Mud Sweat And Years
I know how it should be Gromps, I should be weeping for you, (the only true way of paying respect), and telling everyone ‘here present’, what a wonderful person you were. But it’s not true, wonderful doesn’t depict you; sorry.
You had it rough, and you came through, but, to be honest, doesn’t that describe just about anyone from your era?
Let’s trace it back to the early days, (no, not the early days I can remember, they came years later, so help us), your early days. The last born, with six sisters, and you, the only boy. Not good news, especially when your father was a farmer. No career choice for you young man. Up at five thirty, when you were just seven years old, to feed flea riddled hens, cooped up in the dark, cob-web laden barns, and knee deep (your knobbly little knees that is) in shit, before you walked two miles to school across the fields of mud. Great start to the day. Your class mates despised you, because you stank, and there were no party invitations for you, you lived too far away, and who would want Grubby George at their house anyway? There was nothing like threadbare clothes, and second hand (girl’s) boots covered in shit, to alienate a child, even back then.
Each birthday, brought more farming chores with it, and by the time you were just eleven years old, the back-breaking jobs were all yours.
At fifteen you became the proud owner of a tatty farm-house, run down farm buildings, implements tied together with baler twine, and fifty neglected, moribund, acres. No escape to war for you George, farmers had to stay at home, and fight their own battles.
At seventeen you took yourself a wife; pale- faced Nancy, not a typical farmer’s choice, but you had to ‘make do with what you could get’. Nancy moved in, with you, your mother, and six sisters, and God help her she didn’t stand a chance. She did her duty, bore you a son, and got out of there as fast as her Wellington boots would carry her. Oh such shame! Well it was for her, but you didn’t notice, you never went into the Village anyway, no time to play for you George.
It was left to your mother and sisters to bring up your son, my father, Clifford. Poor Clifford; you knew what you’d been through George, couldn’t you have stopped the same thing happening to Clifford? Clifford wasn’t in the same mould as you; he was a scrawny little lad, not built for labouring. But, that wasn’t how it worked in ‘them days’. Sons had to do their duty, even if it killed them. You’d had it bad, so why should you make it any easier for Clifford? But at least Clifford managed to escape, and he never came back. He ran away when he was just eleven years old, well limped away more like, his legs buckled after years of heavy work. But where could an eleven year old run to? Of course, Clifford was heading for trouble, and it found him. Living rough, with no money, and no idea, all that was open to Clifford was stealing. He became a deft pocket- picker, but not deft enough to avoid being caught on his thirteenth birthday, and being locked away, in borstal, for two years.
Didn’t you ever give Dad a thought? I remember asking you Gromps, about this, at Dad’s funeral when I was thirteen years old myself, and you responding that farmers don’t get time to think. Your mother had mourned for him though, but too overwhelmed after bearing seven children of her own, she had never learned how to express emotions. She simply died two days after he left. Apparently you didn’t notice she’d gone too, until you saw the undertaker’s van negotiating the squalid yard.
Your sisters left in the same van, eventually, none of them ever managing to flee the nest. That’s how it was in your grey, unpleasant land.
Uncanny though that after Dad died and I began to visit you, I used to enjoy it. My great aunts were all still around then, completely batty every one but entertaining with it (without realising it of course). I’d help out on the milk round most weekends and I’ll never forget how you used to stop that battered old van of yours by sticking your leg out of the door and dragging your foot along the floor. I also smile that your idea of filtering the milk was to stick you finger in the churn and pick the odd clump of hair and muck out. The poor hens (direct ancestors I assume) were still cooped up in prisons, picking their way through rancid shit to scratch at the odd handful of corn that you threw in the door. Luckily, for me, it was great aunt Lilly’s job to collect the eggs, which she did by putting sacks over her slippers, all well and good; except that, with failing eyesight, she would often use the same sacks again, and put them on inside out.
My visits didn’t extend to roaming the ‘meadows’ though. Instead of letting your cows graze freely (too much like hard work getting them in for milking), you kept them boxed up in stalls, where their shit could drop into gullies, and be hosed away. Most of your land had been used as a slurry dump by you, and by neighbouring farmers, who followed suit because you never tried to stop them.
And now, your farm is mine. No great aunts left, they died years ago. No helpers left, you’d either fallen out with them or worn them out. Just a derelict farm house and buildings, fifty squalid acres, and a handful of hens on their very last legs.
I’ll not get much for it. It’s Green Belt. Green Belt? … Heaven help us. I remember Dad saying he could see more green in our back yard.
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