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Seasons of the SoulA Memoir
By Cynthia Redfern
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Cynthia Redfern
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLife Just Begun (the Child)
Whenever I think back to that little house where I was born, the image in my mind is always of a day full of warmth and sunshine—wearing cotton dresses, pigtails flying as the child skipped through the day in an aura of warmth and joy. Reality was the "now" of this small, personal universe. The global reality of war, and the implications thereof, was the purview of the attendant adults and as yet had left no shadow on this one little soul. So how does it all begin? When do we leave behind the security of our joy in the moment and allow our souls to succumb to the scars of the events that form our lives?
My life began on a night in December 1940 when the sky was lit with the flares of antiaircraft guns and the air was full of the sounds of destruction. I emerged into this world at the hands of the inimitable Nurse Brown, who arrived on the scene complete with her tin helmet firmly on her head, and I was immediately and unceremoniously shoved under the bed (at the hands of the aforementioned inimitable)! Only in retrospect, and then only in moments of rare introspection, can I imagine the strength of will it must have taken for the mother giving birth to handle her fears. Fear for her three boys huddled in the bomb shelter at the bottom of the garden, and fear for her long-awaited baby girl—that her life would not be taken so soon after beginning by one of the many bombs creating destruction around the house where this little miracle of birth had just taken place. The air-raid wardens stationed around the house bravely kept their own vigil. What must their thoughts have been on this night of chaos and destruction? Where were their own families as these men protected the environment of this little soul, so unaware on her emergence into the world of anything but the urgent hands of Nurse Brown placing her in the dubious safety of the underside of the bed. Would their homes still be standing when this night of madness ended? Would their loved ones be there, eagerly awaiting their arrival when they returned? Would their personal world still be intact? Questions! Questions for the adult I had become that would never be answered, gratitude needing to be given that could never be received.
So I grew and thrived in a world full of love and caring, unaware that this was a world out of step with the accepted norms of humanity. The cadence of the sirens warning of approaching enemy aircraft and the need to head for the bomb shelter were just a part of the life into which I had been born, as was the "all clear" denoting that (at least for the time being) the very real threat of obliteration had passed. As yet my tender age protected me from the psychological and emotional havoc these sounds must have wrought on the adults in my life. Or did it?
At the bottom of the stairs that led up to the bathroom and the bedrooms, and just inside the front door, was a row of coat hooks that were used for hanging up the gas masks so common in all households. So, what—isn't that what coat hooks were for? Being very young I had a Mickey Mouse gas mask, and oh what fun it was to put it on and blow, causing the flap to move up and down, making a delightfully questionable noise! In memory, every day was summer, every day free from rain. Now I know without a doubt this is just an "oldster's" imagination. Since when did it not rain almost every day in England? How we idealize our memories and mould them to our need for comforting thoughts.
In this land of constant summer, I ran carefree with my friends as we indulged in all the wonders that life had to offer us. Oh, there were so many things! My best friend was Pamela, and in Pamela's garden grew an abundance of flowers, the best of which were the nasturtiums. You see, these particular flowers attracted caterpillars by the dozen. So with the use of an old tin tray to mark the boundaries, Pamela and I would have caterpillar races. Pamela's mother was very kind, and when offered a treat I would always remember to say, "No, please" and "Yes, thank you." Now this was perfectly logical to me, but looking back, probably confusing to Pamela's mother. However, I digress, so you must forgive this old lady if her reminiscing sometimes runs off on a tangent.
In our garden was a swing that my father had built for me and upon which Pamela and I would sit at the same time, facing each other with our legs sticking out in opposite directions. This worked well until one day we decided to put a kitten on our laps between us, "So it could have a lovely ride." Unfortunately this was not up the kitten's alley, so it showed its disapproval by vomiting profusely all over her unthinking benefactresses. Well, we should have asked first! After all, the kitten much preferred being pushed around in the doll's pram, even if it did mean enduring the indignity of being dressed up and covered with a blanket. Having been born into this world where materials for supplying children with toys were scarce, I was unaware of the effort it took for my father to build my swing and doll pram, or that my mother lovingly stitched my dolly clothes from scraps of fabric that were salvaged from garments too heavily worn out to be reworked. Neither did I know until many years later that the beautiful little playhouse at the bottom of the garden had once been my father's aviary and that the birds had all died from the shock of the bombing. This causes me to ask myself, Did the passing of so much time between the enjoyment of my "things," and the later realization of what effort it took for my parents to try to give me a normal life in this terrible war, detract in any way in my mind from the enormity of their sacrifices or just how much these sacrifices spoke of their love for me? Once again, gratitude needs to be given that can never be received.
By three to four years of age I was already starting to show the strongly independent trait that, in later years, I would need to survive with my spirit (for the most part) still intact. There was the three-wheeler bike, you see. My father had made it from parts he had scavenged, and it was painted maroon. Well, the pavement outside our house had an incline, so I decided to pedal as fast as I could down the hill. Fortunately (or not), a strategically placed lamppost prevented me from flying over the curb and onto the road. This old lady still has a scar below her right knee as evidence of the piece of wire that just happened to be hanging out in the vicinity where I ended up in a heap! Oh, and incidentally, the tricycle was fine. My adventurous spirit also took me off on an excursion all by myself—and without my mother's knowledge.
Looking back, I judge that my wanderings took me about three miles out down the country lanes, where I was caught in a sudden thunderstorm. The angels must have been watching over me that day as I was found by four workmen who took me into the work hut where they were sheltering from the storm. What joy! The men had lemon tarts with which they thoroughly spoiled me. Mmm, how I remember those lemon tarts. They were very special, you see, because they were bought! This brings me to thinking how, over the decades, the mores of society have changed. Today a wandering child, at least in this part of the world, would not be at risk of a bomb but of the more sinister possibility of abduction, rape or murder. Today our children cannot, for their own safety, be allowed to be so innocent. No longer can small children accept candy from a kindly stranger or play outside with their friends without a designated adult watching over them. Gone are the days when they could walk the distance of even three or four houses by themselves to visit and play with a friend. There is always the fear of abduction. This is now a world that is once again out of step with the norms of society but for a very different reason than the world of my early years. Then again, can we even trust the adults in the homes where our children have been invited to play? It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, but for the most part, at least in our so-called civilized societies, the villages are long gone.
Happily I continued to grow and learn. My friend Pamela was a good year older and so started school. Now, the great thing was that everyday when she finished school, Pamela would run to find me and I would be waiting eagerly to learn from her everything she had been taught that day. Given this advantage, I could read and write before I started school.
Did I mention I was the youngest in the family? My mother and father were forty years old when I was born, and my three older brothers were well spread apart in age. At the time I was born Robert was 16, Sam was 10 and Donald was 4. Robert did not figure much into my preschool years as he was already considered to be a man and was out working. Donald was more in tune with his little sister, but Sam—now that was a different story! Sam was something of a bully from the word go, or perhaps a typical brash teenager. He would take my much-loved monkey and throw it back and forth to Donald over my head until I cried. The monkey was old and his fur was almost gone, but I loved him passionately and Sam knew this. I don't know where my mother was, but when he got the chance, Sam would hold me down and tickle my feet until I screamed. There is no doubt as to the lasting effect of these traumatic experiences, as to this day I cannot bear to see a child have its feet tickled, even in play. But in my mind they appeared to be instances that just came and went, although I did learn to fight my aggressor.
Then there were the times he tied boxing gloves to my hands in an effort to make me his sparring partner. I can still recall the smell of the canvas from which they were made. It would not be until years later that Donald confided to me that Sam bullied him miserably every time they walked to and from school. This old lady now recognizes that these actions were perhaps an indicator of future dark clouds gathering. So I suppose all days were not quite so sunny, but until we start to delve into old memories, we tend to only remember the good times. I presume this forgetting is a protection mechanism, but finally there comes a time when our demons must be faced if we are to have peace in our old age.
But just for a moment let us think of my happier memories. Every so often the rag and bone man would come up the road pushing his cart and calling out, "Rags and bones, rags and bones." My mother would always have something for him, and in return I would get a beautiful, gleaming goldfish—such treasure! Talking about treasures has revived a most wonderful memory. All the little girls in the neighbourhood had little, flat, rectangular tins in which they kept beads from old necklaces. They would sit on the front doorstep totally engrossed in swapping these treasures with their friends. However, the biggest treasure of all was just down the road and around the corner. It was the diamond dump! Such was the name given to it by all the children in the neighbourhood. It was the best place ever to find all kinds of jewels, and we children would dig through the rubble with the enthusiasm of a little horde of archaeologists. What a wonderful place—and what a sad place, for what we children perceived as a treasure trove was in fact a bombed jewellery shop, the remains sparkling with scattered beads and diamantes, all that was left of the owner's future and his dreams.
Soon my time for running free drew to a close. As the summer turned to autumn and the autumn turned to winter it was time to start school. The day was December third, my fifth birthday. I remember it well because it was the day the chimney sweep came, along with his poles and brushes, to sweep the soot out of the chimney. Also, from who knows where my mother had managed to obtain a pack of jelly. In those days of food rationing, with no sugar, powdered egg and only what we could produce on our own island this was unheard of. With the Germans blockading Britain, nothing could get in from overseas. Well, I don't know how far a jelly can be stretched but I do believe every child on our street had at least a spoonful that day. It was red! Very soon I passed from kindergarten to Class one A where I had a wonderfully unconventional teacher named Miss Foden. In this class I honed my reading and writing skills and soon learned my times tables. At home my mother would entrust me with the job of counting how many sacks of coal the coalman dumped into the coalhouse. It was easy to have a dispute over the quantity once the coal was dumped.
The year 1945 was one of changes. The war was over, and all over the country people were celebrating and holding victory parties in the streets. I remember in our street we had tables put together down the middle of the road, with children sitting on either side. It was during this time that my eldest brother, Bob, married his sweetheart, Gladys. What a lovely, lovely person she was. They moved into two rooms in the house next door, where they had the downstairs front room and the upstairs front bedroom. Being only five, I did not know why, but by the end of the year, Bob and Gladys moved into my home and I and my family moved to a big house on the next street.
Chapter TwoFriendship Found (the Girl)
December 3, 1946, was moving day and my sixth birthday. At the time I was not to realize what an incredibly important day this was to be in my life. The events that unfolded would have effects that would last a lifetime. To facilitate our move, we used the big maroon moving vans that belonged to Uncle Jack, mother's youngest brother. (Wait—it has just this minute struck me! Father worked for Uncle Jack as a mechanic, and the maroon colour of the trucks was exactly the same colour as my tricycle. Huh, after all these years, suddenly I see the connection.)
Anyway, back to our moving day. The only thing that stands out clearly in this old lady's mind is that I must not have been at all happy about this change in my living quarters. I have no memory of ever having seen the house ahead of time in order to prepare me for the move, and even at that age I did not like change. Had I been born in this current era, I think—no, I know—I would have been diagnosed as having a little obsessive compulsive disorder (my how we like to hand out labels in this current day and age). One clue to this occurred at Christmas when I was three years old. I had a grey and white knitted penguin with a yellow beak, and for Christmas my mother had made the penguin a dress out of my old nightgown. However, mother noticed after giving it to me that the opening at the back below the button was a little too large. So she stitched the back seam a little higher. Well, I was so upset that I undid all those new stitches because that was not how it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be the way it was when it was given to me. Definitely a little OCD! Oh my, here I am digressing again. Back to the moving day.
My one clear memory is of standing on the edge of the now almost empty moving van. I was holding a mop and crying, and standing a few feet away was a boy about my own age, watching me. What caught my eye was that he was wearing a kilt, complete with sporran. How strange; I had never seen anything like this before, but somehow there was an instant connection between us. This event is so clear in my mind, although what followed is just an ordinary part of the whole. We chatted as children do, without the constrictions of etiquette that would govern adults meeting for the first time. The boy told me his name was John, and I told him my name was Cynthia. This was the pivotal moment that started a friendship that has thus far lasted 64 years. At that moment no one could foresee how much I would need the stability of this friendship to see me through the trials to come.
The new house was palatial in comparison to the house we had just left behind, and instead of a small garden there were several acres where I could roam with my friends. Instead of a tiny front yard with a gate and a path leading to the house, there was a wide, sweeping driveway leading up to a front porch framed with huge jasmine bushes. After stepping onto the front porch, one was faced with a beautiful, arched wooden door into which was set a patterned leaded window, and the windows on either side of the door patterned this same design. Once having stepped through the front door the hall was wide, with oak flooring and a sweeping mahogany banister curving up to the next floor. The house had the same number of rooms as the previous dwelling, but they were all so much bigger and fancier. On the doors leading from the hallway into the front room and living room were small brass door knockers in the shape of an old galleon. Each of these rooms had bay windows and beautiful fireplaces, with the one in the living room having a highly polished bevelled surround and an extravagant mantelpiece. My mother must have found the kitchen a total joy. Instead of the small, postage stamp-sized one we left (it was crowded if two people stood there at the same time), this one was large and had real red brick tiles on the floor. The kitchen also had a fireplace! Attached to one side was an oven that baked the most wonderful bread and cakes. We also had room for a kitchen table and chairs, and leading off the kitchen was a pantry with a window of its own. But mother's big delight was its size and the fact that it had a thick, marble cold slab (no refrigerators in those days) and a wire mesh "meat safe."
Excerpted from Seasons of the Soul by Cynthia Redfern Copyright © 2012 by Cynthia Redfern. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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