Walking Backwards for Christmas: The Tale of Gramfer: Auntie Evvie

Walking Backwards for Christmas, Chapter 6, Part 8 – Between the Walls: The Tale of Gramfer (Part 2): Auntie Evvie

Auntie Evvie[Note: The featured photo is a rare colour news shot from 20 November 1940 of the aftermath of the Nazi bombing of Solihull in the evening of 19 November 1940.]

Gramfer looked wistful a moment, then continued. “And again, when the last war was going on, when Hitler was almost at the door … This’ll give you an idea of what it can do. 19 November 1940 – d’ya know the significance, Reggie?”

I shook my head.

“Solihull. It’s the first time the Nazis bombed Solihull. It could’ve been worse, of course– much worse. Yer mum was down in Kent, as y’ know, and yer Uncle Bertie’d just enlisted and was off somewhere in training, so they were well out of the line of fire. But there was still yer grammer, me an’ the three youngest.

“Yer Auntie Gene – everyone still called her Genevieve back then, not just yer grammer – she was just six, and starting t’ be invited t’ parties as little girls of that age throw. She was still at one that evening, I think. Town was in blackout, of course, and she’d not be able t’ make it back home on ’er own.

“Yer grammer and Uncle Roddy – he was eight then, about six months younger ’an y’ are now, more compliant in those days – had just left t’ collect her. I was at home with yer Auntie Evvie – she’d turned 14 just six weeks earlier – when th’ bombs hit. Whole town shook to its foundations, fires broke out, buildings collapsed and bits of other buildings crashed down. don’ wan’ t’ describe it – thank God you’re too young to have seen it, to have lived through it. Just think of it as a nice chilly little evening in Hell.

“Well, as you can well imagine, we was all scared to death for Genevieve. She reacted to a crisis then pretty much the way she does now. We could just see her panicking, running into the street. Which, as it turns out, was pretty much as she did do.

“I told Auntie Evvie to go to the shelter.”

“We’d find Genevieve and bring her and everybody else there. But yer Auntie Evvie – well, she was just as obstinate, just as willful, just as intractable and just as mulish then as she is now. And she was havin’ none of it. She was going out to look alone or she wasn’t going anywhere. She ran off into the night, looking for Genevieve by herself.

“So what was I to do? Go to the shelter alone? Or chase after Evvie, Genevieve or Roddy an’ yer grammer? I didn’t know where t’ start, and it tied a knot in my stomach size of one of those teapots in the other room. I don’ know why I thought to do it. Even then I thought it was pretty daft, but I picked up that guitar, lad, and I begun t’ play.

“All alone, in the house, with bombs falling down, my family running amok all over town – what did I do?

“I sat there playing the guitar.”

“Well … don’t y’ know … they heard it. First, it was Genevieve. She’d bolted out t’ the street when the bombs hit, just as we thought – upset, hysterical, panicky, and lost – no idea where t’ go and in tears, getting more distraught by the minute. But in th’ midst of all that chaos, Genevieve heard th’ guitar and followed th’ sound.

“It led her t’ Roddy and yer grammer. Then Roddy heard it too, soon as Genevieve reached them. Yer grammer thought yer uncle and auntie were full of hogwash, and it took her a minute or two longer to hear it, realise they’d all really heard my guitar and that it was guiding them home.

“Can’t say as when yer Auntie Evvie heard it – even she’s not exactly sure of how, where or when, and there was no one with her when it happened. But she did. In the midst of all the explosions and falling debris and noise and chaos, she heard it. And even as hard-headed and pig-headed as she can be, Evvie still knew what it meant. Genevieve, Roddy, and yer grammer – they were all home in ten minutes after they heard th’ guitar – Evvie in fifteen.

“Eleven people were killed that night, lad, nigh on 50 injured. There were direct hits on shops and houses all over town. But the five of us – against all the odds – emerged alive and well. And no bomb – not a one – ever come close to the house.

“Today, Reggie, I’m passing that guitar on to you.

It’s yers from now on. But first, you’ll have to learn to play the thing. It won’t do you much good sitting in the corner. So I’ll teach you what I know, such as that may be, just to get you started. After that, yer own yer own, though with a bit of luck you’ve inherited the musical ability of yer gurt-gramfer an’ y’ll go far. An’ when y’ play, th’ magic’ll come to y’ too, if yer gurt-gramfer an’ I’ve anything to say about it.

“Use it wisely, Reggie. May it guide and steer you well. Go to the corner, lad, where the radio is.”

I obediently went to the corner, only to find the radio gone. In its place was Gramfer’s guitar, soon to be mine, sitting in its battered guitar case. Lifting the case, trying to keep it from falling apart, I grabbed its handle with one hand as I supported the box portion of the guitar and its case from the bottom with the other. Carefully as I could, I toted guitar and case alike back to Gramfer.

© 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.