On a wall in my mum’s house was a cross stitch. As a teenager I remember her sitting for hours in the evenings, for months that turned into years, glasses on, religiously counting the number of tiny squares on a graph before eventually it was complete and hung in the alcove beside the fire.
It is an intricate piece of work that has now, since her death, become a family heirloom. On it is a verse from Ecclesiastes. “To everything there is a season. And a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
I was reminded of that cross stitch and the sentiments it expressed when, this week ,for the last time I closed the door on the family home that has been our sanctuary for six decades, where five generations had sought tea and companionship from a lady who always had the kettle on and baking in the tins.
And a man, who had died 20 years before and said little unless it was words of wisdom. Listening was his gift.
It is exactly 60 years ago this month that Mum and Dad bought that house, a three bedroomed brand new semi in Bradford which cost a little over two and a half thousand pounds. It was where Mum wanted to end her days.
Sadly it was not to be and as I looked around for the last time I shed a tear at that. And a tear at the reminders of a life well lived and a woman who had a place for everything. Happiness is contained within those walls.
In the cupboards and in the garage were still half rolls of every wallpaper and every paint they had ever used. Just in case. They each told their own story.
I even recognised some of them used to back our schoolbooks with, or line a bedroom drawer. Washable Vymura for the kitchen. Anaglypta to paint whatever colour you wanted for the best room, which for years was only used on high days and holidays and is still divided by sliding doors which, when we were little, were only opened on a Sunday.
Then the mock teak trolley edged in gilt and laden with home made goodies would be ceremoniously wheeled in for various ‘aunties and uncles’ who were no relation, but close friends who came for tea. In the pantry were remnants of the lino bought in the sixties and deemed serviceable enough to still grace the floor of the tiny cubby hole off the kitchen which always housed a sack of potatoes, the bread bin, the aforementioned cake tins and a giant box of cornflakes. And boxes and boxes of Tuperware.
If you came home from school ravenous, as we usually did, we were invited to go into the pantry for a slice of bread and butter, nothing more so we didn’t spoil our tea, which consisted of a main and a pudding, which if we were lucky was a sponge already cooking in the pressure cooker served with Bird’s custard or top of the milk.
You were never allowed to leave the polished dining room table, always covered in a table cloth, without clearing your plate or until you said thankyou for a lovely meal. Tea on your knee in the best room in front of the TV was a rare treat, a reward for good behaviour. And if you left crumbs you got out the Ewbank from the cupboard under the stairs and swept up after yourself. I have kept the Ewbank as a reminder to be a bit more tidy. And the well worn, oft sharpened, mis-shapen palate knife that used to be my gran’s, to remind me to be more frugal.
Don’t get me wrong. That house saw its far share of ‘modernising’. The ancient noisy washing machine with its hand wringer gave way to a twin tub with tongues and eventually a modern version which never quite got clothes as clean, according to mum.
The open coal fire became a Baxi back boiler and later in the seventies a gas fire with central heating and double glazing which meant a warm bedroom where you could no longer write your name on the ice that formed inside the windows.
The sofa from the precious three piece suite, originally covered in wool maquette and later twice in Dralon, has been gifted. The Lister’s velvet curtains still hang at the windows. But the built in toy cupboards once crammed full of childhood playthings are all empty now. And it is sad.
This week a young couple will move in.
I wish them happy times there.
Mum would too. Just as she would be thrilled to hear of Matilda’s first day at school this week or that I have picked the last of the rhubarb from her little garden to make a crumble with.
More importantly she would point to that cross stitch and say, “You see Christa, to everything there is a season. And a time to every purpose under the heaven.”