Yesterday, with my parents for company, I drove the 360 mile round trip to the small Leicestershire village of Croft to pay my respects to my late Auntie Betty and catch up with relatives, a few of whom I hadn’t seen in twenty, maybe even thirty years.
Auntie Betty was a lovely woman, my maternal grandmother’s (my Nannie’s) sister, and part of an extended family that had been centred around Croft while I was growing up.
With her passing, aged 94, a generation came to an end… a desperately sad, yet I suppose ultimately inevitable moment that made me pause to recall some very happy times gone by, and to consider how fortunate I was (and am) to be part of such a close family.
The service in Croft Church (where my parents had married in 1963) must have brought back memories not only for Mum and Dad, but for many of the congregation as well. When I was growing up, visits to Croft were always so exciting, and it is actually quite a surreal feeling driving down roads you know so well… yet no longer know at all.
We passed the street where my grandparents had lived for as far back as I could remember—Kendall’s Avenue—and as I glanced across at no.1, I found it hard to accept that other people have called the house “home” since Grandad and Nannie passed away in 1999 and 2000 respectively.
The house went up for sale a couple of years ago and I saw a few pictures of the interior. There was a fitted kitchen… well that was wrong for a start. Where was the table with the fold-down bits at the end? Where were the blue and white units on the wall… the rattly twin-tub, the cooker with the spark gun that ignited the grill and made toast that smelt so amazing? They were all gone; this wasn’t Nannie and Grandad’s kitchen at all…
The front room was empty. That was better because in my mind I could place their furniture back exactly as it was. That unit that contained the record player and radio; I only ever seemed to play one LP; a country and western compilation that included (amongst other classics) “The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp” by O.C. Smith, “The Streets of Laredo” by Marty Robbins, and “Chestnut Mare” by The Byrds. The television (for the wrestling and ITV Seven), that fireplace with the beige square tiles adorned with ornaments… the other unit on the far side of the room... Grandad’s mantel clock… the dining table behind the settee: how did it all fit in that one room?
In the church, it was the mention of Nannie and Grandad—Mary and Les—that brought a tear to my eye: the realisation I was back in the village where so many memories had been created, but now only those memories remained. If I had knocked on the door of no.1 Kendall’s Avenue, Grandad wouldn’t answer… Nannie wouldn’t be there… the fun and laughter that I associate with that house might still echo in the recesses of my mind; but the stark reality was brought home simply by hearing their names….
I have to say it was wonderful to meet up with aunts, uncles and cousins in the Heathcote Arms afterwards. You can recognise people by sight (good old social media) and it’s possible to have meaningful interaction with people you rarely see (ditto…), but to be in the same room meant so much more.
Families in 2016 are much more dispersed than they were back in the 1970s… in fact the whole world is so very different. But there just seemed to be a general sense (certainly within “my generation”) of how fortunate we all are to be related and that it would be great to make a collective effort… or commitment even to meet again, and make the most of the family we share.
It’s a fantastic idea and January 28, 2017 is already marked in the diary. It will be a lovely way to stay in contact, to get to know respective husbands, wives and children, and also to remember all those who we miss so much, but recall so very fondly….
Rest peacefully Auntie Betty xxx
Richard... Jack of some trades... you can guess the rest