I remember the good old days. Aunt Alice was always saying this. She’d go on about kids being better behaved back then. How they knew their place and how they sat quietly and only said something when spoken to. Kids were happy to play outside in the rain or the snow and with cardboard boxes they used for make-believe games. Not magnifyingly expensive toys like today’s kids have.
She’d also go on about designer clothing and how every little kid from three upwards these days owns a mobile phone. How children have got no manners because the parents don’t use the word NO on them.
Aunt Alice was always talking about the good old days to anyone who’d care to listen. Whenever she was in the supermarket and saw a child misbehaving. If she was travelling on a bus or a train and a child near her could not keep still. She’d go on and on and sometimes the person to whom she was talking would move seats in order to get away from her.
But sometimes Aunt Alice would talk differently about what she called the good old days. She didn’t use the word good then, she spoke more of hard times and struggles.
Aunt Alice told stories of how, when she was a child, she had only three sets of clothing and nothing more and she expected nothing more. Sunday best clothes were to be worn to church on Sundays only. The rest of the week, she wore her school uniform in the daytime. Her other set of clothing was for wearing at weekends and on holidays and when she needed to change out of her school uniform so that she did not get it dirty.
Washing was done one day a week, and no washing was ever done on a Sunday. Heaven forbid!
Aunt Alice could be heard tut-tutting about the house and garden if ever she saw a neighbour hanging washing out on a Sunday. Sunday is a day of rest, she’d say in between more tut-tutting and sneaky glances out the window.
Sometimes Aunt Alice would take things a bit too far and ignore any neighbour who hung the washing out on The Lord’s Day. She’d scrub away at her washing on a Monday and look out the window and glare at any neighbour who’d worked the day before.
Of course, the neighbours had no idea why Aunt Alice had stopped speaking to them. Aunt Alice would point her nose in the air and toss her head and look all hoity-toity and completely ignore someone who on Saturday she had drank afternoon tea with. The neighbours just thought she was a cantankerous old biddy, but no-one ever completely fell out with her.
Another thing Aunt Alice often talked about when she was not talking about the good old days was the war. The second world war.
She told her children and grandchildren how her first child, Matthew, was born underneath the dining room table while bombs dropped all around her. How she went into labour and did not have time to get to the air raid shelter. She had trouble giving birth, and the doctor was summoned and he used forceps to help bring little Matthew into this world. Little Matthew cried for days—he must have had a headache from the forceps Aunt Alice told everyone.
Then Aunt Alice would go on about how she had no clothes for little Matthew and had to keep him wrapped up in blankets. She spoke about the shortness of meat, milk, soap, cakes and most things. How food and many items were rationed.
Aunt Alice talked about how her husband was sent to Germany for four years at the end of the war. He helped repatriate German families. Little Matthew was five years old when he first met his dad.
Then Alice would repeat the story of how Uncle Leonard wanted to better himself. Start a new life. So he left England and went to live in Massachusetts, America. He was going to send for Alice once he settled down in his new job. Aunt Alice told us all of how she refused to go to America and so Uncle Leonard came back again seven years later.
Aunt Alice continued to talk about how she remembered the good old days. How the girls danced and partied all night long with the American soldiers who brought them nylon stockings and bars of chocolate. How Aunt Mabel gave birth to a daughter while her husband was away fighting the war for three years. When he came home again, he accepted the little girl as his own. Only Aunt Mabel and close family knew this. But now, of course, everyone knew this except Sheila herself!
Sheila had an amazing singing voice, but then she would because her father, who was an Australian Airman, also had an amazing singing voice. It so happened as he sang on the stage in one of the dance halls that Aunt Mabel and the airman fell in love.
Whenever Aunt Alice went on about I remember the good old days Uncle Leonard would draw her attention to the fact that most of those good old days were filled with horror stories of war and poverty. The reason kids had few toys was because they had very little money and there weren’t any toys in the shops, anyway. You had to make do with a piece of rope with which to skip. A lump of chalk could be used for drawing hop-scotch on the pavement. Small round stones you might be lucky enough to find and then you could play marbles.
Then Auntie and Uncle would argue about who was right and who was wrong. Who always saw the black side of things and who didn’t understand what she was trying to say. On and on, the arguments would go. I felt like saying, I remember the good old days, when you two didn’t argue so much about whether they were indeed the good old days Aunt Alice remembered.