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The Day Before Yesterday: 24 The Elusive Ball

...The heavy curtains were drawn for warmth against the dark, windy night. Mum was sat in one of the big chairs crocheting a set of pretty mats. How she could follow these patterns I don't know. I was never as good, knitting was more in my line. Dad sat in the other chair engrossed in one of his books, sucking the stem of an empty pipe, his feet thrust towards the cosy fire...

Gladys Schofield recalls winter evenings at home.

We were getting quite good at embroidery in the seniors and later embroidered a panel each which was later sewn into a bedspread for our head mistress. Each girl initialled her panel so she wouldn't forget our class in a hurry. We also made aprons and bands to keep our hair back, for we were now to take up another skill. It's called domestic science these days, we called it cookery class.

Wearing our new aprons and hair neatly held back with the headband, a small notebook and pencil in hand, we presented ourselves to this part of the school that stood well away from the other classrooms.

I was looking forward to this cooking lesson, but for the first week or two we were taught how to write a recipe down, use and clean utensils and clean the giant sized gas oven and all the other menial tasks of keeping a kitchen spotless. After we had scrubbed down everything, I began to wonder if we would ever get a chance to cook. It was enough to put the bravest pupil off.

Our teacher was quite young and smart, her blond hair was in the latest wave and didn't seem to have a place in this northern working class district.

A bakery stood next to the school, run by two bright young men. Whether one fancied our cookery teacher or it was the other way around, she would always send one of us to buy something from the bakery for her lunch. Little messages of endearment would pass to and fro on these occasions, and, amidst all the blushing and smiling, you could tell she was enjoying it all.

Anyway we finally got the chance to cook something, and that was when I started to take a real interest. Several little concoctions made their way home with me. It seemed the best one was my Yorkshire pudding as I got praise for that from my eldest brother, and that was praise indeed. It had to be pretty good to please his palate. He would say "Would you make the Yorkshire pudding, Sis? It graced the table often, and Mum was quite pleased that I could take this little service over from her.

I enjoyed the cooking, but remembering all the different cuts of meat was a puzzle to me. We had to draw a diagram of a cow and put the different cuts of meat in the right places. I put leg of mutton as the cow's rump. That I never did live down from the same brother.

I never could see why a simple mistake should so amuse him. On the whole though he was a great brother and we got on well, although he was eight years older than me. I respected his advice on many an occasion.

The one girl he eventually brought into our house was the girl he married, and she shared both my age and my birthday. We were so different in build and ways. She met my brother when only fourteen. I was making my younger sisters clothes for their dollies, sat on one of those stools close to the fire, and Harold brought this girl to meet the family.

She seemed quite a young lady and stood taller than me, but she had just started her growth spurt earlier. I always was of a lighter build.
They never did have a family, although I know children would have been welcome. He always liked to see our family when they were growing up.

It had been a bad winter so far, this year of my early teens. Epidemics of one thing and another were taking their toll of some of the children around. The chilling winds of winter were upon us once again. No playing out in the evenings now. It took us all our time to keep warm inside now as Christmas approached once again.

All I really wanted for Christmas this year was a fairy story book. The Hans Christian Anderson one was very popular at this time and were soon sold out, so I got the one by the Brother's Grimm. To me any fairy story was alright, so I didn't mind.

I also got a game I was not expecting called table tennis, or ping pong, as it became commonly known. Harold had played this game before so he offered to give me a lesson. I found it quite difficult trying to guide such a tiny bail over a net and still make it land on the other side of the table. After a while I got the swing of it and we got quite competitive. I was accepted into the grown-up world now and allowed to stay up a little later in the evenings.

The heavy curtains were drawn for warmth against the dark, windy night. Mum was sat in one of the big chairs crocheting a set of pretty mats. How she could follow these patterns I don't know. I was never as good, knitting was more in my line. Dad sat in the other chair engrossed in one of his books, sucking the stem of an empty pipe, his feet thrust towards the cosy fire.

Getting more confident we biffed and batted to and fro for quite some time. Then Harold caught the ball on the edge of the table at my side and it headed towards the curtains. We spent ages hunting for that elusive ball and tried everything to dislodge a ball that could have hidden there. More of the family joined in the fun. We searched the whole room but it wasn't anywhere.

The next morning we heard of the sad passing of another neighbour's child. That dreadful disease diphtheria didn't care where it struck. This was a boy my age, an only child, in one of the back rows of houses. He died the night before at the time we lost the ball.

You didn't intrude on people's grieving unless you were a relative or close friend, but everyone drew their curtains or blinds as a show of respect on the day of the funeral and didn't open them until the cortege had got well past.

After a time Mum drew back the curtains, and there at her foot was the tiny ball. Why was it at this time it showed itself. Maybe there was a good explanation, or maybe not. Who knows?

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