I would like you to imagine that we have all jumped forward about three years, give or take, from grandma's visit in the last post, to the second visit by grandma and aunt V. The war is now over, but little else seems to have changed. In this fast-forwarded time, I can hear the murmur of conversation between my parents and grandma rising from below. You see, my bedroom is immediately above the kitchen (where we eat, but not cook. Come on people, keep up, it was all carefully explained in last week's post.). The floors in these old houses are very thin, as are the walls. In a few years time, I will lean out of bed, pull back the rug and place my right ear to the floor, somewhat like Beethoven. I don't know him yet, but our purposes coincide. I will in that fashion listen to "Sunday Half Hour", a wireless programme of hymns, to be followed by an hour long programme, "Your Hundred Best Tunes". I will undoubtedly learn a great many of the lighter classical works, although I won't know what they are called, or who wrote them. It will only be the music that I'll hear.
As I lie thinking in bed waiting to sleep, it is clear to me that grandma does not like my father very much, and it would seem that the dislike is mutual. Now I have to say that what I am about to tell would not stand up in a court of law. It's hearsay evidence. But it is all I have. Father fought in the Great War (WW1) as a gunner in the Royal Flying Corps. (He was tall, and put his age up.) From what my mother told me, and from my own researches, I can only assume he was the front gunner in an FE2b.
|WW1 Aeroplane - FE2b|
"Mmmmm? Well of course I don't know for certain. I wasn't there at the time, now was I? Actually, come to think of it, neither was mother! Now where was I? Ah yes!"
Although father flew in the RFC, he was a huge disappointment to his family, allegedly, and when father married my mother, he was cut off from his family completely, without a penny, dime or nickel. It was a 'class' thing you see. My father was born into an upper middle class, Victorian family, the sort that bred for business, king and empire. What! What! Don't yer know! Alright so they were Roman Catholics, but what the heck? In his family's opinion, father married way below his class. As far as my mother was concerned, well she had hardly reached the first rung of the class ladder.
Now all that is probably why father thought the absolute world of King Edward VIII and that woman, that Mrs. Simpson. Well they were cut off from his family weren't they? And they were both rakish sorts (Edward and my father I mean).
"Well I know Edward wasn't exactly penniless, but surely you can see the connection; no?"
"I heard that! Someone at the back's talking! Who said Tom's away with fairies?"
Grandma, as I have said, didn't like father because she also was of the opinion he had married below his class. Well the educated toffs shouldn't be allowed to mess with the lower classes, should they? Suspicion and dislike rule both upwards and downwards. Yet for all that, and although neither of my parents ever worked during my conscious life-time (he was genuinely too ill, his nursing skills rarely ever being put to best possible use, even during the war, and my mother needed to be on hand to look after us all) grandma and her brood were not averse to using him when it suited them.
It is now growing dark, my bedroom illuminated by the lights from our neighbour's house, but I can still imagine them seated in the kitchen, just waiting for the time to come when they could leave and 'catch the bus home'. Grandma is probably still sitting in father's corner, a study in black. She even keeps her hat and coat on. All you can see is a pallid face across which an occasional flicker from the fire passes, looking out from an almost shapeless blackness. But her eyes, ah those eyes, they pierce me to my very soul. I can't look away. Earlier, I sat and watched her wrinkled lips drawn back over continually-sucked, toothless gums; her pale, inelastic flesh drawn in under her cheek bones; but most of all, her eyes - the windows to her soul. There is something in her eyes that is certainly neither hatred nor even great dislike. She would not deliberately harm me I am certain, but there is that indefinable look of a life spent engaged in the hard grind of living, a life spent in non-stop emotional pain, and brimming over with animal street cunning and a sense of waiting and wanting. It is that sense of waiting and wanting that is so unnerving, even a little frightening. I would have liked to know her better, but would have felt too vulnerable, too powerless.
As I said earlier, this is her second visit, and mercifully those uncles were left behind. That's correct, they didn't come on this visit. Shame! She did, however, bring my young aunt V with her. My mother is nineteen years older than me. That makes her twenty eight-ish, give or take, maybe a little more give than take. The two uncles who came on the first visit are both younger than mother, and aunt V is even younger. Now that puts my aunt in that age bracket that even young boys find "interesting". She accompanied grandma on the previous visit, but I just didn't get around to talking about her, before being sent to bed. On this second visit I spent much more time in aunt V's company than before. I can't remember now what we talked about, probably nothing very important, but she listened and made me feel....someone. I love her company, but I fear that has not gone unnoticed.
Let us fast-forward to the present day. That second visit was the last time I ever saw any member of my mother's family. When some years later I asked why aunt V had never visited again, mother simply said that she was no longer welcome. And that was that; no explanations offered.
I find it passing strange that although I have tried to keep this post as light as possible, somehow it just keeps slipping and sliding back into the mood of those times. All my childhood seemed to have been spent with an impoverished superficial fluff that overlaid a deeper, darker experience which I could never escape, and never quite understand, if at all. People just seemed to slip out of my life without my noticing. It appeared to me as if the universe were gradually getting ever smaller, and I was becoming ever more isolated. I have to say it didn't bother me too much at the time: it was only later when I realised that people I had once known were no longer around me that I experienced a sense of loss. Gradually, life took on a sense of rigid simplicity, a life reduced to the froth of mere daily activity, a life that was cut off from any sense of depth and meaning. And that left me unfitted to cope with confidence the adulthood that was to come. Life was an odd mix of rootless formlessness, of loss - recognised and unrecognised - and bewilderment. Most odd!