A ward in the work house
Walton Work House
The picture is one of my mum, sitting down and her sister, Lily.
Our mum was born 4th January, 1920. She spent her whole life giving and - over a life time - getting less than she deserved. It’s a value judgement. That of a guilty son perhaps.
She started life as May Parry and she started giving from the age of eight. That was when her own mum died. The last time she saw her mother was when she was being carried out on a stretcher from their house in 128 Rice Lane, Walton. They were taking her to Walton Hospital, which was then a Workhouse and just across the road My mum told this story often:
of how her mother looked up to where the three children were clustered at the foot of the stairs. “You will have to be their mother now, May. Look after your father.”
The middle sister, my aunt Lily who was seven at the time remembers the day her mother died:
"Dad let us see all the flowers. They were in the parlour."
The following day my grandfather resumed work at the docks. He made and packed sandwiches for the three children - May, Lily and Emmy (who was five months old), counted out some bus money, and sent them off to his sister. On the bus the conductor asked them where they were off to. “Oh, my mother’s dead and we’re going to my aunt’s, but we have sandwiches.”
When they arrived their aunt shut the door in their faces and by sheer chance they travelled back on the very same bus.
“Where’re you girls off to now?”
“Our aunt didn’t want us. We’re going back home.”
I don't remember now whether my grandad found them on the step when he got home, or whether they were taken in by neighbours.
My mum had both amazing recall and an ear for dialogue. She could and would recite word for word: ‘what she said to him and what he said to her’ from any and every encounter: funerals, weddings, Dave the Butcher - her favourite forum was Edie’s a greengrocers shop on the corner of Melling Avenue. There whole worlds were put to right and conclusions brought home with the potatoes.
Conclusions are conclusions, but not always necessarily based on fact. In families, myths are important too - I hope this 'myth' is qualified in time:
My grandmother’s maiden name was Margaret May Henry,(born 1891 - died 3rd August 1928 aged 37) According to the ‘Parry’ version of history there had never been good relations between the two families. The Henry’s thought that their daughter could have done better for herself than to marry a Liverpool docker. The ill-will intensified when she died amongst the poor in Walton workhouse and partly in consequence of this the Henry’s left Liverpool and settled in America in the mid 1920’s. My cousin Kathy and her family live in Idaho. By chance or destiny I made contact with them in the 1960’s, but that is a different story.
Money was always tight in the Parry family. My ‘uncle’ Dave likes to tell the story of how my grand-dad would trap pigeons in the grain warehouses and cook great pots of pigeon stew. (I don’t think I entirely believe his claim that they would pick out the pigeon feet and arrange them neatly round a plate otherwise scraped clean.)
My grand-dad, Owen Parry was a hard working man, a disciplinarian with a great zest for life. I remember him and his second wife (Annie nee Cowley from the Isle of Man) coming to visit us every other weekend. The door bell would ring and they would be standing there proud and smiling. My grand-dad had crisp, white hair, sparkling brown eyes and cheeks like polished apples. And he always pressed a shiny shilling in me and brother’s hands. Sometimes half a crown, or a florin.
When he was young, however, times were extremely hard. Everyone had to find work, sacrifices made. My mum was musical, with so much promise she was taking piano lessons. They were stopped and at the age of fourteen she was cleaning bottles in the basement of a large department store.
World War 11 must have come as some relief to her. In 1940 she joined the WAAF and was stationed for a time at Lindenholm. Lily was also called up. At the time official thinking was that sisters should never serve on the same base in case a direct hit wiped out two children in one go, so for most of the war they saw each other rarely. Despite all this, and despite the discipline I sense from her stories that for the first time she felt really free. For people of a later generation the feeling may be akin to settling into an - albeit a very Spartan - university. As children we were told endless stories of endless bike-rides and of her voracious appetite for cheese. My aunty Lily also learnt a useful trade - carpentry!
Sex was dealt with discreetly. Our mum slapped a man once for being too fresh and once she was seriously proposed to by an Italian prisoner of war who had taken a fancy to her. I think she liked the attention - to the extent of sometimes slipping him an extra portion or two of rationed food. Luckily for both me and my brother the advances went no further. Such are the accidents of chance. There is more about my mother, as you’d expect, but for the moment it can wait.