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U3A Writing: The Well: 11 Ellen Elizabeth

...Hello Mum, said my Jack.
Her hand went slowly up to her mouth.
It's me, Mum, Jack, he said.
She still said nothing, just stretched out
Her hand, ran her finger down his cheek...

Paddy Webb continues the story in verse of her great-grandfather who an extraordinarily hard life.

It was my idea we should go to Sunbury;
I was proud I was Jack's wife, fancied myself
In my new brown dress I'd had to get wed.
I liked the way his hand went round my waist,
Wanted his mother to see her son had a proper wife.
Besides, I wanted to know what the family was like.

Jack working on the railway,
we went by train
Sitting in the van with a mate of his.
They put me, like a lady, in a small seat with a window
So I could see the houses and roads, fields and woods
All in the summer sunshine.
There were real cows And sheep.
You don't get them in London.

I felt really grand when we walked down the lane,
Jack pointing out the sights, the forge, the school.
Said it hadn't changed much in twelve years.
But it wasn't much of a cottage, two up and down,
With a privy out the back by an apple tree.
There was a big garden, with a well, a pig sty
And a few hens scratching in a corner.
There were plenty of vegetables coming on.

Jack knocked at the door. A woman came,
Apple round, her hair in a straggly bun.
She still had her apron on, on Sunday afternoon!
Hello Mum, said my Jack.
Her hand went slowly up to her mouth.
It's me, Mum, Jack, he said.
She still said nothing, just stretched out
Her hand, ran her finger down his cheek.
A young girl with a runny nose came,
Peeping round her mother's skirts.
Our Edie, said his Mum. There were tears
Running slowly down her cheeks.
Hello, Edie, said Jack, but she hid, shy.

There was a shout, a man's voice inside.
It's our Jack, his mum called back.
Then his Dad came, ponderous, slow
As if he was swelling with every step.
He stood in the doorway, thumbs hooked
In his belt, his big beard bristling.

Come for that beating have you?
His father rumbled,
As if he had been storing his anger all those years.
My Jack stepped back and raised his hands,

Palms out. I'm a bit too big for that, Pa, he said.
They stood looking at each other.
A little cat came, mewing round my feet,
loud in the silence that went on and on.
Then Jack's father turned away and kicked
The door shut with his boot.
We went, sat on the seat under the tree by the well.
Edie came and stared at us.
Want a sweetie? Jack asked, holding out a humbug.
Mum's crying she said. Jack got up.
Edie stayed, staring at me, sucking her sweet.

When Jack came back he was carrying a cup.
It's well water, he said, from the bucket by the door.
I took a sip. It was cold and tasted of metal.
We'd brought a present. A box with a twist of baccy
For his Dad, tea, and a hanky I'd embroidered
For his Mum, sweets for the children; ones you can get
For a farthing at the factory, when they sweep the floor.
All right if you pick the mouse droppings and sawdust out.
Jack took the box, and put it by the door.

We went out of the gate, and along the lane.
When we looked back, Jack's Mum was standing,
Holding the box and watching us. We waived.
Then we turned the corner and could see no more.


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