We should take the time to collate those everyday family stories we are told by the older members of our family in our youth; record them for posterity, because while they may be random memories today, tomorrow they will become the realm of history. History is not only always about the big things that happen, but also the little things that nevertheless play a big part of people’s personal lives. If it’s important enough to have a story told about it, it’s surely important enough to matter to someone in the future – it adds a homely human touch, reminds us that history was once reality.
I remember so many rambling bits of random stories told to me here and there by my familial elders, little vignettes that play out in fleeting moments before fading into forgetfulness – and I wonder why I didn’t pay more attention, write some of it down at the time… but of course I didn’t, and now it’s too late. The owners of many of my favourite stories are long gone, yet it is only now I appreciate their significance.
In particular I remember stories told by my two youngest great-aunts, my grandmother’s younger sisters, who spent their War years here in London, where they lived. Of the fun they had jitterbugging with American GIs at the Hammersmith Palais and being thrown out for lewd dancing, only to be let in again by their friends via the fire exit at the back. Memories of the dancehall being so stifling hot and smelly – there were no air conditioning or deodorants then – and of dress fabrics being so unforgiving of the inevitable underarm sweat marks that stained them.
Or of working as a teenager in your first job as an office junior, and as the youngest staff member being the one sent out to the bakery to fetch the buns for afternoon tea. Being caught in an air raid on your way back from the bakery, eventually returning to work to find the entire office building with all your colleagues in it had just been obliterated by the bomb that fell. How you just stood there helplessly with a paper bag of baked goods in your hands, not really knowing what to do next. Of simply going home and taking the buns with you, because there was nothing else you could do…
Or of sitting in a tin bath on the living room floor when an incendiary bomb dropped across the street, jumping out of the bath and wrapping a towel around you; of running back and fore using the bathwater scooped up into a bucket to try to extinguish the flames only to find that somewhere in all the pandemonium you had lost the bath towel and were standing naked and filthy in the street with only a bucket to preserve your modesty while London burned all around you.
And there were countless stories from before the War too, during difficult childhoods spent in the 1920s in an orphanage run by the Catholic Church – stories not only of abuse and cruelty by the nuns, but also of creating close friendships that would prove to last a lifetime… Ah, but that’s another story… 🙂
My maternal grandmother (centre) with her two younger sisters, celebrating her 90th birthday in 2004 ❤