Monday, October 18, 2010

14. The Carver family

Shirley and Margaret Carver lived at the top of our road and they had a brother called Ivor, who did chemical experiments in the garden shed; I thought him very interesting. Mrs. Carver was a kind, gentle lady who loved her natural, rambling garden and spent very little time cleaning house because, I realised later, she was sick. Mr. Carver was a nice man, very keen on classical music and opera; in fact I heard classical music for the first time in their house. He was taking Shirley and Margaret to Covent Garden Opera House to see Carmen and said he would take me as well, but the ticket would cost two shillings and sixpence. I desperately wanted to go but when I asked my father for the money he said that if I wanted to see Carmen just look at him because he was a car man. If he had explained that he just did not have half a crown to spare I might have accepted the disappointment better, but he just made a joke out of it and that really hurt.

Then, Mrs. Carver was taken to hospital and I was in their house when Mr. Carver telephoned to tell the girls that their mother had just died! She was not much over forty. Shirley was only twelve and just collapsed on the stairs, crying, both the girls were hysterical. I thought it a terrible way to break such awful news to them, but their father wanted them to go to fetch an aunt, who did not have a telephone. They were both distraught and crying as I walked with them to the aunt’s house and when she saw them crying so desperately she told them not to worry, that their mummy would be alright. The girls were unable to speak, so I had to tell her that Mrs. Carver had died. As soon as we reached their house in Churchill Road I ran all the way home just to make sure that my mummy was still safe.

Shirley, Margaret and I stayed friends for a while longer but one day we had a disagreement over something and, as I walked away, they shouted after me “Cynthia Lawley, with a drunken father!” I wonder if they ever realised how much that hurt, especially as there were two of them and I was alone. I felt as if it was my fault that father was that way.

But I am also guilty of being unkind. We are all probably ashamed of some things that we have done in our lives, especially those things that have caused pain to others. There was a girl in our class who was “coloured”. Mixed marriages were very rare in 1938 and, apart from at the cinema and in books, I had never seen a black person. This little girl was not black, just extra brown because her mother was white and her father was Indian. Her name was Lila. Where we had heard the expression, or what prompted Joan and me to say it I do not know, but when Lila wanted to play with us we said, in unison, “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet”, and turned our backs on her. We had no TV, hardly listened to the radio and did not read the papers, so where could that idea of racial discrimination have come from? And in such parrot fashion! How I wish I could take back those words.

And talking about parrots, grandmother kept one in a cage, a large bad tempered thing. No wonder he was bad tempered! Imagine living in a cage with hardly enough space for him to turn round, let alone spread his wings. Polly had water, a cuttle fish shell on which to sharpen his beak, a hanging bell for when he wanted attention and a feeding tray of bird seed and monkey nuts. And here is another confession; I used to steal his monkey nuts, but they were not the best quality and did not taste very nice. How I hate seeing any creature caged!

The bird cage did not smell very nice, and nor did the damp flannel in the kitchen which, with a big dollop of red carbolic soap, was dragged across my face and hands. Fortunately, I never had to bathe in the tin bath at my grandmother’s house, even though I did stay overnight once of twice. I slept on a sofa in the lounge, and on the wall hung a picture of my father’s sister, Madeline the carving knife thrower, whose eyes stared out of the picture at me all night. I covered my head with blankets to get away from that stare. When my grandfather died, Jane was taken into the dining room to see him in his coffin. Lucky for me I was not offered that opportunity! Two memories of my grandfather stay with me. On a Saturday evening he would sit by the fire with a dish full of big, scarlet runner beans and cut them paper thin ready for lunch on Sunday. Then, on the rare occasions when he and Grandmother came to visit us, Grandfather would come into my room and leave me some money at the side of my bed, sometimes two pence and sometimes three pence. When I awoke I would look at the money and if it were only two pence I would go back to sleep, hoping that when I awoke the second time it would have miraculously turned into three pence. It never worked. Sadly, other than that memory, I have no photographs, objects or remembrances of them.

No comments:

Post a Comment