This is a true story, which I’m sharing today; it’s about my mum, Monica, and today would have been her birthday:
It was nearly the end of term and the two youngest sisters were so excited – the summer holidays, the summer holidays! Audrey, the oldest of the three was quiet and silently bitter… this was the end of her wonderful time at Sharnbrook, the school in the next village. She had been so happy there, the teachers had liked and appreciated her, had made her feel clever and as a helper she’d had privileges the other children hadn’t. Now she had to leave, because of Father, all because of Father she had to leave Sharnbrook and go out to work…
Mother was calling Monica and Beryl to hurry, otherwise they would be late for church, and they couldn’t be late today of all days, it was their special service for the end of term! The younger girls had been in the small garden, picking flowers to give to their favourite teacher, a lovely little tradition. They had their bunch ready, but Monica had suddenly had the idea to pick some big leaves to put round the flowers, to make them more attractive and posh, she said and Beryl laughed.
“I’m giving my flowers to Miss Harper!” exclaimed Beryl as they wound a wisp of grass round the stems to hold them together.
“She’s going to have a whole six weeks without you nattering on about horses!” her sister replied and then they both pretended to gallop round the pump.
“Come along girls!” mother called.
“Yes, come along!” Audrey added bossily. “And Beryl, where’s your hat?”
The two little girls rushed round looking for the missing hat which for some reason was found in the vegetable garden. At last the four of them were ready; Father was working away, Alan was at his RAF camp, so with Edith, the little maid, they set off, to walk up Pavenham Road and then up Church Lane.
Soon Audrey and Beryl had left their mother and sister and were dancing along with their friends, all the girls together as the boys were playing chase and being silly. The topic among the school friends each with their posy, was who were they going to give their flowers to. Miss Harper was popular, she was young and enthusiastic, but Mrs Ball was a dear, so kind and always so helpful when someone didn’t understand something. Miss Jones was a favourite with some of the girls, those who were clever and likely to go on to the Grammar school…
“Will you girls stop this unbecoming noise! This is not the way to behave on the Sabbath!” Miss Poole called sharply. “Joan Wright blow your nose and wipe your face!”
Poor Joan, little and pale and with a little bunch of wilting buttercups in her dirty hand looked near to tears… the other girls might not always be kind to her, but mean Miss Poole picking on Joan, that just wasn’t fair! There were dark looks and scowls and handkerchiefs were pulled from sleeves and held out to the little girl.
Beryl pulled out her own hankie, took Joan by the hand and led her to one side, where she and Monica tidied the child up. She was in Monica’s class, but she looked much younger than eight. The sisters rearranged their own posies and added some flowers to Joan’s buttercups, then Beryl took her hand and the three girls went in through the church gates and up to St Peter’s.
“Hurry up!” snapped Miss Poole, “You’re going to be late, and Beryl let go of that child’s hand!”
As usual Miss Pool was dressed in sombre colours. Monica had seen Miss Harper, rather plump and seeming about to burst out of her summer dress, bright with poppies, and a red hat to match, and old Mrs Ball was wearing a pretty pink blouse with her usual black ankle-length skirt. She was carrying a parasol and was wearing a straw boater with some pink roses pinned to the ribbon.
“Monica Matthews! Will you hurry, late as usual, you’ll be late to your own funeral!”
The sisters stared open-mouthed at their teacher – shocked by the awful thing she had said. Come along Beryl, come along Joan, Monica grabbed her sister’s hand and the three of them hurried into church. Monica had seen Mother and Audrey coming up the path, she didn’t want them to hear anything mean and nasty like this.
The service was lovely; the vicar beamed and even put a few little jokes into the sermon. The hymns were all jolly and everyone sang their best. They bent their heads over their clasped hands as they knelt in prayer, many silent thoughts, hopes and wishes for the summer ahead and then the new class in September.
Old Mr Thrasher cranked up the organ and the vicar sprinted down the aisle with the choir in pursuit, and then the children squeezed past the adults and parents. They would be the first of the congregation out of the old church, and waiting for them in a row would be the teachers, waiting to say ‘goodbye’, ‘have a nice summer’, ‘don’t do anything silly’, ‘see you in September’ ‘goodbye girls, goodbye boys‘… And the children would hand their favourite teacher their posies… no doubt some of the boys’ flowers would have suffered a little, but the kind thoughts were there.
“I feel sick, Monica,” Joan whispered.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine, Joan, it’s hot in the church, you’ll be fine when you get outside… now who are you giving your flowers to?”
The other children were pressing past, but Monica wiped the little girl’s face again… perhaps she was sickening for something…
“Mrs Ball, she’s very nice, isn’t she, Mon?” Joan seemed a little cheered and followed Monica into the summer sunshine.
The teachers were surrounded by a mob of children, shouting good wishes and thrusting their flowers and some other little gifts at them. Suddenly Monica caught sight of Miss Poole, standing a little apart, as usual her mouth in a frown, her chin up disapprovingly. She stood alone, no child near her, no-one giving her flowers – and no wonder!
As Monica watched, Miss Poole turned away, and as she did, her head went down, and her mouth pursed and her lips seemed to tremble. She rubbed her cheek as if she had an itch… but maybe it was a tear.
Monica skirted the crowd and approached the tall thin teacher, standing with her back to everyone in her dark clothes, the navy straw hat tipped over her forehead as if to shade her expression.
“Miss Poole… I’m sorry I was late…” and Monica held out her posy, the dark green leaves had kept the flowers fresh and bright.
Miss Poole stared down at the dark haired child. Would the teacher make some bitter comment?
“Here is a posy for you, Miss Poole.”
Without a word the tall woman took the flowers, and slowly raised the posy to her face. She closed her eyes for a moment.
“Thank you Monica,” but Monica had gone to join her friends.
Only Beryl saw this… they hadn’t sung this hymn in church today but a refrain ran through Beryl’s mind… Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be…
This is a true story of my mum, Monica and her sister Beryl. I have imagined the details of the teachers and other children; I don’t know who the nasty mean teacher was, but the kindness of Monica to this sad woman is truly inspirational. She was only a young girl, but her generosity in every sense shone throughout her life. I often think of her, and I often think of this little episode.
This story appears in my new book, an anthology of blog posts written with my friend Richard Kefford. It is called 73 – 73 blogs, two writers, one challenge. Yes, we challenged each other to write each of a suggested list of blog posts, and volume 1, blogs 1-25 was published yesterday, and here’s a link: