Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ten Years Older Than God

Damn, I'm old...

Sometimes I feel even older, because my parents were old enough to be my grandparents, and their stories go back farther than most.

These days, when people talk about The Good Old Days, they are usually referring to the mid 20th Century.  My parents were born in the first decade of the 20th Century.  Both remembered the First World War, were adults during the Great Depression and just when they thought things had settled down, along came WWII, and the shit hit the fan all over again.  Dad enlisted in the RAF (though in peace time, he would have been too old).

They came from very different backgrounds.  Dad's family were middle class merchants, having a wines and spirits importing business, complete with what Hyacinth Bucket referred to as "a Royal Warrant," which was A Thing in Edwardian Britain.  During the Depression, the company went bust, but before that, they were classy enough that my grandfather got to marry the daughter of County society.  My Granny and her two sisters were known as "the Three Belles of Brecon."  Mom, on the other hand, was raised in America, born to a family that was never well-off.  Her mother died when she was 9, and she and her three siblings were shunted around from grandparents to aunts, because their father was a timberman, and spent a lot of his time in logging camps.

A story my Granny used to tell involved herself as a child, attending a party in an elegant house.  Granny loved raisins and currants, and had picked them all out of her cake to enjoy after the cake-y part.  The butler, thinking she was finished with her dessert, whisked away her plate, dried fruit and all.  She used it as a lesson...take what life brings and enjoy it, because if you save the best for last it might not be there when you are.  I always thought, "Who has a butler serving a kids' party?"  This is the same Granny who, when Dad took Mom home to England, made excuses for her by saying, "My daughter-in-law is an American, you know..." as if that covered a multitude of social indiscretions.

Mom told stories of being six and enduring cold baths, because it was supposed to toughen children up to force them to undergo such physical shocks...and being sewn into her wool "union suit" in October and having to wear it till May, no matter the weather.  A warm autumn or spring was never taken into account.  In spite of cold baths the rest of the year, nobody bathed at all (except for sponge baths) over the winter.  She started life in upstate New York and then lived in Ottawa, Ontario until her majority.

Neither had graduated from high school--Dad's education was cut short due to lack of funds, and the alternative presented to him by his father (the army) was not something that interested him.  He Ran Away to Canada, and did not return to England until after his father died.  Mom failed math, so couldn't graduate in Canada, foiling Aunt Ethel's plan for her to teach.  She went into nursing instead (the requirements were apparently much less strict in the mid 1920s than they are today), and did that until she married my dad.  Like most careers for women in those days, nursing was for single women only.  Dad had got a job in Vancouver, working for his cousin's firm, Courtauld's, where he stayed through several location transfers (Vancouver, BC to Cornwall, Ont, to Coventry, England) until 1957.

So the stories I grew up hearing span an extra generation.  From a time when not having to share a bed was a luxury for a child, let alone having one's own room.  From a time when one had a family crest engraved on one's flatware.  One's sterling flatware, mind you; not (shudder) plate.

It's no wonder I'm a little weird...


  1. Loved reading this...
    And it's ok to be weird..I am too, you are in good company!