My dad would have been 92 today. As his birthday approached this week, I browsed through some of the posts I’d written mentioning aspects of his life, such as his 7-Up story, Treasures in the Attic and Banking the Old Fashioned Way.
When Dad died in 2016, I wrote a post about him on my previous blog, Family History Secrets, called Preserving the Memories. At the end of the piece I mentioned how I’d encouraged him to note down memories of his past.
We tried two methods. First, I sent him a questionnaire which he filled in. This flagged up two problems. The first was that many of my questions fell on barren ground (as you can see in the image - lots of empty spaces!).
One of my questions had been about a mystery I’ve referred to on this blog before – what happened to my great Auntie Annie? (See Mystery Friends) She walked out of the family home in 1904 aged 16 and, allegedly, wasn't heard of again until 1982.
I’d asked Dad whether there had been any mention of his Aunt Annie during his childhood and any explanation of her disappearance (she appears on a family photograph always prominently displayed in my gran’s house). I'd also asked, “weren’t you ever curious? ” But it seems not, as that part of the sheet remained blank!
The second problem was Dad’s handwriting. Always a challenge to read at the best of times, I struggled to decipher what he’d written. So we hit on the idea of him speaking his recollections, unprompted by me, into a dictaphone. He’d send me the tapes and I’d transcribe them.
Gas lighting and a boiler
Amongst the recorded memories, are those of his home near Wombourne, Wolverhampton. This was the lodge of a large house called The Foxhills, where the family moved to around 1930 when Dad was a toddler, where my grandfather took the job as head gardener.
Dad described what it was like inside:
“Not that I remember moving there, but it was a cold house from what I remember as I got a little bit older. The heating was by fire and [we had] gas lighting. No electric, though we did have running water into a very old antique type of sink. In the corner of the kitchen was the gas stove, the sink unit, one or two units and a big boiler in the corner for doing the washing in, together with a the old wind-up mangle.”
It’s fascinating to read that and look at the photograph of The Lodge (above), trying to imagine what it must have been like, as I sit here typing at my desk, with cosy underfloor heating at my feet!
As I read through the transcript, I remembered that there was one tape I'd never got around to transcribing, so I went in search of it, along with the dictaphone we'd used. Having found both, I replaced the dictaphone’s old batteries so I could listen to the tape, bracing myself for the emotional impact of hearing Dad’s voice again…. Only to discover that the machine, which hasn’t been used in years, was playing back sooooo sloooowwwwly that all I could hear was a long unintelligible drawl!
So, in the best tradition of BBC’s The Repair Shop, I think my next task is to find some way of cleaning the mechanism in the hope that I can get it working properly again. Wish me luck!
Click on the image below to find out about the books in the Esme Quentin Mystery series.