Monday, February 26, 2007

Halifax, Yorkshire 1947

“Where did you get my Daddy from, Mum?” I try to imagine my Mum and Dad all alone before they got me from the Halifax General Hospital, but I can’t.

“Look both ways before you cross the road.” She reminds me as we cross Gibbet Street on our way to my first day at the Infant School on Bedford Street. Your Grandpa brought Ralph home to meet Grandma, Uncle Des and me when we all lived together at Melvile Place.”

“Where did Grandpa get him Mum, and why did he bring him home?” I ask.

“Your Grandpa met him at the barracks. Your Daddy was in the Army so he lived away from his family.” Mum answered sighing.

“But why did Grandpa bring him home?”

“Grandpa got along really well with Ralph, and he thought is was time I got married.”

“But who was living in our house if we weren’t there?”

“Our house was empty?” I try to imagine our house without us, but I can’t. Mum always says I’ll understand things when I get older. Maybe I will be able to imagine when I have my fifth birthday in November.

“So Grandpa brought him home from the barracks so you could get married and fetch me from the hospital?”

“Yes, that was his plan. He thought if he introduced us, it wouldn’t be long before Ralph asked me to marry him.”

“Grandpa’s clever isn’t he. Where were you when Daddy asked you to marry him?”

Well he started to ask me when we were sitting on the steps outside the house. But we were interrupted when ten workmen turned up with wheelbarrows spilling over with tools. They told us we would have to sit on the wall out of the way because the Corporation had sent them to turn the worn stone front doorstep.

Then they split up into twos and the younger men who were easily in their fifties dumped a pile of dry cement on the flagstones and went off to get some water to mix up the mortar they would need to reset the doorstep.

Two older men, wearing well worn grubby flat caps pulled down firmly on their heads, set up and lit their brazier and put a kettle on to boil so that they could make tea.

Two other men, almost as old as the tea makers, took their time putting up barricades at each end of the street and around the barrows and tools before they sat down to wait for the kettle to boil.

Two men erected a canvas shelter incase it rained then went and sat and lit up their Woodbine cigarettes and smoked with the group.

The two youngest men set to work loosening and then pulling out the step. The work went without a hitch until they rolled the stone over. They both started to laugh in surprise when they found that the underside of the stone was just as worn down as the top had been. ‘Well heck Gov come take a look! Seems like someone came years ago and did this job already.’

All the men strolled over to inspect the stone.

The Governor said ‘Bet they’ve all been done before.’ He told the young men to go next door and pull their step. Sure enough, that one had been turned too.

Ralph and I just sat on the wall and laughed while the men cursed.

Their Gov sent the two youngest and strongest men back down Hopwood lane with one wheelbarrow to fetch a new stone from the corporation works yard. He said, 'Pity all the young lads are off in the Army, I’ll take the both of you to push the barrow back up the hill.'

The rest of the crew knew it would take forever for the men to get their barrows back up the steep slope over the uneven cobblestones of Hopwood Lane.

While they were gone, the eight men sat around the brazier fire, drank tea, and smoked. ‘Well Lads’ the Gov said, ‘looks like were going to be on this job for a good few weeks.’

Ralph said he had something to ask me and suggested we go for a walk.

A few doors down Mrs. Neville came out with her pail, scrubbing brush and her Whitestone to do her front step. She was one of the last ones out this Monday morning. Most of the housewives had already scrubbed and decorated their steps with white or yellow stone. Some coated the top and front of the step; others like your Grandma just trimmed the edged. It was one of the few ways the women could stamp their individuality on the soot crusted Yorkshire stone terraced back-to-back houses that had woodwork all painted identical Corporation green.

Mrs. Neville nodded and said good morning.

I told her she might as well leave her step as the Corporation was going to be changing the stones.

She leaned out of her doorway and looked down the street. How long have they been there? she asked.

At least a couple of hours. Ralph told her, winking.

Have they done a step yet?


Well then, I may as well carry on. They’ll be here for a month at least, longer if they can swing it.

We carried on down to the Dusty Miller pub and went into the snug for a drink. Ralph bought me a half of shandy and he had a half of bitter.

When we had finished our drinks I said, Let’s get back to watch them put in the new step.

Ralph said, Nay Lass, they won’t have started yet. Have you never watched those old Corporation men work? Let’s have another half; I have something to ask you."

When he brought the drinks back from the bar, that’s when he asked me if I would marry him, and I said yes.

We walked down to the Corporation office and rented No. 28 so that I would still be near Grandma and Grandpa when Ralph was away with the Army.

In 1941 Ralph got permission from the Army and we married two months later, it was just after the men finished all the steps, and just before Ralph went off to France to fight in the war.

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