Thursday, July 31, 2008

Family Fortunes.

Despite having an alcoholic Father and a neurotic Mother (the second probably consequent on the first), I think of my childhood as pretty idyllic. Perhaps this should tell me something. Whatever we are dealt, as children, we cope with somehow, and often don't see what others might see as terrible. I can remember that we (Sister and I) never felt able to invite friends round to our house because we never knew what might be happening. Our Father might be roaring drunk, our Mother might be having an attack of the vapours (and those attacks were pretty spectacular I can tell you), they might be in the middle of a fight, or they might simply not be there. It sounds rather odd, to say the least, but we obviously thought of it as normal. Sister and I were expected to clean the house and get our own food from a fairly tender age, and to complain was unheard of. Nor would we ever have dared to contradict or argue with our parents. Yet we had wonderful family holidays, as I recall, travelling to the Isle of Wight every year in Dad's little Morris 8 (all packed in with Paddy the cocker spaniel) to spend two weeks in a caravan which wasn't much bigger than the car. I remember card games in the evenings, with the rain drumming on the caravan roof, making us feel safe and secure. On hot sunny days we all decamped to the beach with huge picnics, meeting up with other families (and dogs), and spending hours swimming and boating. Brown's Golf Pitch and Putt in Sandown was a great favourite where we had hours of fun and always finished up with coffee and wonderful doughnuts. (I think Brown's is still there.) And at the end of two weeks we would pack up, say goodbye to the other regular families, shed a few tears and promise to meet up again the following year. We were all brown, happy and relaxed, as I remember it, and the weather was nearly always glorious for that last week in August and the first in September. But it probably took a huge effort for my parents to get along during the holidays - for the sake of the "children" - and they certainly didn't take the truce home with them. They were never violent to us, though they often fought very real and physical battles between themselves. And though they were kind, after a fashion, I can't remember my Mother ever saying she loved me. Sister can't either. Our (sad) conclusion is that she was envious of our young, independent lives, and of our relative freedom. She had to leave school at 14 and go into service. We were both lucky enough to get into the Grammar School, and then high-tailed it up to London to work in "glamorous" jobs, earning what she considered a fortune, and having a lot of fun. Poor Mum, she never had that freedom or any real independence. As a result, she couldn't wait for us to leave home and get on with our lives. So it's strange that when I look back I can see golden days in our garden, recall lots of laughter at old family jokes and remember the many "Aunties" and "Uncles" who were real friends and who created a loving and lively social structure. We felt totally secure and loved, even though no-one actually said it. It's that thing about Love being a "Doing Word" - it's not what you say, it's what you do that counts. I have no doubt that our parents loved us in their own way, which was not demonstrative. And they were always concerned not to "spoil" us. Not that there was much spoiling or indulgence in Post War Britain.

We bathed once a week in the upstairs bathroom, with an oil stove lit for warmth. All the other days we had a "wash down" at the sink. On washing days in Winter I helped my Mother put the freezing sheets through the mangle before hanging them on the line. There was no heating in our house, apart from the fire downstairs, and we always woke up to frosty patterns inside the windows in Winter. We ate whatever we were given (simply because there wasn't a choice) and no-one ever left any of their food. Summers were one long sunny day in my mind - and Winters were spent cosily round the fire listening to the radio. In the school holidays Sister and I would disappear for the day with a bottle of Lemonade and a couple of sandwiches. We climbed trees, forded streams, made camps and scrumped apples and pears if we were lucky enough to find them. We scraped our knees, learned how to make bows and arrows, and never felt either unsafe or worried for a moment. It was, in many ways, a charmed childhood. Dear God, it sounds like something from a history book already, and I'm not that old. Or maybe I am.

I don't know what brought that on, but I'm scuttling back to the future. I have a new Foreign Student who arrived last Sunday, from Spain. He is a very polite young man, called Jaime. He explained to me that his name is pronounced "Hymie" - and there was a sudden revelation! All those old American flms always had someone in them called Hymie, and I always imagined it was an American shortening of something like "Herman" or "Hoiman" - actually, it's Spanish, and obviously reflects the numbers of Spanish speaking immigrants who moved from South America to North America. Well, whaddyaknow? I learn something new every day.

14 comments:

aims said...

What incredible memories Margot! I'm still sort of transported to that era and am even imagining the shoes you wore or your dresses...or pinafores?

Your dad's car cracked me up and I guess our little trailer is probably the size of what you call the caravan.

A lovely journey - would make a movie....

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

Gosh Aims, I still don't know where it came from. Memories do that, don't they, sometimes just come gushing up from nowhere? I'm so pleased you enjoyed it. M xx

softinthehead said...

It was a lovely memory Margot - it sounded like something out of Enid Blyton - all that lemonade and sandwiches and endless summer days - not the parents arguing! I have similar memories of summers - just disappearing with my brothers and turning up for mealtimes, no one worried one bit about where we'd been :)

Stinking Billy said...

Yep, you took me back down memory lane, too. No spoiling, no threats to our safety and no "I love you"s from a parent. Frost inside the windows, the whole shebang, but, boy, were we happy!

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

Hi there SITH, it certainly was different wasn't it? We didn't have a care in the world. M :-)

Hello Billy, yes, you're so right, we were happy. It was all so simple and uncomplicated - and happy. M xx

Donna said...

My Father was the demonstrative of the two in our family...hugs, love and sugars...Mom, on the other hand wasn't raised with a lot of affection, hence the lack thereof...
Happy night sweetie!!hughugs

Expatmum said...

I thought it was only Northerners who didn't say they loved each other! Hmmm.

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

Dear Donna, well at least you had one who gave you hugs and love - and look how it shows! M :-)
PS. you're right about that though, my Mum was one of 7 and not given much love herself!

Hi Expatmum, well you could be right now, but that was back in the Dark Ages when a clip round the ear was a sign of affection!
M :-)

Retiredandcrazy said...

You bought back many memories to me too Margot. Alcoholism is a very difficult thing to live with and unless you have been there no-one can really understand. They call it the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome, probably similar to being bi-polar, one minute deliriously happy then in the depths of dispair. Quite hard to deal with, but you came out on top. That takes character.

http://reluctantmemsahib.wordpress.com said...

Whatever we are dealt, as children, we cope with somehow, and often don't see what others might see as terrible.

How true. Though your sentiments may put the fortune of the writers of many ''misery memoirs'' in jeopardy!

A lovely stride back in time to deliver to us a story of the buoyant resilience of childhood.

thank you.

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

Hi RAC, sorry for the delay in replying, have been running around. It sounds as if you have lived with it too! It proves we can survive, that's for sure. M xx

Thank you, Memsahib, for your visit and your comments. It was lovely to have your visit, and I will return the compliment if I may. M :-)

Preseli Mags said...

Hi, I found your blog via Milla and really enjoyed reading your memories. It reminded me so much of family holidays when I was a kid - rain on the caravan roof, ill-concealed hostility between parents, sandy sandwiches and fizzy pop in blazing sunshine. And I used to know a Jaime too - but he was Mexican. Great blog - very evocative.

Preseli Mags said...

Hi, I found your blog via Milla and really enjoyed reading your memories. It reminded me so much of family holidays when I was a kid - rain on the caravan roof, ill-concealed hostility between parents, sandy sandwiches and fizzy pop in blazing sunshine. And I used to know a Jaime too - but he was Mexican. Great blog - very evocative.

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

Hello there preseli mags, how lovely of you to visit and comment. Thank you. I'm so pleased it struck a chord with you too. Maybe we were all on the same holidays? We're certainly on the same wavelength. M :-)