AT 86 I have so many memories. I think of them as being stored in an antique chest. It’s crammed full of compartments, each one with hundreds of folders. They are all there ready to pop out at the slightest opening.
An early one is from about 1928. I remember riding in the sidecar of Dad’s motorbike. That’s special because it was the only time Dad owned a motor vehicle. With that comes the memory of seeing men sheltering from the rain under a bridge. Dad said they were homeless and out of work.
Then I remember men, one after the other, knocking at our back door and asking: ‘‘Missus, can I cut your firewood or do any other odd job?’’ Mum always filled their billy with tea and gave them something to eat. We became used to seeing men and boys on the road tramping along with bundles on their backs looking for work or shelter.
Dad lost his timber business and found a job cutting tall timber. We had to move to a tent in the bush to be nearer to his work, which was hard and dangerous. A big truck would pick him up just as dawn broke and deliver him back after dark. Life in the tent was lonely. My brother and I would be scared along with Mum as darkness fell and our Dad had not arrived home. My poor mother was always imagining strange men lurking.
One night sticks in my memory. The big truck had broken down and Dad walked home for miles through the darkened bush. A nail in his boot had cut into his heel all the way home and leeches from the damp undergrowth fastened to his legs as he walked. I vividly recall the blood pouring out of his boot as he took it off and tipped it up. My memory of the blue rings left by the leeches on his poor white ankles stays with me still.
A little riverboat would arrive once a week at a jetty not far away with our few supplies. The grocer would often include a bag of broken biscuits as a surprise. I remember a Christmas tree at a small school nearby. Every child was given a tiny present, even ones like us not yet at school.
Lots of out-of-work men lived in Windsor. Dad got a job digging potatoes from sunrise to dark for £1 a week. It was a blessing because he could bring home all the damaged ones. I remember everyone was hard up but no one wanted to be seen lining up for the dole. They did not want to accept charity, but often times it would be necessary.
I can’t remember being hungry. We all enjoyed bread and dripping or bread and syrup and I remember lots of porridge.
So far I’ve relived only just a few of my memories. Just those few remind me why I still feel guilty about being wasteful.
Memories, I realise now, make us who we are. I have so many of them, to share, to relive and to hug to myself. If I am lucky there will be more still to cram into my chest.