, Margaret liked this lady and had never ridden in a car.
They walked outside to the waiting car and the lady helped Margaret into the back seat with her things.
'This is my husband Jack, you can call him Uncle Jack and I'm Auntie Johnnie.
There is someone else waiting to meet you at home whom I think you'll like very much.'
Margaret sat, nestled in the soft leather seats and looking out of
the windows as they sped along the winding roads, finally turning into a
narrow bumpy road and stopping near the end at a lovely black and white
house with a big garden. A path bordered
with bright flowers led to the front door up three wide round steps
with a porch above. Margaret, coming from her tenement building in
central London had seen nothing like it in her life and if only her
parents had been with her to share it, it would have
Auntie Johnnie, ( it would be a while before she could call her
that naturally) opened the door and all at once something black and
white and furry flung itself at them, barking with joy.
'This is Susie Margaret! She is a Cocker Spaniel and just loves children'
Some more of Margaret's fear and tension melted away as she buried
her face in the fur of this ecstatic little dog with the long floppy
ears and fiercely wagging stump of a tail. She had always longed to own a
dog, she adored them, but never in her wildest
dreams did she think it would be possible.
'Come and see the garden my dear, Susie needs to go out side, and she will show you around'
They had now walked through the hall to the kitchen and as they
walked out through the back door and onto a verandah, looking out over
more green lawn than Margaret had ever seen, her last fears receded and
she raced after Susie who had found a ball and
was looking for someone to throw it.
All round the house they ran, because the garden did indeed
surround it on all sides. Past the back gate, past uncle Jack's veggie
plot back across the front lawn and arriving panting at the back door.
Auntie Johnnie had made orangeade to drink and rich tea biscuits.
When she had finished it was time to be shown her bedroom, up the big
curving stairs and into a bright light room with a pretty wallpaper on
the walls and a big satin eiderdown on the bed.
It was so much more than Margaret had ever seen and by this time her
heart was bursting with so many mixed emotions.
She had not wanted to come here one bit and she could not understand why her parents had wanted to send her away.
Yet now, with this kind couple in their beautiful heavenly home it
just might not be so bad and if her ma and pa could come to visit
sometimes, that would be just wonderful.
She smiled up at the lady standing beside her with her hand gently on Margaret's shoulder.
'It's just perfect. Thank you so much. I was so scared and sad but
now I don't feel so bad and I can write to my ma and pa and tell them
' Of course you can and one day we hope they will come to see you and you can show them around can't you.'
There are terrible things happening in London and it's because they love you so much that they have sent you to us.
I don't have a daughter of my own and I am very lucky that they
have lent you to me. I think we're going to have fun together and do
lots of lovely things. We have nature all around us and their is so much
you can learn when you walk in the woods or by
the river or through the meadow. The birds and small creatures who hide
away, the trees and wild flowers, they are all there for you to
discover. We will make you a country lass before you know it!
The grey haired woman leant back in her chair, the photo album
lying in her lap. All those years ago and yet it seemed to her, as she
was nearing the end of her life, only yesterday that she had first met
that couple and entered their family.
As she had come to love them and belong to them she had slowly
become a child of that place. Her life changed in every way. She had
made new friends at school, begun to shine in some subjects and at
sports and was adored by her foster parents.
Then one day it had all ended almost as quickly as it had begun.
She'd had to leave all that had become dear to her and go back to the
dreary greyness of her London home. She was a young teenager by then, a
child no longer and she was utterly torn when
the wrench came.
She remembered it being never the same again at home. She could
not forget the comfort, the space, the light of the country. Her parents
had found it hard to understand and were often hurt. They had had their
own problems, left to endure the war and her
father, injured in a bombing raid, was a shadow of his former self.
Yes, she thought as she began to drift into sleep, keeping her
safe through the war had come at a huge price and the ripple effect of
pain to all those affected was wider than could be imagined.
Yet, she had had a good enough life, modest in all ways but with
love and affection and now and then some special treats to mark out the
Life is not fair she thought but making the best of what you do
have and not hankering for what you can't was what counted in the long
run. She saw herself, running again around the garden on that first day
in the country, twirling around with Susie at
her heels, twirling and spinning, laughing and looking up at the clear
The dogs ears were trailing in the mud. Burs, thorns and branches trailing under his tummy, mixed with dirt and gravel glued together with slobber. His ears were in shreds having run through thorn bushes and brambles - blood and saliva made bloody patches on the freshly cut grass in Mr. And Mrs Gobby’s lovely garden.
“Nobody” the pale pink orphaned rabbit was zigzagging for his life amongst cabbages, radishes, and around the gooseberry bush.
By the time he had run three times round the garden - rabbit’s tongue was hanging out of his mouth …his nose quivering with fear . He could smell the sweat and hear the breathlessness of the big heavy dog pursuing him. Several times he swerved just in time to avoid those yellow jaws with foul smelling breath ready to bite off his pretty bubbly tail - pink and fluffy from grooming just this morning. Rabbit sprinted and dodged his stalker, he could hear the heavy chomps and clumps of the dogs muzzle. He could feel the dogs claws getting closer and closer digging into the earth as he stretched his short but sturdy legs and strained to catch the baby rabbit.
In his haste he ran through and out the other side of the big blackcurrant bush that had grown as tall as a tree. As Mr and Mrs Gobby didn’t like blackcurrants, it was full of very ripe fruit dripping with juice falling on the ground in a pulpy mass.
Meanwhile, back at the house, Mr Gobby had got up early that morning. Unable to sleep the previous night thinking about that fox who had slipped through the hole in the bottom garden gate killing off two of his best egg laying chickens. He was up at the crack of dawn determined to put a stop to this massacre that would surely get worse. So armed with tools, he set off to nail up and secure that hole for good. Just at that same moment he tripped over a very small rabbit running full speed who crossed his path just before the rose bush. Then, a pounding and thundering of paws deafened his ears. Astonished he swirled around just in time to avoid a large dog with long floppy ears baring down the path. Teeth barred and fire in his eyes, his slobbering drool left a trail of silvery dribble hanging in the air in steamy droplets.
Rabbit rushed through the blackcurrant bush - turned around twice and was immediately covered from head to toe in the ripe black juice. As he shot out of the other side the dog ground to a halt by the sight of a black wet rabbit. What had happened to the fluffiness - that pretty pink rabbit he had been chasing? He sniffed and caught the rather acrid smell of blackcurrants, and his appetite disappeared in a flash. It stopped him in his tracks.
Rabbit seized the moment which gave him just enough time to dash for the hole garden gate. Instinct told him that the big heavy dog wouldn’t stand a chance of getting through that splintered plank.
Mr Gobby advanced with a determined step - the now black rabbit crisscrossed his path and Mr Gobby thought it was the fox - raising his hammer he slammed it down…..
Rabbit sat on his haunches, nose trembling in delight, he washed his paws and sighed once again. He had attained Nirvana, tranquility and heavenly paradise.
Monday, 17 July 2017
Subject: I remember when
I remember when Easter was full of sunshine and my beautiful sugar egg had a window at one end to peep inside and see the chicks. When there were cowslips everywhere, and everything seemed fresh and yellow.
I remember when, playing in the field of Michaelmas daisies at the end of our road, I found a dead baby rabbit and proudly took it home to show my mother. How she shrieked and recoiled in horror that germs were being brought near her new baby, the precious bundle whose nappy she was changing.
I remember when I got into the school taxi on a whim, and passed my mother struggling up the hill pushing the big bassinet pram to meet me, as she always did. When the driver asked for my address I could only tell him, 'the house on the corner in the stoney road'. Perhaps the long wait for my mother's return, and the dread of her anger was punishment enough, memory blurs......... perhaps the kindly neighbour who found me crying by the back door helped to diffuse the wrath!
I remember when my grandma had her bed in our lounge. One day I saw her very old and wrinkled bottom as she was about to use the commode next to her bed.
She wasn't with us for very long before she died but she gave me two shillings to spend at the fair.
I remember the smell of carnations on the day of her funeral, they still smell of that day, seventy years on.
I remember when my mother was terribly upset because something very sad had happened to a pretty lady who lived with her husband in a big house down the road. She had a beautiful charm bracelet that jangled as she moved her arm.It was years later they told me she had shot herself.
I remember when we went to the shops. The grocer's that had a wooden pillar which I swung round by one hand till I was dizzy, while my mother waited for him to slice his tight wire through the cheese.
I remember when, at those shops, I was terrified by the lady who pushed a pram with a witch inside. The pram was big and the hood was up but the witch sat upright, peering over a tightly pulled cover, just her pale white face, straight thin ginger hair and a brown beret. I utterly dreaded seeing that pram every time we went shopping.
I remember when, in spite of these fears, and even with the arrival of the new baby, the days were full of sunshine, happiness and joy.
I remember when everything changed. We no longer lived in the big house on the corner in the stoney road, but in a tarmac road, in a row of houses all the same shape, with no fields anywhere and busy roads close by with red buses, trolley buses and people rushing to get to places, it was the town.
I remember when school changed from my small private house in grounds, to a huge cold grey stone Victorian building, where you could get lost in the corridors and where boys fought till they bled in the playground. Where school lunches were so horrible I walked home but that meant another terror! I might see a man called Norman who grinned at me and talked rubbish and petrified me half to death!
I remember when I left that school after just one year to go to a very different one, just for girls up to eighteen, all in such an enormous building with a gallery around a huge hall and classrooms everywhere on two levels. With teachers who were very strict and prefects who had lots of power, and rules for everything, from which shoes you wore for what, to when you couldn't talk or run or eat or be late.
I remember when I started to have asthma. Breathing became a thing to have to work at, each breath an effort, straining to get enough oxygen but too tight to let the air out. Shoulders hunched and just walking was so hard when it was bad.
I remember when life was all joy before I was eight years old.
When I knew lots of the families in the stoney road. When Mr Petley the green grocer came every week with his cart and beautiful black horse and I could give him a carrot.
When my father pedalled home from work up the road from the station and wore long johns in the winter and sometimes brought me a new book to read.
When the two old ladies opposite, Miss Paidy and Miss Durey came out every evening to call in their cat in their sing song way 'puss puss puss puss pussy'
When Mrs Morant, the widow who lived in the quaint and charming cottage by the woods, came to bring us red currant jelly she had made from her fruit and stayed for a chat with my mother.
Her daughter had died of a bad illness and she seldom saw her son but she was sweet and calm and gentle.
I remember when the end of childhood heralded the start of responsibility and pressure and expectation and reality. Unlucky are those who don't at least start with those years of freedom.
Letter to my Mother
Look at me! I’m all grown up and I’m even so grown up that I can call myself a Senior person. I have children and grandchildren of my own - they are your family too, although you are no longer there to see them.
Since I saw you last I have had such a very full life - I’m now officially a permanent resident in my adopted country of France - a European citizen.
I have put into practice all the things you taught me in our short time together. I missed every second of your not being there though to help me on my way.
I was working in a London hospital, I was 17 years old and the Californian university, my life, my friends had all stopped abruptly when you became ill and we had to move back to England after having settled there 10 years previously.
I remember when Dad telephoned on that fateful day just a few days after your own forty forth birthday in 1968 to say that you had gone to join the God you had so intensely worshipped - the God you had said would save you had we prayed and prayed. And so we did; we went to Evensong, spent hours in the confessional, recited Hail Mary’s galore, attended low Mass then high Mass. You had said that if I was good it would all work out and you would be saved. But it didn’t turn out that way. God must have been occupied with someone else that day. I wasn’t even there to hold your hand as you had been there for me those growing years.
My first job was in the typing pool of the Neurological Hospital in Queen’s Square, London. It was grim. Together with the fluorescent strip lighting - the bruised yellowing London sky barely showing through the only window high up on a cheerless ink-splattered wall, didn’t compare to the Californian sunshine I had grown up with.
The clic clack of typewriters, the chainsaw sound of the return carriages at the end of every typed phrase, as 20 or so women in that dim room printed the fate of the hospital patients and deafened any feelings of homelessness.
Mourning is private work and as I walked aimlessly round and round the London streets that day after Dad had told me of your death, it was impossible to cry, the reality of my grief was too unreal.
I kept “remembering when”; our shopping days, my hand in yours, your sewing my clothes, you teaching me manners, the praying and more praying in church - your protecting my girlhood - our trips together youth hosteling - our walks and searches for crabs and pebbles on our travelled beaches.
I ask myself : is it good to “remember when” ? - is it ok to go back into one’s past and cry a little - tie your stomach in knots with heart rendering frustration that all those years have gone by like a flash and looking back is so hard . I can feel your gaze on me Mom, ( yes I can still say that word after all these years) you are in spirit still attentively guiding me through my life . Yet, I ask, is it so necessary to attach oneself to one’s past life to reflect and “remember when” … but then … listen …a soft tinkle of laughter comes fluttering down from above through my memory - floating down in and out of the years like the slow clearing of morning mist over the Golden Gate bridge and “I remember when” for a moment, my tears flow. This life goes on, I laugh, I cry, but I will never say goodbye.
I remember when...
>> Andrea packed the car with her homemade lemon drizzle cake, Gran's favourite, and some velvety,crimson roses with an intoxicating scent. She popped a small overnight case in the boot and set off in eager anticipation. She had always adored her elegant grandmother. Some of her friends' mothers faced their twilight years with glum endurance, complaining about the young, drugs, sex and computers, whilst sat in their beige stretch slacks in their high-backed chairs watching endless replays of their favourite tv programmes. Gran on the other hand had her own Facebook page and with Andrea's help was committing her memories to print. She had led a colourful and eventful life but their seemed to be somewhat of a mystery surrounding her time as the ship's matron on a grand liner, which ran luxury cruises to China back in the thirties and Andrea hoped to unveil the secrets.
>> Although it was almost a year since seeing her Gran looked as effortlessly elegant as usual and despite her eighty-six years, spry and agile as she welcomed her granddaughter with a beaming smile., her very short, funky haircut exaggerating the wonderful high cheekbones. She was wearing a pair of smart black slacks and over a black vest an unbuttoned blue shirt which exactly mirrored her still clear, nforget-me-not blue eyes.
>> "Well, my darling Andrea! This is a lovely surprise. And my favourite cake! We'll have to tuck into that with a cup of coffee. The roses are divine and so fragrant. Now, you put your case upstairs - your usual room- whilst I make the coffee."
>> Five minutes later Andrea came downstairs and found her grandmother in the garden reading a book.
>> "Where's the coffee then, Gran?"
>> "Oh, Andrea it's so wonderful to see you. Of course I'lll go and make some coffee."
>> "And I'll cut the cake, shall I?" asked Andrea.
>> She carried the tray with the delicate bone china cups, silver teaspoons and flower-patterned plates, which must have been at least as old as Gran and probably older, into the sitting room, the French doors opening onto the lush green garden.
>> " Gran, I do love that photo of you taken before you met Gramps. Where was it taken? You look so incredibly happy and far too young to be a matron!"?
>> " Oh, my dear, that was such a long time ago, when I was working on the liners. Only the very rich and well-heeled could afford to travel then. I really saw the world - all quite different from now. That photo, I think, was taken in China and what a country! The petite Chinese women in their beautiful costumes, faded Russian countesses who'd escaped the revolution, stalwart English missionaries come to show the Chinese our ways , always thinking they know best...Hmmm!"
>> The old lady fell silent, her eyes seemingly gazing into a distant past.
>> "What was life like for you on the liner, Gran?" asked Andrea.
>> "Oh Andrea, it's so lovely to see you! Would you like some coffee?"
>> "Oh, Gran, I've had enough, thank you. You were telling me about your life on the liner going to China ."
>> " Oh yes, I remember ...Peking , what a country China was in the thirties! So many people and such diverse cultures. On the way out there the liner had taken a new young doctor on board. All the nurses were in love with him."
>> "And were you too, Gran?" Perhaps this was the mystery in Gran's life, that had always been hinted at, thought Andrea.
>> "Was I what, dear?"
>> "Were you in love with the dashing doctor?"
>> "Which doctor, Andrea? "
>> "The doctor on board the ship to China, when all the nurses fell in love with him."
>> "Oh that doctor! My he was a good looking young man. Tall, dark hair with a hint of auburn, eyes so deep and brown you could drown in them. I remember he had this scar like a tear, down his cheek. We all thought he must have got it in the War. Now I'm going to tell you something I've never told anyone before, Andrea, but I'm an old lady now, so I think the time has come to let you into my secret. Gordon was the love of my life. Now don't think I didn't love your grandfather. On the contrary we had one of the happiest marriages, so many interesting years together..." And Gran was off in another reverie, eyes focussed again on some distant past.
>> "Tell me more, Gran. Did you not think of marrying the doctor? Is this something we should be noting for your book of memories? Gran..?"
>> Andrea waited , the old lady still lost in thought. She gently touched her grandmother's be-ringed, slender but slightly bony hand and her grandmother gave a slight star.
>> "Oh, Andrea, it's so lovely to see you. Would you like a coffee? "
>> "We have just had coffee, remember Gran. You were telling me about the love of your life, the doctor on board ship...? said Andrea.
>> "Yes, dear ...well, yes I remember ... when I was a young woman. I've never told anyone else. There was a new handsome young doctor on board ship and we fell in love, desperately in love. I remember when we reached Peking we spoke of marriage... Have I told you how wonderful Peking was in those days, the Chinese women in their traditional costume, poor Russian countesses who had escaped the Revolution with little but their furs and jewels. The city was split into different quarters, different nationalities in each."
>> "And that's where you fell in love with the dashing doctor?" asked Andrea. She felt that at last Gran's mystery was unravelling
>> "What a wonderful time we spent there, I think about a week. I can still remember the scent of spices, the vibrant silks, the Chinese women shuffling along in their tiny shoes - how big and gauche I felt next to them. But Gordon didn't think so - we were so in love and we spoke of marriage..." and Gran once again retreated into her memories of the past gazing into the garden.
>> Andrea took the tray and dirty plates out and was washing them up when her grandmother appeared beside her.
>> "Well, Andrea, dear, what a surprise! What are you doing here and washing up? Who let you in ? You should have let me know and I could have baked a cake."
>> Andrea hesitated, wiped her hands dry and gently guided her grandmother back to the sitting room.
>> "But Gran, don't you remember? We've just had coffee and cake and you were telling me about your time in China with a gorgeous doctor."
>> "Was I, dear? I don't remember any doctor in China. I do remember when I went to the doctor last week he asked all sorts of stupid questions about prime ministers' names and I had only gone to have a prescription renewed. Well let's have a nice cup of coffee and one of our chats. It's so long since I've seen you. Have I ever told you about the dainty little Chinese ladies in Peking?"
I remember when I went to my very first Dance/Ball with black tie and evening dress or cocktail dress. The evening was magical in fact the most magical evening of my young life. It was magical for me, for its youth, the innocence, the opulence of the damask napkins and the shining crystal glasses on the table.
I hadn't been on the stud farm very long when one of the large wealthy farmers came down to give us a neighbourly call and suggested I might like to join the young farmers; hence how I came to be at this magical evening in 1959.
The young farmers ball was held at the Tillgate Forest Hotel what we would now call a boutique country house hotel.
When he asked if I would like to come to the ball, to say I was ecstatic was an understatement.
A small problem of what to wear was a minor detail. Something would turn up and it did. My boss and her sister went through their wardrobes. Something like the fairy godmother for Cinderella and we came up with an A line cocktail dress with a wide skirt. The sort you wore with lots of petticoats. I remember raiding the huge larder for bags of sugar to starch them with. The colour of the dress was a cross between a light blue and turquoise in a silky taffeta material. Shoes were found at the bottom of some enormous wardrobe and they almost matched the colour. my first pair of nylon stockings was bought with my weeks wages and I had my hair done. Helen my boss's sister did my nails. Mr Beard the big farmer and his wife came to pick me up and guarded me all evening in the most discreet way. I was introduced to all the table in the most natural way to all the farming bigwigs and the sons and daughters also. Mrs Beard showed me where the powder room was and made sure I enjoyed myself. I can still remember this large round table with the afore mentioned opulence.
The menu was for starter's a huge prawn cocktail and some sort of cream chicken dish but this is all I remember. I do remember feeling a cross between a Princess and Cinderella. We danced the Scottish reels and I recall the hefty farm boys stomping around getting completely tangled up and some of us girls lost with complicated dance steps. The Waltz was wonderful and gave me the Princess feeling again. Before we left, I recall having my photo taken at the foot of the magnificent sweeping staircase which I must have somewhere amongst my photo albums.
Shortly after midnight Cinderella was duly taken back to the stud farm by Mr and Mrs Beard and I was on cloud nine for days afterwards.
I looked at the devastation caused by Katrina and was shocked,my dogs as well.I just got off duty,raced home to check the damages,it was beyond belief,a moon scape.People were walking around like zombies,the silence was deafening but for the helicopters above,assessing the damage.I stood in front of the remains of my lovely house,my belongins strewn all over the neighborood.I couldn't cry,just stood there and taking it all in,the dogs were upset,looking at me,ears twitching.I walked to Sandy's house,left a note on the door telling her I was at the Gulf Hills Hotel.
We had 9 feet of water in the house which was built on a 13feet bluff,my car was full of water,all the doors, walls were gone everything destroyed,some of my furniture was down the road,the trees were full of paper,flying in the wind saw a Santa Claus,dolls etc etc
Some people died at the end of the street,refusing to evacuate,still I felt no real emotion,like a walking dead.The heat was unbelievable,about 40 degrees,100% hum idity.I looked a last time at my garden,nothing left,so much time spent working there.I went to the hotel where all the resident of Gulf Hills had been invited to stay. No other place to go, no water,electricity, noAC and wearing the only clothes I had on my back.I started to think about the things I lost,pictures,clothes my purses and shoes etc.
Went back to the jail,talked to the ,Sheriff, in a daze himself,told him my story,got some deputy clothes and kept my patrol car.They didn't see me for a week since I had to patrol the neiborhood because of looters and I was the only cop around.Everybody was armed and ready and drinking a lot,they all went back to their distroyed houses,salvaged the booze and bought it back to the hotel. Unless you have been in such a situation you just can't picture it.We were all damaged by Katrina and it seems like yesterday, flashbacks etc
I miss the states and MS but I don't think I could live through an other disaster like it. And sleeping in a room with 5 people and 2 German Sheperds was a bit much after a while.