Theres something up here that might
be important, Guv. Ill fetch it down for you. You wont want it
burying for ever under all that insulation, I reckon.
The voice wakened me from my doze. A moment
later I was handed a white cardboard shoebox, wrapped around with a navy
ribbon. It was round the back of the cold-water tank it looked
as if it had been put there and forgotten. Im off now. The loft job is
finished. Ill be here same time in the morning to finish off the other
bits and pieces.
Sam No Job 2 small
Wilkins went out through the kitchen saying something to Win as he went, and
left me holding a box and its contents I thought Id lost for good.
I quickly undid the ribbon, saw the assortment
of folded papers, photos and envelopes and things; all apparently in the same
condition as they had been years before when Id seen them last. No time
for more then as Win came in with a tray of sandwiches. I know better than to
pay less than full reverence to anything that comes from her kitchen so I
closed the box.
Win. You remember that box of her bits
and pieces that my mother gave me just before she died? The one that went
missing so I never really had a chance to go through and sort out? Well
its turned up in the loft. Mr. Wilkins found it just before he
You mean the box you lost, dear. Fine.
Nice lady your mother. I always liked her.
After wed finished Win popped out for a
chat with Sue - I could never properly remember her surname. When Win spoke of
her it was always Sue Next Door. That was my opportunity for some peace
and quiet for an hour or so.
Photos first, I thought. Right on top was a
photograph in grainy old black and white on shiny card with curled up corners.
It was the only one I ever had of my parents wedding. There they were - a
short, stocky, severe-looking middle-aged man and the young, pretty woman who
was inches taller than her husband. He had a flower in his buttonhole and she
was holding a little bunch of something. The two were staring into the camera
with the unease people often have in formal, posed photographs. It was clear
the ceremony had been in a Registry Office and not in a church. I already knew
it was a wartime wedding in the days of austerity.
I had just picked up the second picture in the
pile and had begun to study it when I heard a key in the kitchen door.
Wins voice called out - Next doors cousin from Newark has
turned up Ive left them to it. That was the end of the box for
Even so, Id seen enough on the second
photograph to get the old memory cells going like mad. I was in it and it took
me back donkeys years. Im sixty-six, and there was I was, about
eight years old, so you can do the maths for yourself - that would date it
about 50 or 51. Anyway, if Im going to tell you the story of
the photo I should go right back to the beginning.
We were living in Lincoln at the time. My
father, mam and me. It was in the school summer holiday and the weather had
been hot and dry for several days. I knew something special was happening as I
heard my parents whispering together and then if they saw me listening
theyd stop, or talk about something else. Anyway, about teatime this
particular afternoon mam told me that that I had to go to bed early that night
as we were going off to the seaside next day and I needed all the sleep I could
get. It was just to be mam and me. Father worked for the County Council and was
very busy in his office - he couldnt spare the time to go away with us.
Before I went to bed mam looked out all my best
clothes, checked them over and laid them out ready for the morning. Then she
put whitening stuff all over my plimsolls and left them to dry overnight. I
rummaged around for my bucket and spade and made sure they were where I
wouldnt forget them in all the excitement when we were ready to go. In
the morning I saw father giving mam some money I think I saw some pound
notes, crisp ones as if theyd just come straight from the bank
then he went to work. Minutes later we went to the bus stop on Kelling
Road. Even though it was just a short ride to the station mam let me go
upstairs and I stood at the front and held on to the metal bar at the window
all the way. At the station mam joined a queue, bought the tickets and we went
on the day excursion train to Skegthorpe.
We got there sometime in the late morning. I had
a list of things in my head things that mam had said we were going to do
and I could have and I was determined not to miss out on any of the
promised delights. Ice creams, a ride on the donkeys, a play on the sands with
mam helping me to build a sandcastle, lots of bottles of pop, and fish, chips,
bread and butter and tea in a proper sit-down café (the tea would be for
mam, of course). Not for me though, teas ordinary stuff and today
we were at the seaside.
As far as mam was concerned all these delights
had to wait. First she insisted on rubbing something on my face, and the same
oily stuff on to my arms and legs before we left the station, then it was to be
a nice cup of tea for her to start off the day. Me I had a
big glass of dandelion and burdock with two straws. Then we made our way
through all the crowds to the promenade and had our first look of the day at
It was later on, in the afternoon, very hot, and
we were having a smashing time. Wed just been to see the Punch and Judy
show and mam was tired and wanted a sit-down. She managed to find two empty
seats, plonked herself down in one and put her bag on the other to save it for
me. I remember wandering off to the big rail that overlooked the beach, but
staying in sight as Id been told to. Then I went back and found there was
a man sitting in my seat. Mam spoke.
This is Mr. Bennett, Richard. Hes
an old friend from back when I was at school.
The man stood up and we shook hands formally
like father had always told me to do. Mr. Bennett was a very tall man and as he
spoke he smiled at me.
So youre young Richard, eh? My
names Richard too. And how old are you then, young man?
Im nearly seven and three
quarters now. Ill be eight on November 10th. My birthdays on a
Friday this year.
He looked across at mam and repeated what I had
Eight in November, eh? Is he a good boy
then, Marge? Do you think he deserves an ice-cream then for being a good boy
for his mother? Mam smiled and nodded and Mr. Bennett reached into
his pocket. He held out his left hand and passed me something. When I tried to
take whatever he had it was an empty hand. Then he opened his right hand and
there in the palm was a shiny shilling. Go to the kiosk there at the
corner and buy the biggest cornet he can find for you. He winked,
stooped down towards me and his voice dropped to a whisper -And I
dont want any change either. I ran over to the little cabin and
had to join a queue to be served.
When I got back mam and Mr. Bennett were talking
quietly. I was busy with my cornet and trying not to spill any on my new shirt
and wasnt listening, but I seem to remember hearing some of what they
were saying. I heard things like how was I to know? had to
move away, no address, Lincoln, Mr.
Grant. And there were other words that I didnt understand. They
both looked very serious about something.
Mr. Bennett stood up. Young Richard
Grant. Why dont you, me and your mother have a picture taken? Come on,
Marge - itll give me a souvenir of today. He put his hand in
the air and called out to the man with the camera and black shoulder bag who
was patrolling nearby.
He went over to the man and they spoke.
He wants us walking. He says its more natural and makes for a
better snap. The three of us, mam, Mr. Bennett and me in the middle
holding hands with both of them did our best not to look too silly and
self-conscious with our smiles as we walked towards the photo man.
Ive told him were here just
for the day and hes going to rush them especially for us. Ill see
him right for his extra trouble, of course.
Taking me by the hand and grabbing the beach
ball Id bought that morning, my new friend took me down the steps onto
the beach, and we happily played football till mam called us from up above. Mr.
Bennett found the photo man, handed mam her copy of the picture, went to the
kiosk again and bought me a stick of rock. White inside, pink on the outside
with Skegthorpe printed inside it in a curve. It was very sticky and crunchy on
the teeth I remember. Mam put it away in her bag to take back home with us.
Youve had enough for now she said. If you
have any more youll be sick on the train going home.
Then it was time to go, and Mr. Bennett insisted
on walking to the station with us and he bought a special ticket that let him
go through on to the platform and the trains with us. As we said goodbye he
pretended to put his right hand up to my face and he found a shiny half-crown
in my ear. He did make me laugh. Mam didnt look very amused though, I
think she must have been tired out by then. From the platform he waved and I
waved back until he was out of sight.
On the way back mam made a big fuss and she
showed me how I looked in the mirror she had in her handbag. My face had gone
all red and mam said my nose would look like a ripe tomato in the morning. She
said that father wouldnt recognise me looking like that but I knew that
he would really, so we laughed at what shed said.
I wanted to talk about Mr. Bennett - for
instance why was she Marge to him but always Marjorie
to my father but mam said she needed a little nap so she turned away to
go to sleep. I must have dozed off, but remember that when I woke up mam was
looking out of the window. I could see her reflection in the window and she
looked sad. Wed had such a lovely day too. It must have been because our
little holiday had nearly come to an end. Then she saw me looking at her and
smiled at me.
Then mam said things that Ive never
forgotten. I was only a child back then, but even if I dont get all the
words right I remember what she was trying to say. We owe everything
to your father. Hes a very good man. Hes been as kind to you and me
as any man ever could be. He doesnt show his feelings very much, and he
doesnt make a fuss of you like some fathers do with their children, but
he loves you very much. Thats something you must always
All this reviving of long, half-buried memories
started me thinking. Next morning - remember Im retired so Im my
own boss and can do what I want when I want, except when Wins around of
course - I had a quiet time on my own. Yes, she who must be obeyed was round
with Sue Next Door. So I lifted down the box for another look at its
I looked again at the wedding picture then
turned it over and looked at the back. There was an address on it, the sort of
thing you do with a rubber stamp and an inkpad. It gave the name of a
photographer in Leeds. There was also a handwritten date in black ink. I
scrabbled into the box and found what I wanted. A yellowing single page
document that most of us have, or will have sometime or other a Marriage
Licence. William George Grant to Marjorie Thelma Burnett. The date matched the
date on the back of the photograph. I didnt need to find the other
document. Like everyone else, I knew my own birthday. So when my parents
married I was already fourteen months old.
So the old dog had jumped the gun had he? That
he had didnt bother me in the least, but no doubt back then it must have
caused serious problems for the two of them. Society was different in the
nineteen forties. Stigmas were attached to events that no-one seems to bother
about any more these days. No doubt it would explain the Registry Office
wedding, and might even explain why the family home I remember was in Lincoln
and not in Leeds.
It was the following Sunday morning. Our son
Jimmy, Margot and young Rick were with us for lunch. I was taking a quick
glance into the shoebox when Rick came into the room. Hes twelve, bright
as a button and can wrap me round his little finger. I know it, he knows it and
he knows that I know it.
Caught you, Grandad. So this is where
you hide all your secrets. How much will you give me not to tell Nan? It must
be worth fifty pee? Honestly though, if theyre anything to do with the
family Id like to see them. I watched a programme the other night about
genealogy and it was fascinating.
I tried to close the box with Another
time, Rick but he was too quick for me. He picked up the
picture from Skegthorpe. Well then. Theres a lady and I think
thats you so that will be your mother, my Great Grandmother. Is that
right, Grandad? Very pretty, wasnt she? And the man must be your father -
anybody can see that. Youre so alike. You, dad and me - were all
tall. Im nearly six feet already.
Rick picked up the old photo of my father and my
mother on their wedding day. And the old man in the photos with Great
Grandmother when she was young? He doesnt look like anyone else in the
family. Whos he then?
He was an elderly gentleman who was
very good to my mother and me many, many years ago. He died when I was about
your age. I didnt get to know him as well as I should have and now
its too late. He was a very kind, very generous man and I wish now
Id got to know him better. And youre quite right, Rick, he
wasnt any blood relative - more a sort of in-law. You know, honorary
family, related to us by marriage.
Had Rick been a few years older I might have
told him the full truth. Thats what I tell myself anyway. I should have:
after all Rick was mature enough then to take it all in and understand the
implications. But I didnt. Should have, but didnt. Trying to
protect my long-dead mothers reputation? Thats what I told myself
anyway. But I shouldnt have lied to him like that. I wish I hadnt.