My US friends have chosen how they spend Memorial Day as the topic this week. Being from the UK, we do not have Memorial Day here, but I am told I can write a tribute to somebody I know who has passed instead, so here goes…
John, my father was born in September 1927, the second child of my East End grandparents Frank and Nell, and the only one of their three children to inherit the luxuriant black curly hair from a Spanish ancestor. Thankfully Nell had had some experience of motherhood by then with Tom, her eldest son, and so Dad was spared the saveloy and pease pudding incident that one month old Tom had suffered, necessitating a trip to Bethnal Green hospital.
Nell had 14 sisters and 2 brothers who all lived nearby with their families, and John could not go anywhere or do anything without one of his aunts noticing and reporting back to Nell. Tom was mild-mannered and retiring, whereas John was what they would call ‘spirited’ or ‘challenging’ these days, and he tried his best to outwit his aunts. The constant problem of being spied on put him on a short fuse and gave him a hatred of gossiping old women for the rest of his life.
Up to one of his nefarious schemes, somehow at the age of 11 he ended up rolling underneath a moving London bus, but survived uninjured. However, the shock stunted his growth, and he never grew past 5ft 3ins, the height he was aged 11. His brother grew to be 6 feet tall, and so poor John always suffered from the short man syndrome. He could find humour in anything though, and was possessed of a characteristic laugh that could be heard in the next street. He grew up practical and with oodles of common sense, but his education was stunted by the war, and he left school aged 12, never to return. He was of the age for National Service, which he undertook in Egypt, learning a self-reliance which never left him.
In a pub with a friend one evening, he sang along to old songs being played on a piano by a young woman he liked the look of and wanted to get to know. When she stopped for a rest he offered to buy her a drink, and she was immediately drawn to his soulful brown eyes. He found that he had met his match in Dot, and they were married in 1952.
John was resourceful, hard-working, able to mend anything and inventive, just like my husband Sam is now. For years Dad was the stores manager at a City of London bank. It’s amazing that I married somebody with the same capabilities, but at the time I wasn’t aware of this. John loved to read, and always had a pile of books by his armchair, that he swapped about with his dad, my grandfather. He also taught himself German in his spare time.
Dad succumbed to metastatic prostate cancer in 1977 at the very early age of 49. I was only 19 when he died, and didn’t really get to know him as an adult. I inherited his facial features, his black curly hair, a love of reading, the cancer gene, and an ability to sit quietly for hours on end just occupied with my own thoughts. I often think about him, and wish he could have stayed here longer to meet his two grandsons and four great-grandchildren. He would have loved them.
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