Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Birthday Greetings

In the 1950s, when greetings cards were relatively modest, dad always bought my mum a big card in a box for her birthday and at Christmas.  Not big compared to those on offer today, but a box none the less.  His careful, rounded handwriting embellished with curls and loops conveyed the emotions I seldom heard him utter. The printed verse, often running to several inserted pages, said what he couldn't. The card, a padded confection of bows and bells - well, perhaps not bells - was always received with derision.  However mum kept them - in homage to the money they had cost him rather than the emotion expressed within them.

Nothing in my parents's relationship was straight forward, but then how could it be?  There was too much sadness and too many secrets - and considering they had both experienced such deprived and lonely childhoods, a surprising absence of compatibility and empathy.  Mum wanted someone with ambition and drive.  Dad wanted emotional security and the love he had missed out on as a child.  Sadly neither could provide what the other needed.

When my parents home was emptied after my dad's death it was left to his much loved cousin Harry to undertake the clearing and disposal of their minimalist bungalow.  I had gone awol from our warring family many years previously and could not be entrusted with such an intimate task.  Harry, uncomfortable with this the last loving act he could do for my dad, asked me if there was anything I would like.  I would have liked to sift through their belongings to see if there were any letters that might explain our unfathomable history, but I knew there probably wasn't anything.  I wonder now if all those cards survived.  So I took the photograph tin and was grateful to have that.

It was several years later that I received a surprise package from my cousin Sheila, the daughter of Harry's sister Kitty who had also recently died.  Going through her mother's belongings Sheila found a bundle of postcards, among them a few precious birthday postcards exchanged between my branch of the family.

Without the accompanying envelopes there were few clues as to when or to what addresses they had been sent.  By careful calculation I was able to come up with an approximate date - 1937/8 -  for most of the cards.  This was the last year my dad and his brother John spent in St Mary's Home for Boys, a Catholic orphanage in North Hyde.  The majority could have been sent no later that 1938 as their sister Frances had died earlier that year and John celebrated his 12th birthday in May.

But even here there were more unanswered questions.  My grandmother left my grandfather in 1935, pregnant with a seventh child who may or may not have been his. I had always believed that was the last contact she had with her children until she found my dad and John through the Salvation Army Family Tracing Service in the 1970s.  But among the carefully preserved cards are one to both my dad and John, signed mother.

Perhaps the most poignant card for me personally is the black and white one the children sent to their grandmother.  My dad was christened William George, but always known as George while his brother Richard John also went by his middle name.  This card is signed from Frances, Willie, Dick and Pat.  I can't help wondering if these diminutives were the names by which their mother called them, rejected along with her when she deserted them.

Dear George
Just a card to wish you a Happy Birthday and may you have heaps more fond love Frances xxx

Dear George,
Here's wishing you every thing thats Good and true With health and Happiness Too on your Birthday Love from Dad

Dear George
Wishing you Many Happy Returns and May you live to see lots More Love from Brother John

Dear John Here's wishing you Everything thats Good & Lucky on Your Twelth Birthday With Love from Dad

Dear dad
Just a card wishing you many happy returns heaps more to follow Your Loving Son George

Dear Granny
Just a card wishing you a happy Birthday and may you live to see many more love from Frances Willie and Dick Pat xxxx

Dear George
Just a card to wish you a Happy Birthday and heaps more to follow all the best from Mother

Dear John
Just a Card wishing you many Happy returns of the day Love from Your Loving Mother xxxx

You might like to read 

Dad's Story 

Dinah Watts Devizes 1824

I wasn't the daughter she would have been ...

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