Walking Backwards for Christmas: Some Christmas

Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall. Chapter 5, Part 2: Solihull,  Christmas Eve Day 1960 : Some Christmas

[The featured picture is another of Robbin’s early studies of Reggie. We set him aside for this book. We came back to him as a prototype for the 10-year-old Reggie in the upcoming sequel, The Bluebottle Boys. Again, he’s been set aside. We may come back to him for the third book, to depict 11-year-old Reggie. So far, this is the only place this version of Reggie has appeared.]

ChristmasThe sodden weather had precipitated a crisis, and Mum felt obliged to answer the call for help.

This was, and still remains, part of her essence. Even in 1939, she’d left at the end of her first year at university to join the WLA (“land girls”). Young women who replaced male farm workers called away to military service.

They’d been called upon not only to meet the levels of production the men had done, but to surpass them, in light of the inability of foreign food products to reach the UK due to submarine attacks on merchant vessels. Initially a volunteer organization, women were conscripted from 1944. Demobilization began in March 1946 (Mum was one of the first) as the men returned to the farms. But with ongoing food shortages and rationing, the WLA continued to exist and make a meaningful contribution through 1949.

Grammer had done the same during the First World War, after a false start as a “canary girl,” as the women who made TNT shells during the First World War were called. The nickname arose because the repeated exposure to TNT resulted in a toxic level of jaundice that turned their skin a orange-yellow color like canary feathers.

 

It killed over 200 of the women, and rendered others (including Grammer) gravely ill for a considerable period.

But where Grammer, in the First World War, had returned to her childhood home in the West Country to work the land, Mum, though there’d been plenty of farmland in the West Midlands, had been stationed around Kent until her demobilization in 1946. In the war’s latter days, she’d met Dad there. Just as Grammer had met Gramfer as a land girl in the West Country, during the prior war. In both cases, it was where they’d fallen in love.

Mum had returned to civilian life, married Dad, graduated university and found employment, but she’d a surfeit of Grammer’s spirit of service inside her—too much for it to ever really leave. Throughout the 1950s, even as she continued her employment, first full time, then part time, she’d gradually begun to spearhead church-sponsored community outreach services throughout Birmingham. Although I thought it must surely be an overstatement. She claimed that as much as 20% of the housing in Birmingham wouldn’t be fit to live in this winter. This was in part due to the unusual precipitation. She’d need to help make other arrangements for the worst hit in the city over the Christmas season, perhaps beyond.

There’d be no Christmas celebration for her.

Once Grammer would have been beside her, but now she was too sad, too tired and too old. Mum would have Dad at her side instead. As full professor, his attendance was at the emergency meeting was mandatory, and would likely take all day. Thereafter, he’d agreed to phone Mum.  He’d have her pick him up and spend Christmas assisting her efforts to help others less fortunate find circumstances that, if not merry or festive, were at least much less miserable.

Nan and Pap, my paternal grandparents, were in Canterbury. This is where they’d be hosting the usual boisterous Christmas reunion of the Stone side of the family. But Canterbury would be an impractical and nearly impossible journey from the West Midlands in weather and road conditions like these. Mum and Dad couldn’t have taken time, in any event, and taking me there was too much to ask of anyone else.

So, with Mum and Dad almost certainly not home for Christmas this year, and nowhere else for me to go, I’d have to spend it in Solihull, at “Soggyhall” — Grammer and me, together in that dark, dank, drafty, leaky house, where the only thing darker would be Grammer’s mood.

Some Christmas.

© 2014, 2015 G.H. McCallum and Duvanian Press. All rights reserved.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.