My whole family lived claustrophobically close together in some terrace houses in Dunstall Road, Wolverhampton. It was a surprise to me when I learned that some children lived nowhere near their relatives. Their Gran’ma and Gran’dad didn’t live next door in a two-up-two-down-one-outside house with a couple of aunts and uncles. Their cousins didn’t live up the same “back”, and their grandparents didn’t preside over all family happenings. Mine all did.
I suppose we could have lived in Epsom – Mom, Dad and me, that is – because Epsom was where Dad came from. But they’d met and married in Australia during The Slump, which meant they came home individually, Mom first.
She worked like a horse for a long, long time, scraping Dad’s fare together. In the end, Gran’dad had given her, or lent her, or something, the last twenty pounds. Dad arrived in Wolverhampton in 1937 and I arrived there in 1939.
Our house was next to the entry, which meant we had three bedrooms instead of two, the extra room being over the entry. It also meant that I learned to tell the footsteps of anyone who came up the back.
“There’s Uncle Jack. On nights this week, is he?”
Gran’dad Bayliss had the most interesting entry noise. He’d been run over by a pony and trap when a lad, and his one leg was shorter than the other, his foot being just about the level of the knee of his good leg.
He had crutches. This didn’t hamper him much. He had a small property repair business which meant he had to climb ladders and go over high roofs on a creeper. This he did with an agility I’ve never acquired.
He pushed his ladders and things all over the town on a solidly-built wooden truck with enormous metal-tyred cartwheels. Dad once helped out by pushing the truck back from way down the Codsall Road – some six miles – while Gran’dad went home by bus. I went with Dad and the effort nearly did for both of us! Gran’dad couldn’t read or write, either.
Gran’ma had married Gran’dad after her first husband had died, leaving her with four infant children. They were Auntie Beat, who died before I was born, my Mom, Uncle Jack, who lived a few doors away from us, and Uncle Len who had displeased everyone by escaping from Dunstall Road.
Gran’ma and Gran’dad had two children of their own: Auntie Rene and Uncle Doug. Auntie Rene was always buying me things, and Uncle Doug was away fighting Hitler for the first few years of my life. I’ve never disassociated him from his soldier image.
Dot Rowlands lived with Gran’ma and Gran’dad, though she slept in our spare bedroom. She was Auntie Beat’s daughter and my cousin. She always sang hit-songs and bought the latest 78’s which she played on a wind-up gramophone which was in a polished cabinet on legs.
Uncle Jack and Auntie Ethel had three children and gas-lights in their house. Johnny was much older than me and I didn’t get to know him well until I was in my teens. Jean and Elsie were more my age and we played together as kids.
Gran’dad’s position as presiding authority over the family was held just because nobody ever told him to mind his own business, which surprises me now. Then, though, I looked on it as the natural order of things.
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