‘Grandma, Grandma! Who is this man?’
Mary, a lady rich in life but poor in her abilities to move, approached her Grand-daughter and knelt down beside her at the wicker basket. She took a photo from her and stared deeply, sighed and handed it back to the box of memories.
‘That, my dear Katherine, is your Grandfather.’
‘Why have you never mentioned Grandfather to me? And why do you not have any pictures up of him? Was he a bad man?
So many questions, Mary took her time to digest them all. Her mild strokes had weakened her thought process.
‘Oh, far, far from it lovey. And I guess… well I guess… No, no it’s silly.’
She waved her hand over her face, dismissing thoughts of a lost loved one. Believing a girl of seventeen would have no interest in hearing an old ladies tales of a world that was.
‘Please go on, please. I want to know more about Grandfather.’
Mary was already on her way to pulling herself up, feeling her joints creak like the floorboards on an old manor house. Pausing for breath in what felt like a mountain climb she said;
‘I’m putting the kettle on my dear. All this packing is thirsty work.’
‘Wait! What’s this?’
Katherine was head down in the basket as Mary was about to leave the room. She pulled out a piece of paper that looked like it had helped itself to tea before the kettle had even had the chance to boil. Beige in colour and sticky to touch, Katherine pulled apart the note. It read;
Dearest Mrs Watts,
It is with great sadness that I inform you of your Husband’s passing.
Private Watts became cut off from his company after receiving wounds
to his legs. He sought shelter here in Hoofddorp, but we couldn’t do
much for his wounds. The resistance took private Watts in and hid him
from the feared Gestapo. Once the Nazi occupation left the north we
could finally send word to you of your husband’s whereabouts. But
it was too late for Private Watts to cross the sea, his wounds had become
infected and thus decided to live out the last of his days here. After a
couple of days Private Watts disappeared. His body was found three days
later five miles out of town. He attached a note to him;
Bury me here and inform my beloved Mary of my whereabouts.
Our home is your home Mrs Watts, we eagerly anticipate your arrival.
Pieter de Vries Adrianahoeve 9, 2131 MN Hoofddorp 29th June 1945
‘Grandma, this is so sad, what was it like over there?’
Mary, not bearing to look into her young Grand-daughter’s eyes, fixated her attention to the wicker box. She was wise for a seventeen year old, but naïve to think this note told the whole story.
‘I’ve never been, Katherine. That man made me promises he never kept.
‘Go on now and make the tea. The custard creams, I’ve moved them to the cupboard to the right. We will sit and I will tell you why that man makes my blood boil.’
Katherine rushed to her Grandmother’s side to hear more, almost spilling the tea as she sat down so quickly.
‘Good lord Katherine, you will scar yourself for life if you don’t slow down.
‘Let me see, I was seventeen at the time I met him, just like you. But back then it was war time so I was a working girl; We all had our jobs to do, I set off with my mother every morning to the near-by factory. We were always making something new, sometimes putting together medical kits, sometimes new uniforms for the soldiers. But we all pulled together in these times, I found it all very exciting, most of my life I assumed I would become a house wife, so to be putting together all my skills for actual money made me feel like I was serving the country as much as the soldiers on the front line.
‘Mother always stayed close to my side on our walks home. We passed the military hangers morning and evening and I was always beguiled with the attention I received.
‘The chaps at hanger seven were part of the Avro Lancaster bomber team, convinced they were going to win the war from up in the sky. They were nicknamed the Brylcreem boys, most RAF pilots were because of their conspicuous use of the hair cream.’
Katherine began to chuckle at the thought.
‘Men and their hair, she said. ‘they’re worse than us sometimes.’
Mary took a sip from her tea before reaching for the photo of James. She smiled to her self and stroked the gradient around his head.
‘He was a looker your Grandfather, but so were a lot of them, they all had their charm about them; that i lapped up like a bull dog. James needed to stand out from the rest if he wanted my affections, and he did just that. I don’t know how that boy knew how much i loved tulips; something i found quite creepy to begin with and annoying as he would always call me his flower. He would hang around waiting for me every evening just to hand me a tulip, and did this for months until i finally agreed to go out into town with him. Against Mother’s wishes of course.
‘We had the most wonderful evening of dancing and drinking, he was showing me off like a prized horse. And i loved it. Watts; his last name and his nickname, he said i was the only person in the world he would accept calling him James.
‘A fight broke out in one of the pubs and the police sirens could be heard on their way. Knowing full well i didn’t have permission, we both ran towards the farms holding hands all the way. We took shelter in one of the barns, panting and nursing our knees from the sprint, we collapsed in hysterics into a pile of hay. I will always remember his bright green eyes as we kissed and made..’
Katherine covered her ears in disbelief, mouth wide in horror.
‘You don’t think i wasn’t like you at your age do you, i know what you all get up to, i was young too.
‘Anyway, it was obvious to say i was not in my Mothers best books after that evening, i had a lot of extra chores to do and was never allowed out without Mother at my side.
‘James still continued in his attempts to court me publically, mother always taking the tulips from him and shooing him away. I longed and longed for the day he would take me away from the shackles of my strict parents, however back in the 40s it was still mandatory to ask the Father’s permission for marriage.’
‘What happened to my great Grandfather?’ Katherine said, embracing her Grandma’s wrinkled hand.
‘He never made it back from Germany, he was one of the first to go. Father was a parachuter and was gunned down before he even touched surface, or so we were told. But we never found out until after the war was won, so James had to wait, meaning i had to keep my pregnancy a secret.’
Mary lifted herself from her armchair, using her grand-daughter’s support and shuffled herself over to the fireplace. Clutching a family portrait she turned to Katherine with a sparkle of tears forming in her eyes.
‘ I couldn’t hide it any longer, I couldn’t bare James not knowing, I couldn’t live another day without him with me.’
Katherine shot up from the sofa to grasp her tightly.
‘Oh Grandma, what did you do?’
‘I….I ran. I ran from my mothers devastated tears, I ran from the security of my home and i ran to the arms of the man i loved. He needed to know.
It was too late, I caught him half way. James was too running, he was running to catch me before he was called to D-Day, handing me the biggest bunch of tulips I had ever laid eyes on.
I struggled to tell him from beneath my sobbing. He took me by my chin, held his face tight with bravery and said to me… – My darling flower, please stop your tears. Save them for my return, i will bring back a new peaceful world and i will bring back a promise. I will bring you two tulips every day for my two beautiful rays of light. I love you, I love you both.
Katherine began to smear away her own tears in fear of upsetting her Grandmother further.
‘ That was the last time i ever saw James, unlike my father he did touch ground on D-Day. The bomber was lost from all the flack and had to make a crash landing somewhere south of Holland. As the letter said he never made it home, he never kept his promise.
Part two will be on tomorrow. Please let me know what you think.
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