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As Time Goes By: The Passing Of Great Grandmother Pearson In 1926

Eileen Perrin recalls a conversation between her morther, Kitty, and her Aunt Annie which evokes the past in vivid detail.

To read more of Eileenís memories please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/as_time_goes_by/

In a high-backed Windsor chair stained a deep red mahogany little Aunt Annie was wiping her eyes with the large handkerchief she now pushed back into a large pocket on her white apron. Her small feet encased in tightly fitting black felt slippers peeped out from beneath her ankle-length black skirt. Her blue-veined knobby-knuckled old hands rested on the ends of the arm rests from which the coloured varnish had rubbed off in the long years of kitchen use.

She looked up at me, her thin hair twisted into a plait secured by hairpins at the nape of her neck. Her nose was red, her eyes still watery and the small mouth was devoid of teeth, held tight-lipped in her despair. She sighed.

Last week her mother Anne Francis Pearson died aged 91. Aunt Annie had been upset when there could not be a local burial, and she had to go with the coach and hearse up to Waterloo where a special train ran to take Londonís coffins for burial in Brookwood Cemetery near Guildford in Surrey. Burials at Brookwood, or the London Necropolis, which first opened in 1854, came about because of a shortage of plots in the capital.

Now there was no longer any hope she would be able to visit the grave.

"You may think I shouldn't make this fuss, Kitty, but you don't understand, ever since brother George died I've had to look after Mother on my own, and it's not been easy, what with taking in the washing. The money helped when we didn't have George's pay, though quite a bit of that he used to spend on beer - but there's none at all now. He probably died of lead-poisoning from the printing plates as much as the drink. These days printers and plate-makers are given pints of milk to drink while they're working, but I wonder how many of them bother, but take the milk home to their wives and kids?

Your mother, Martha, helped me when her Bert was in work, but a decorator doesnít get much employment in the winter as you know. Martha has always been a good sister, not like Emma, who took my young man from me and then got herself in trouble and had to get married.

I should have been the one Tommy Chalk married. Then again, if our young Selina had lived she would have been the one left at home to look after your grandmother, not me. But I feel guilty now she's dead.

I shared her bed, and should have known when she was struggling for her breath. I should have woken up and gone for the doctor, and then she wouldn't have died.

Yes Kitty, I know she was ninety-one, but she didn't ail none, apart from a bit of bronchitis in the winter. She enjoyed her food - had her tea and toast with a bit of butter on, sitting in her carpet chair by the fire in the front room.

Always made a fuss of your girl. She called her little Two Shoes 'cause she always remembered the story of Goody Two shoes from her own childhood. She would get the tin from the chiffonier and give Eileen a Pat-a-cake biscuit, or else an acid tablet.

Your little girl liked to watch me brush out Mother's hair in the mornings. She sighed.

It was all my fault Mother died. She always snored and so I'd put cotton wool in my ears and I didn't hear her trying to get her breath.

It had been extra cold. Iíd filled the small coal scuttle, and in the afternoon I lit the bedroom fire to warm it ready for her to go to bed. It had been snowing a bit that morning, and it was slippery as I came back from the oil shop with the firewood.

I'd bought three penníorth of pot herbs to do a stew with the shoulder of lamb bone I'd saved. She always peeled the potatoes, carrot and turnip - I had to do the onion - and then she threw in the pearl barley and I'd set it on the hob.

You know, once he was a grown man with a job in the print, your Uncle George never ate at home with us. He ate at a cook-shop off Rosebery Avenue, or the eel and pie shop in Kingsland Road, next door to the pub.

I shanít be taking washing in any more. As you and Alice say, itís too much for me now.

The Vicar says he might be able to get me a job with Miss Goudge, who's been a missionary in China, and has told him she wants a daily woman.

She's been used to having young Chinese girls do her housework while she taught in the mission school out there, but now she can't cope.

I'll be able to get rid of my huge old box mangle but I don't know who I can get to take it to pieces. All that wood - mahogany and oak rollers with the blanket pieces rolled round them. Emma said Tommy would take the big stone weights from underneath and make a rockery in their back yard with 'em.

The times I've turned that big hand wheel, and watched as the great box full of the mangling moved and rumbled across the kitchen.

When that has gone, you can have the room as your kitchen, and you'll have a range in the fireplace - it's got an oven at the side.

Your little girl can play in the yard outside, and you'll be able to keep an eye on her while you're in the kitchen or in the scullery next door. I'll be able to see more of her - more than now, when you are all upstairs and cooking on the landing. You can bring the gas stove down into the scullery, Kitty. It will fit between the copper and the stone sink.

I nodded.

She stood up as I went out the kitchen door and back up the stairs to our three rooms. It was dark on the landing, and in the front room little Eileen was kneeling up on a chair waiting for the lamp-lighter to come by.


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