Where is February going in such a hurry? Here we are, almost half way through the month and what an unseasonably mild month it has been so far, although that may be changing slightly. We have had temperatures in the 50’s and even touched on the 60 degree days with nights so mild the piglets would not even sleep under their heat lamps. Of course that may be changing as Mother Nature might throw a few more cold wintry days our way even yet. Today we are supposed to have snow showers and temperatures predicted to drop down to 19 degrees tonight and falling even lower to 14 degrees by Tuesday night. Better stock the farrowing pens up with more straw today!
Now I feel guilty about the past week and the glorious weather we had that just begged for one to work outside. Instead, I had this strong urge to write so for the most part, stayed inside. Yes, my early life story book has been calling me! So I yielded to the temptation and spent a few days inside, adding to and editing the chapters compiled so far.
This morning, as I sit waiting for my first cup of tea to brew, the fire lit and Darrell still slumbering, let me indulge you my faithful blog followers. Instead of writing of events on the farm, let me share the opening preface to my book and chapter one. Maybe it will give you a glimpse of what is to come…
Sitting in a garden eating an earthworm. That is the first strong recollection of my childhood that I have. Whose garden you may ask? Well I am not exactly certain, one of my many aunts and uncles I have had over the years. It would be nice to know for sure as maybe, just maybe, they were “real” relatives. I think I was around three years old at the time and by piecing stories from the past together it must have been shortly after my father took me away from my mother, left Canada and flew us both back to England, the place where I was born. Fleeting images come to mind of this garden, my trundling around with an empty jam jar, picking bumblebees off the flowers and putting them in the jar, keeping them inside with my chubby little hand. Eating earthworms as if they were strands of spaghetti, my “aunty” cuddling me on her lap and my father always being close by.
I presumably was content, but what turmoil must have been left behind, an ocean away, that moment when my mother realized her little girl was gone. So begins the journey into the early years of my life. As I sit and put my story to page I am sure it will dredge up memories both good and not so good, but then again, no life is perfect and one must endeavour to make the very best of what life has to offer. The old adage “Life is what you make it” is to me a mantra to live by. So dear reader, as I embark on this, my latest venture, sit back in a comfy chair with a nice cup of tea, prop your feet up and wander with me down my memory lane…
Chapter 1 Worcester.
Worcester, a lovely old city in the Midlands area of England, not too far from the bustling industrial center of Birmingham and home of the spectacular Worcester Cathedral and of course, Worcestershire Sauce! This was my first permanent, well somewhat permanent, home in England that I remember as a little girl.
126 Newtown Road. It seems as if no matter how young I was my father always taught me my home address which did indeed turn out to be a good thing when one got lost on ones way home from school! I turned four years old when we lived in Worcester and still to this day have my dear old Teddy, which was my most treasured fourth birthday present. This teddy bear has travelled many, many miles over the years and sits today in our living room, watching me as a write.
The house on Newtown Road has many early memories for me, mainly due to the big garden out the back in which I remember thinking fairies lived at its bottom end where the fruit trees grew. Adjacent to the garden on one side was a big famer’s field where sheep often grazed. This is where I came to learn these creatures are awfully fond of bread, yes bread! Taking stale crusts down to feed them became a common pastime for me. Maybe this is why I have always held a soft spot inside me for sheep. Heading over to the fence with bread crusts in hand, the wooly creatures would come over and nibble the tidbits without hesitation from my extended fingers. Funny how animals know a treat is coming!
This garden was a very special place for a little girl who even then, had a great imagination. The small, tidy lawn behind the house led down to rows and rows of current and gooseberry bushes and beyond a few trees could rightly be called an orchard. Here was where my fairies lived and I loved nothing more than to play amongst the berry bushes and stumpy trees with my imaginary pals. At the very bottom of the garden, a small gate led out onto a lane and another little cottage beyond. I have no idea who the old lady was who lived in that old cottage but she always seemed to have a biscuit or piece of cake for me when I popped in, so I thought she was very special indeed. Looking back I wonder what she thought of this little blond haired child that would show up unannounced on her doorstep.
Worcester was where I began school for the first time, nursery school or, as it would be called in the states, kindergarten. The school was not too far away from where we lived and, in fact, is still there to this day. I could already write my name, read a little and of course knew the alphabet very well thanks to my father’s early teachings. Yet to be going to school! Well that was a new adventure in my life! One of the few pictures I have of myself as a small child shows me sitting in a sundress on a low wall in front of a bank of flowers. Neat and tidy, my hair pinned back from my face with hair slides, I look happy. While we lived in Worcester, my father worked as a millwright in the Metalbox factory, a well-known historic old factory that made tin cans for some of the countries top food manufactures. My goodness but he would often come home with pockets full of some dandy ball bearings that made brilliant marbles to play with! Since he had a daily job in the factory, it fell to the neighbour lady across the street to take me to school, pick me up again afterwards and keep me occupied until my father returned home. It was not too long until she felt I could walk back and forth to school by myself but that homeward journey from school was a daunting thing for a little four year old. I only got lost one time, which was not too bad at all considering. After school got out I would make my way towards home, arriving at the neighbor lady’s house where my task was to sit quietly on her front door step, weather permitting, to wait until my father arrived home from work. I can vividly remember looking anxiously down the road, expecting any moment for him to come striding up the path. Maybe even at that tender age there was a deep-seated fear of being abandoned, of being alone. He was my whole world.
The house in Worcester was quite a lovely one. It was semi-detached, at the end of a long row of similar houses but ours had the pleasure of being next to a farmer’s field Even to this day there is still a swath of green field next door. Lavender bushes grew in abundance in the front garden. I recall the scent sending me off to sleep as my father would place lavender sprigs between the folded sheets in the linen cupboard and buds were often in the pockets of my pajamas. This house holds so many memories for me; maybe because one’s early childhood memories are so poignant to one’s mind. Memories such as where I had great fun playing in “black sand” that ultimately turned out to be chimney soot and where I learned it did not pay to tell fibs. Yes, Worcester was where I told my very first lie. Strange that one should so indelibly remember telling one’s first untruthful statement at such a young age, but the consequences of that very first fib made enough of an impression that to this day I cannot abide untruthfulness.
On the day of “The Lie” it was a gloriously sunny morning and the front door to the house stood wide open letting sunshine fill the hallway. Maybe it was the weekend because my father was home and had been busy putting a fresh coat of paint on the hall walls as well as the trim around the door. I sat on the front step watching him deftly brush a glistening coat on the doorframe, a single sweep of the brush leaving a flawless finish. As he left to head inside the house to fetch something, I was told very firmly to not touch the wet paint! Needless to say, the urge to touch said wet paint must have been quite overwhelming because I did just that very thing … touched the wet paint as soon as he left! When my father returned it was very obvious little fingers had marred the perfectly painted surface of the doorjamb. Yet there I was, sitting quietly on the stoop. He asked me in a very stern voice “Rose Forster, did you touch the wet paint?” to which I of course replied “No daddy”. He asked me again and once more I replied in the negative. “Well who touched the paint then?” he asked. Apparently, without batting an eye I replied, “That lady over there”… pointing to a woman standing at the bus stop just down the road. At this juncture of our conversation, my father set off to the bus stop and goodness knows what he said to the lady, but I knew he must have asked her if she had come to our house and touched the wet paint. As soon as I saw my father returning with a very grim look on his face I knew I was in trouble.
T.R.O.U.B.L.E… a word I knew how to spell right after I knew how to spell my own name! Yes I was in trouble with a capital T. It was made very clear to me in no uncertain terms … emphasized by a stinging bottom and being put to bed early … that telling a fib was not to be tolerated. When my father was angry he was a terrible sight to behold and forever afterwards that lesson stood out in my mind. I sometimes used to wonder if Trouble was my middle name, as I always seemed to be in it! I learned at a very early age the look that came over my father’s face when I was in Trouble and often, no matter how much I cried or tried to explain, it would be of no avail; trouble was trouble. Like the day the chimney sweep came to clean our chimneys in the house.
Now to me there is something very appealing about the scent of coal soot. Honestly! A sort of earthy, musty smell that tickles the taste buds for some uncanny reason. I know, I know, a tad weird but maybe I was lacking in certain minerals because I also used to love licking the mortar between bricks … but let’s save that one for later! Anyway, the chimney sweep came with all his paraphernalia and he fascinated me. This was, I am sure, because a favourite fairy-tale of mine was about little Tom the chimney sweep in the story “The Water Babies” written by Charles Kingsley… I still have a copy of this book by the way. Our chimney sweep of course did not climb up the chimney to clean it like little Tom had to do; instead he used a bristly brush and long rods to do the job. When the chore was done, the soot was placed in a big bag and hauled off leaving the place spic and span clean. Little did I know but the chap dumped it over our garden fence and into the adjacent sheep field! Needless to say it did not take me long to find it and what a gay old time I had playing in this wonderfully soft, deliciously smelling what I thought to be, black sand! Now anyone who has been around soot knows just how insidiously it manages to get into one’s pores and for how long it can remain there! So imagine if you will how a wee young lassie looked when called back to the house for supper. My father found me covered from head to toe in black, grimy soot. Funny, you would think this was definitely a reason to be in trouble with a capital T yet I was neither smacked nor told off, but given a jolly good scrubbing down in the sink! More than once I might add! That was an easy lesson to learn; no matter how dirty one got it was quite fine as it all, as they say, one way or another comes off in the wash.
Our house on Newtown Road was fully furnished. There is a picture of me in my pajamas sitting with my Gollywog in a big comfortable armchair. My fourth birthday, as I mentioned, brought me my Teddy bear who was made by the Wendy Boston Company … eyes guaranteed to never come out … and between him and my Gollywog, many hours were spent in play. Teddy is still with me to this day, a tad bit thread worn in places but of all my worldly possessions it has been Teddy that has resolutely been my faithful companion. He has travelled innumerable times across the Atlantic ocean, lain beside me in hospital beds, received bonks on the head to match mine and sits today in our living room still surveying the world with his dark, wise eyes. When the day came to leave Worcester, Teddy and my Gollywog came along. Golly disappeared somewhere along the way but faithful Teddy stayed by my side through thick and thin.
Later in life, I often wondered if our time in Worcester, where my father headed off to work his shift at the factory and I was taken care of by local ladies, was the catalyst for him to think of owning his first village shop. I know in later years he said how much it bothered him to have to drop his little girl off with a neighbor before heading to work in the morning and then have me go to that same lady after school where I sat on her doorstep until he arrived back home. For many years he would remind me how lucky I was to have a father that would give up so much for me, his little girl. What sacrifices he had made and how hard he worked, all for me. Yes, this was the beginning of the training of a child whose entire world revolved solely around her father, a child that could not move, nor speak, nor eat, nor go to the bathroom without first asking permission. Years would pass before I would come to discover another reason behind his aspiration to become a village shopkeeper and leave the town of Worcester…