The Road

When I think of the house where I was born, I think of the road that ran beside it — narrow and winding, tarred and gravelled, with grassy banks and hedges flanking its edges.

The Co-operative grocery van arrived each Tuesday, a walk-in shop on wheels. I’d accompany my Mother as she climbed the steps, basket in hand, and watch as she chose the things she needed.

How pleasant and stress-free shopping was in those days: no pushing and queuing, no heavy bags to carry a long distance, a ‘newsy’ chat with the helpful assistant — and perks, just like in present-day supermarkets, for the Co-operative Society paid a ‘divi’.

Milk and bread were also delivered, but these came in a horse-drawn cart. This mode of transport offered an extra service, and one with which no modern foodstore could hope to compete — rich, fresh horse manure for gardening purposes, especially the rhubarb!

Several other houses were dotted along that road. We were a small community set aside from the nearest town, and the children, all five of us, grew up and played together. In summer we’d spin our tops with whips and skip with our skipping ropes on the
road. We’d burst the tar bubbles, formed by the heat of the day, and later pay the cost — being rubbed down with lard so that tar stains were removed from our hands and legs.

We also played in the surrounding woods and fields. We’d build dens, make a swing, try to copy Tarzan (our hero at the town’s Saturday matinee) and then search for nature’s treasures. These were always abundant — frog spawn, wild flowers and a badger’s den, but the most unusual discovery I remember finding was a long wide ribbon of silver foil. This, I was told, was a deterrent — foil dropped by aircraft with the hope of preventing radar detection. We were in the midst of the Second World War, of course, and it was a long time before I fully understood the foil’s purpose.

Wartime meant food rationing, but as we lived in a rural area we didn’t really suffer. Everyone grew fruit and vegetables, which were bartered and shared. My father always kept two pigs and a coop full of hens, so pork, bacon and eggs were always
plentiful as well as freshly-made butter from a local farmer. The animals too lived on the fat of the land — corn for the poultry and vegetable peelings for the pigs, along with a supplement of hogweed, the tall, leafy, succulent wild plant that we gathered from the nearby hedgerows.

There were always definite seasons in those days, and in winter the road and fields were thick with snow. Our parents made sledges out of any available wood, each one with its own distinctive style and colour. Races were held across a high sloped field, and laughter was always loud and clear when an over-keen rider, including me, lost control and ended up in the river at the bottom of the field.

Sadly that little section of road has long since changed. The hedges have gone, the road has been straightened and widened, houses cover the fields, and there are no open spaces between that tiny spot and the town.

Looking back, I feel lucky to have lived in such a special place. The days were happy and gentle. We were innocent, naive, perhaps a little sheltered, but The Road’ gave us a warm feeling of security and of belonging — qualities of modern-day life that, in many cases, seem to have disappeared. JS0 Margaret Preston.