Chapter 7 - With September came another school term.
With September came another school term. Why, oh why couldn’t every day be a Saturday or Sunday?
I didn’t care for school, but I felt a burning desire to read. I copied rows and rows of a’s and b’s in my school exercise book. The letters started off tidy enough, but soon began to stray across the page like naughty children growing tired of the straight and narrow path. This task didn’t seem to get me any nearer my goal. Many’s the time I would open one of mother’s books and stare at the black print on the white page, thinking perhaps if I looked hard and long enough, the meaning of the words would dawn upon my hopeful little mind. It never did. No, there was no short cut for me, learning to read was a long term policy.
Father had a sister May who lived in a very tidy cottage quite near the school, not at all like our somewhat muddled farmhouse. One day when I was going home, Aunt May called me in to meet her little niece Audrey. Audrey was seated on a couch reading a book; The Adventures of Rupert Bear, she promtly began to read to me. I felt terribly sore. Audrey was younger than I was and she could read and I could’t. It was a very sad little girl who took her homeward path that afternoon.
When I thought of the incident in later years as I read Rupert Bear to my little boy, I realised that in all probability Audrey knew those first pages by heart, as they were written in verse and easy to memorise. So perhaps my humiliation was all unnecessary.
The next day being Saturday, I shook off the burden of school and walked over the stubbles where the chickens had been taken out to shack. Hens of every size and shade were helping themselves to the corn that had spilled out of the ripening sheaves. Nothing was wasted. The corn came back to us with an abundance of eggs.
Flowers of every hue grew up from the stubble, the blackberry hedges shew promise of their bounty to come, while a covey of partridges got up just ahead of us and skimmed over the field with their strange flight, to alight in the stubble beyond. A cock pheasant called his harsh cry from a nearby spinney where the trees were already splashed with gold. Autumn was full of colour and of satisfying sights and smells. Mother gathered up her basket of eggs and I followed happily behind thinking of tea.
Harvest Thanksgiving we called our harvest festival, and this took place when all had been safely gathered at Park Farm, Griston, this being the largest farm in the village.
So, on a Sunday in September, we could be seen all off to church in our best clothes looking unfamiliar, for we didn’t often dress up as there was rarely occasion to do so.
It had been such a rush getting ready, everyone wanting to wash and change at the same time, but we were off at last, my two elder brothers going ahead on their bicyles and the rest of us following in the pony and cart.
I walked on a carpet of beech leaves to the beautiful little church just as the bells were tolling in, feeling very happy to be holding my parents’ hands. The church was wonderfully decorated. Sheaves of corn stood inside the door and every windowsill overflowed with fruit and vegetables of every shape and colour. Scarlet apples, yellow pears, silky onions and potatoes jostled with carrots and plums, while immense pumpkins flanked the font. Everything seemed larger than life, for they were the very best that farm and cottage garden could produce. I have no doubt there were masses of autumn flowers, but I only remember the bunches of cape gooseberries hanging down from the pulpit looking like flame coloured fairy lanterns.
The harvest hymns, ‘Come ye thankful people come,’ and, ‘We plough the fields and scatter,’ were sung with great gusto. The Rev. Andrew preached his sermon and I’m afraid I didn’t hear a word, but I heard Colonel Barnham reading the lesson, the parable of the sower was familiar to me. 'A sower went out to sow his seed and as he sowed, some fell by the wayside'. I can still hear his voice rising and falling as if it were yesterday.
We were all uplifted with the feeling of well being and gratitude to God for His gifts. One line remained in my mind longer than any other, ‘The valleys also shall stand so thick with corn, that they shall laugh and sing'.
The vicar’s wife played the organ for the last time that day and all the villagers spilled out into the churchyard.
My parents stopped under the beech trees to greet numerous friends and relations, then we walked down the road a few yards to the cottage were my grandparents lived. My grandfather was the village grave digger and coffin maker. He had a gray beard and seemed very old and stern as befitted his calling. I don’t think I ever saw my grandmother standing up. She always sat in her chair with her hands folded on her lap and a black hat on her head as if she was just off somewhere. This struck me as rather strange, for I never saw her anywhere but in her cottage as if she were part of the fittings.
My young brother and I sat stiffly on shiny wooden chairs and watched the clock in the corner with its swinging pendulum and listened to it ticking slowly and loudly. On the table was a cloth worked in gold thread with bobbles all round the edges. A funny looking fish hung over the mantleshelf and on the chiffonier sat a white china chicken. We never thought of touching any of these interesting things, but sat quietly being seen and not heard.
Down the garden were the inevitable row of rabbit hutches and an apple tree shadowed the closet. These apples had a greasy skin, as if they had been rubbed over by a lardy paper. Some roses still lingered on the hedge, tiny golden roses known as soldier’s buttons. I’ve never come across them anywhere else.
At last goodbyes were said and we climbed happily into the cart that had been brought to the cottage gate by one of my elder brothers. Pansy took us home at a brisk trot, for she was always glad to take the homeward road, as indeed we all were.
Chapter 6 / Chapter 8