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Never Go Back

Growing up in an ever changing world.

I loved being a child in my little house, in my little street. Growing up there was so much fun. Our back garden that seems so very small now was huge when I was a child. In the summer dad would build me a tent out of some old bedsheets. I had so many adventures in that tent. It was the best tent in the world and my dad made it.

School, I loved school. Most of all, I loved walking to school. In the morning, mum would get me dressed and walk me there. She held my hand as I skipped along beside her. As we passed Mrs Watson's bakers I could smell the sweet aroma of freshly baked bread. It seems funny now but whenever I smell freshly baked bread I immediately think of school. I sat next to my friend Jill. I used to wish that my name was Jill. Such an easy name to spell, only four letters and two of those were the same. Verity on the other hand had six letters and all of them different.

Summer holidays, oh summer holidays. They really were the best. I would play outside for hours. Nobody in our street owned a car; we had the whole road to ourselves.

The house opposite ours was owned by Grandad George. He wasn’t really my Grandad; we just all called him that. He was in the war, or maybe two. Every day he would be in his front garden tending to the flowers. He always wore a dark coloured jacket adorned with his war medals.  Bloody weeds, he would say, bloody weeds as he pulled them out one by one. One day mum found me in our front garden, pulling up anything that looked like a weed and saying, bloody weeds. I still remember the look on her face, trying to look angry whilst all the time trying to hold back her smile.

I liked Grandad George;  he was a kind and softly spoken man. I only ever saw his wife once or twice. Her name was Ada and she lived mostly in her bed. My mum told me that she was very old and needed to sleep a lot. They say that change happens so slowly that you hardly notice, but life was about to change, and I noticed.  A large black carriage with big glass windows, pulled by two black horses coming down my street. The clip-clop of horses shoes echoed loudly on the cobblestone road. It pulled up outside Grandad George’s house.

Four very smartly dressed men went into his house and returned carrying a coffin. Ada had died in the night. Mum made me put on my Sunday best clothes, and she and dad did likewise, along with all the families down our street. It was the first time I saw all my friends with their mums and dads standing silently, heads bowed as the carriage pulled away. Grandad George was walking behind, dressed all in black and wearing his medals. As he passed he looked over to me and gave me a little smile. That was the last time I saw him smile. Well actually, there was one more time.

He stopped weeding his garden and tending to his flowers. I knocked on his door and asked him if he would like me to help him pull the bloody weeds up. That was the last time I saw him smile. He told me that it was okay as he was moving away in a few days. He never said where he was going and I never asked. I was at school when the moving van came. I was skipping along, as usual, holding mum's hand as she walked me home from school. When we got to our road I could see Grandad George standing outside our house talking to my dad.

As we approached I could see that he had a large brown suitcase beside him. He shook my mum’s hand and thanked her for all her help over the years. Mum used to get him some shopping when she went to the big shops in the town. Just the sort of things he couldn’t get locally as he didn’t want to leave Ada alone for too long so didn’t go himself. He knelt down and handed me a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string. He told me that he didn’t have anyone else to give them to and wanted me to keep them. He told me that I wasn’t to open it until he was gone. With that, my dad lifted his case and walked him to the nearby train station. I watched as they walked down our road, never once did he look back.

Of course, being a child, the second they were out of sight I rushed indoors to see what was in my little present. Mum carefully undid the string before handing me the now loosely wrapped parcel. She let out a little gasp as a bunch of medals fell out. I never realised at the time what an important gift they were and how much they must have meant to Grandad George. Years later I found out that he didn’t have any family apart from Ada. The funny thing is, at the time I thought I was only looking after them and that he would come back one day to collect them, he never did and they are still in my care.

A few weeks later I had just finished my dinner. It was a weekend and I was anxious to go outside and play. I could hear the other children outside laughing and getting quite noisy. Looking out the window I could see a large lorry parked outside Grandad George’s house, someone new was moving in. I couldn’t imagine what the other children were laughing and pointing at as the lorry was in the way. I rushed out and as soon as my friend saw me she shouted, “Look, look, the circus is moving in.” As I rushed over I couldn’t believe my eyes. Two of the most beautiful ladies you could ever imagine. Dressed in the brightest clothes I had ever seen. Electric blue silk and sun-bright orange. And the jewellery, oh my, the jewellery. Gold chains and the biggest earrings. They looked like queens or princesses, it was truly magical.

Of course, I found out later that they had moved here from India and that was their usual dress. You have to remember that times were different back then. I was just a child growing up in a simple world. The war was not long over and was still fresh in the memories of my mum and dad. I grew up in a world without colour television or internet. Never mind mobile phones, no one in my road even had a telephone. The only time I ever saw a car in my road was the doctor visiting someone. Yes, doctors used to do house calls. The postman would deliver mail twice a day. We only had two TV channels. Stereo radio was yet to be invented and nobody knew who The Beatles were.

The world was now changing, and changing fast. More people started moving away and new families moved in. Cars started to appear in our once quiet street. A huge supermarket opened nearby and our local shops started to close. Mrs Watson’s bakers was the first to go. The smell of freshly baked bread in the morning was replaced with traffic fumes. It all happened so quick. Colour television, man walking on the moon. So much was happening it was hard to keep up.

I remember when my dad died. Only a few people stood in the street to see him off. A far cry from the day Ada left the street in a horse drawn carriage. My dear mum hung on for years as the world she knew changed around her. On the day of her funeral the hearse couldn’t even park outside the house, the road was full of cars. Grandad George’s front garden had been paved over to make room for more cars to park. No one came out to see her off. It was all so sad; it was like she never existed. Mum left me the house and I was the last one to leave our little road. A road that held so many memories of a time now passed. I had a little cry as I closed the door behind me for the last time.

I was dating a young man at the time, he was an aspiring architect. He was self-employed and as such could work from home. That meant we could live anywhere, so after we got married we moved to a little cottage by the seaside. It was bliss, fresh clean air, and a much slower pace of life. After about ten or so years I was invited to a school reunion. People say you should never go back but I thought it would be a good idea to see the old place one last time. Apparently, my little school was being demolished to make way for a new housing estate. If I was going to see it, this would be my last chance.

By this time we had a daughter, and you probably guessed that I called her Jill, just four letters, and two of them the same. I didn’t want my daughter to have to spell an awkward name like I did. It was my old school friend Jill who had invited me to the school reunion. She was the only one I managed to keep in contact with. I was really looking forward to catching up with the old gang from my school days. Jill still lived in the area and warned me about the changes. She said I would probably be shocked by how much things had changed. She wasn’t wrong; I was indeed in for a shock.

I arranged to travel up by myself and stay with Jill and her husband for the weekend. It was only about a three-hour drive. I set off early in the day as I don’t like to drive in the dark. I made good time and arrived mid-afternoon. As soon as I got out of the car the first thing that hit me was the smell, a city smell, a mixture of traffic fumes and well, just that big city smell. A far cry from the gentle fresh sea breeze I had become accustomed to. I suppose if you live there you get used to it. Apart from the city smell, there was a constant drone of heavy traffic. It sounds odd to say it, but the place I grew up in now seemed like an alien landscape.

Despite being tired from my drive I found it hard to sleep that night. There was a streetlight outside my bedroom window and I could hear the ever-present drone of traffic. I was still feeling a bit tired when I got up in the morning. I told Jill that after breakfast I would like to have a walk down my old road, I wanted to see my little house. It was quite a nice sunny day and I was dying to see how it looked. I wish now that I never went, it was awful. Watson's bakers was now demolished and a car park put in its place. I know I shouldn’t moan, change is inevitable but I somehow expected things to be as I remembered them.

After parking up in the old bakery car park we took the short walk to my road. God, it had changed, more or less every front garden was now paved over for parking. Everything looked grey and sad. There was no way that children could play in the road anymore. I stopped outside my little house; a rusty old van was now parked on what was once my beautiful flower bed.

A scruffy young lady emerged from within, “What are you looking at lady?” she said with a fair degree of aggression. I apologised and said I used to live there, was in the area, and thought I would have a look. She just stared at me and went back inside. Jill made a gesture that we should be moving on, I agreed. It was obvious I wasn’t about to be invited in for a cup of tea.

Next stop was my old school. That was even worse than my old house. The light limestone walls were now almost black from traffic soot. I really can’t begin to describe just how tired and drab it looked. The playground that once echoed to the sound of happy children at play was now all potholed, weeds growing from every crack. As I stood there with Jill, lamenting at the state of the place, I heard a man’s voice behind me, “Is that, you Verity? It’s me, Brian. I used to sit behind you.” I recognised him from his freckled face and ginger hair protruding from his hard hat. The little lad who used to pull my hair was now one of the builders set to demolish the school, kind of fitting in a way. He told me how pleased he was that I managed to make it back for the reunion.

Luckily for me, Brian was in charge of the demolition team. He asked if we would like to have a look around inside, of course the answer was yes. It was almost as if the school had shrunk, rooms that were once so big now seemed so small. I walked into my old classroom, although it was now in a state of disrepair it still brought back happy memories. It was just a shame that children would never again be able to experience the joy of those simple days. I was starting to see why people say that you should never go back, a big part of me was wishing I hadn’t. But I was here, and was determined to enjoy meeting up with the old gang later that night.

The reunion was held in the local church hall. I must be starting to sound like a right moaner by now but even that wasn’t as joyful as I had expected. Most of those who attended were much younger; they must have only just left school. At least it felt that way to me. Only a handful of the old gang were there. A bunch of middle-aged men and women sitting in the corner, trying to chat over the booming sound of modern pop music for the younger ones in attendance. To be honest, it was awful; I couldn’t wait until it was over. I never did get the chance to have a proper chat with anyone because of the noise. Look at me; I’m starting to sound like my mum and dad.

Later that night I returned to Jill’s house, and after a chat and a cup of tea, I went to bed. As if that blooming street light couldn’t get any more annoying, it was now blinking on and off. I lay there feeling sorry for myself. The expectations I had managed to build up were sadly quashed. My old house was drab; my beautiful garden was now home to a rusty van and my house occupied by the daughter of Satan. I just wanted to go home, back to my peaceful little world. The morning came and I said my goodbyes.

And here I am now, eons later and still moaning about it. My daughter has now grown up, married, and has a daughter of her own. Despite my best advice she has called her Verity, six letters, and every one different. Sadly, my husband passed a few years ago and I now live in a little house in the garden of my daughter and her husband. It’s a good arrangement, I get to live near my family, and they get a willing babysitter. Little Verity is so cute, she calls me nanny V. My daughter and her husband both work so I get to spend a lot of time with her.

So, why am I telling you all this today? Well, yesterday I was going through some of my old possessions with little Verity. She was fascinated with the medals given to me by granddad George. She asked me what they were for. I didn’t want to tell her about wars and killing so I said that you get them for keeping a good garden. With that, she wanted to do some gardening with me. I put the medals on her chest and out we went. As I sat in my deckchair, little Verity was watering the plants. It was almost as if the spirit of Granddad George lived inside those medals. I am not kidding when I say that without any prompting from me, little Verity pulled something from the ground, turned to me, and said, “Bloody weeds.”

 

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