Burnt Toast and Sour Bananas
I’m in my front garden weeding, it’s the 75th anniversary of V.E. day and I become aware of a tiny voice calling, “Hello lady!” I turn to see a small girl peering at me through the Village Hall railings, and keeping the required distance I stroll over to have a very welcome chat. “I’m Evie and I’m nearly six”, she tells me. “The same age I was when the war ended”, I reply. Clearly amazed that I was actually alive then, she plops herself down, cross legged on the grass, poses her chin onto her hand and looks at me expectantly. She’s waiting for a story.
I close my eyes and mentally unlock my storeroom of memories. There are volumes of them straining to escape from the nooks and crannies of my mind. They tumble out thick and fast as I try to sift through them. I pluck at the first file and am instantly transported back to the war years.
I am a toddler…… we have all been issued with gas masks……. mine is a black Mickey Mouse one…… my mummy is fitting it onto my face…I can’t breathe….I pull it off …..I’m screaming!
I have a festered scratch on my hand….. Nana is making me a poultice…. mixing warm mashed soap and sugar together, she smears it over my sore place…..she bandages it up…..it feels hot…I’m pleased… I’m like a wounded soldier…..she tells me the poison will get sucked out….’we don’t want to make a fuss and go to the doctor’.
I look over to Evie, “More please”, she says. I’m thinking what to select next when another vivid memory crashes over me:
I’m three years old and standing on a stage singing to the troops, ‘We’ll meet again’…..mummy says the soldiers will like it…..but some of them look sad…..they clap and cheer when I finish...Mummy gets me and I skip off the stage.
Everyone is laughing and hugging each other…… Uncle Charlie has come home…..he looks like toast….mummy says he’s been somewhere sandy and hot….his face is very brown….he’s been very lucky to get back….he keeps swinging me around…it makes me feel a bit sick….
Evie’s mum comes over to say hello. “This lady’s telling me stories of when she was my age and there was the war. Can I hear another one?” With approval I continue:
There are flags everywhere…..I’m wearing my best frock and have a white bow in my hair…..my friends and I are sitting at a long table in the middle of our road…. there is so much food…..there are paste sandwiches ……I get an egg and cress one….I tell the lady “I don’t eat flowers”…..I’m given a banana. “You’ll love this”, I’m told. I bite into it…I don’t like the sour taste. Nobody told me to peel it.
We’ve had our tea ……someone is playing a banjo……my uncle Leslie is playing our piano…… everyone is dancing the Lambeth Walk…..my cousin puts me on his shoulders…..everyone’s making V signs…..we’ve won.
Evie is laughing and I assure her that all the stories are true. We arrange to meet up on Thursday evening to clap together for the amazing N.H.S. As I wave goodbye, I realise how much I miss being with my family. It’s my ninth week in isolation.
These recollections have reminded me of the tremendous resolve and determination that the war generation had. They endured enforced separation from loved ones, because of a power out of their control, and they willingly made unselfish sacrifices. This is exactly what we are experiencing today. Then, the trust and support the people had for one another made them strong, they beat the enemy and regained their freedom. Today this enemy isn’t visible, but has completely impacted on our way of life. If we continue to uphold all the qualities we are displaying now, we will win this battle too. Together.
Stay safe everyone.