A De­ter­mined Woman

Mem­o­ries of child­hood are re­called in this de­light­ful com­plete story by Keith Havers.

The People's Friend Special - - UPBEAT STORY -

GET out of here, you lit­tle ras­cals! Didn’t you read the sign?” Miriam paused on her way to the shops and turned to see what the com­mo­tion was about. A burly work­man in or­ange over­alls and yel­low safety hat was be­rat­ing two young boys. “We only wanted some bricks,” one said. “And a piece of wood,” the other added. “This is a de­mo­li­tion site and highly dan­ger­ous,” the man replied. “Don’t let me catch you here again.”

The smaller of the pair picked up his bike from where he had dropped it and they both be­gan to walk in Miriam’s di­rec­tion. She recog­nised the small lad who lived op­po­site her.

“Hello, Tommy,” she said. “Up to mis­chief?” “Only wanted some bricks,” he grum­bled. “How were you go­ing to carry bricks and push your bike?” “Only wanted two.” “And a plank of wood,” his mate piped up. “We were go­ing to make a ramp to ride our bikes up.”

Miriam couldn’t fault them for their in­ge­nu­ity. She looked at Tommy’s bike. It seemed to have the bare min­i­mum of ac­ces­sories.

In her day a bi­cy­cle was for get­ting from A to B, with fully func­tional brakes, lights, a bell and sad­dle­bag. Th­ese days they ap­peared to be made for per­form­ing cir­cus tricks. Or was she for­get­ting the re­al­ity of what it had been like in those aus­tere times? “Wait here,” she or­dered. The pair did as they were told as Miriam marched back to­wards the site. She paused at the en­trance be­tween the se­cu­rity fenc­ing. A bak­ery used to stand on this piece of land. Now it had been razed to the ground and a bar­gain gro­cery store would soon re­place it.

She dis­ap­peared in­side. A few min­utes later she emerged, fol­lowed by the man in or­ange. She beck­oned the boys to join them.

“Here are the things you wanted,” she said as the man handed over two house bricks and a wooden board. “You are to prom­ise never to tres­pass here again.”

The two boys nod­ded solemnly. The big­ger lad took the two bricks while Tommy laid the plank across his sad­dle and han­dle­bars be­fore head­ing home. “Thanks, Mrs Pierce,” they called back. “And thank you,” she said to the man. “You’re wel­come. Just make sure they steer clear.” “I’ll have a word with their mum.” Miriam con­tin­ued to the shops, picked up a few gro­ceries and de­cided to re­turn via the park.

Still think­ing about the two boys, she rested on one of the wooden benches be­tween the old band­stand and the chil­dren’s play area. A couple of mums were talk­ing on the next bench while keep­ing an eye on their tod­dlers.

The plas­tic slide and rusty swings had seen bet­ter days. What was once a see-saw had been dis­man­tled. There didn’t seem to be any­thing at all for older kids like Tommy to play on.

It’s no won­der they get into trou­ble, she thought.

The new hous­ing es­tate on the other side of town boasted a play area for all ages with wooden climb­ing struc­tures and a cy­cle park. The old side of town where the fac­tory work­ers and ware­house op­er­a­tives lived seemed to have been ne­glected.

Some­thing needs to be done, she thought.

The kids in the vil­lage had nowhere to play, and it was up to Miriam to do some­thing about it!

****

Back home, Miriam pulled down an old shoe­box from the top of the wardrobe and tipped the con­tents on to the bed. Spread­ing out the black and white pho­to­graphs, she picked out sev­eral of the old­est. Some were dog-eared and well-thumbed, but most were as clear as the day they were taken.

“Seems like only yes­ter­day,” she whis­pered.

Grubby young faces, look­ing al­most like street urchins from a Dick­ens novel, beamed out from the lit­tle pa­per squares.

Kids pos­ing in tat­tered trousers and thick jerkins smiled at the cam­era. Teenagers mixed with younger chil­dren as they lined up with their home-made bi­cy­cles, some wear­ing makeshift bibs dis­play­ing their team lo­gos.

“I re­mem­ber my mum sewing those by hand,” Miriam said aloud. “I pestered her to have them ready for the week­end.”

Af­ter step­ping across the rub­ble on the build­ing site and see­ing the two boys try­ing to cre­ate their own amuse­ment, some long-for­got­ten im­ages had popped up in Miriam’s mind. Th­ese pic­tures hadn’t seen the light of day for many years, but now they sparked more mem­o­ries from her child­hood.

I was a real tom­boy in those days, she mused.

The town where she grew up had been lit­tered with build­ing sites – a mag­net for groups of kids play­ing. Health and safety didn’t seem im­por­tant then.

You wouldn’t guess at first sight, but one of the smil­ing faces in the pho­tos be­longed to Miriam. Be­neath the grime and the leather hel­mets she was un­recog­nis­able amongst the male-dom­i­nated crowd. The boys didn’t like it when she beat them, she re­mem­bered.

With very few al­ter­na­tive amuse­ments avail­able to them, teenagers would turn up with shaky old bi­cy­cles and race them on im­pro­vised cir­cuits around the rub­ble.

She’d had to build her own bike from sev­eral scrap ones. The han­dle­bars were just an old piece of cop­per pipe. Her mum had

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