My next sister and I belong to the baby boom generation, born in the years immediately after WW2. I say my next sister because I am one of five sisters. My father was a widower with a young daughter, when he met and married my mother in the early years of the war. The year after the war ended I was born, the first of her four children.
The photograph was taken in the kitchen of our terraced house in a cotton town in industrial east
Lancashire. It shows my parents and my elder sister, A, with R sitting on her father’s knee and me on my mother’s, with a book on my lap, of course, even at that early age. Looking at us, I think I must have been 3 or 4, which dates the photo to around 1950.
What a different world it was then. Our house was originally a basic two-up and two-down, though by the time my parents moved there it was one of the posher ones in the street by virtue of an extension at the back, which housed a scullery downstairs and that greatest of working-class luxuries, a bathroom, upstairs. The photo shows that the kitchen was still equipped with an old-fashioned range, but in the scullery my mother was also the proud possessor of a gas-stove, alongside the usual wash-copper and mangle.
We left this house to move out into the country before I was seven, so the Christmases I remember celebrating in this house were very early ones. I don’t recall a tree, so perhaps we didn’t have one back then, but I do remember the homemade Christmas decorations, made first by my mother and elder sister and then, under supervision, by R and myself, painstakingly criss-crossing long, narrow strips of different coloured crepe-paper and then carefully unfolding the resulting plaits for my parents to hang around the room.
Both my grandmother, who lived next-door, and my mother were good cooks, so we had our share of Christmas goodies as far as post-war rationing would allow.
was unknown to us and in fact even chicken was a rare treat, enjoyed only at Christmas and Easter. But we had Christmas cake and mince pies and even a few chocolates, so it all seemed very special. Turkey
But what I remember above all else about Christmas in this house are the presents R and I received two years running. Because we were so close in age (less than 18 months between us) we were usually treated exactly alike. We would go to bed at the same time on Christmas Eve in the room we always shared, each armed with her Christmas stocking (a laddered old lisle one which had belonged to our mother or grandmother) with its handwritten label so that our presents couldn’t get mixed up.
Oh, the excitement of putting the limp, empty stocking across the foot of the bed on Christmas Eve and then waking early next morning to the weight of the miraculously-filled stocking pressing down on the bedclothes. We never had many presents, but there were always the traditional orange, apple and tangerine in the toe of the stocking, together with the essential net bag of foil-wrapped chocolate coins. There would be small presents from our only set of grandparents and from a couple of elderly great-aunts, but that was all, since by then our parents had no living brothers and sisters.
But, and it is a big but, on the floor at the foot of the bed, would be the present from our parents. Just one present, which of course made it very special. When I was (I think) five and R was four, we were given a walkie-talkie doll each. We have no pictures of them, but I don’t need any. I can still see them both so clearly. R’s had dark hair and brown eyes, whilst mine was a blue-eyed blonde. Wonder of wonders, both would close their eyes when we laid them down.
Our mother, who was a fine dress-maker and made all our clothes, had made clothes for both dolls, a nightie, a day dress and a party dress. After this length of time I can only remember the party dresses and they were wonderful. Each was made of taffeta, with a net overskirt. R’s doll had a yellow dress and mine a blue one, and, as a crowning glory, our mother had painstakingly sewn tiny sequins all over the bodice of each. Even now I wonder at the thought of her, with a house to keep and by then four children to look after, working on these miniature garments in the evenings when we had gone to bed, so that our dolls would be properly dressed.
The following year it was our father’s turn to be the creative one. When R and I woke up on Christmas morning, at the foot of each bed was a dolls-house, made from scratch in the evenings and at weekends. Rather than the front wall coming off to show the rooms within, the long sloping roof lifted up and hinged back to reveal a kitchen and living room, a tiny staircase rising from the ground floor to the first, a little bedroom and a miniscule bathroom. All the rooms were papered and painted (our father was a painter and decorator by trade) and neatly furnished. The crowning glory this time were the tiny lights in every room, made from torch bulbs powered by a battery, which we could switch on and off at will.
There were carefully chosen presents in subsequent years, and thanks largely to my parents’ example, Christmas has always been a very important time for me. But I don’t think any presents I have received since, however special, will ever replace in my memory and affections my beautifully-dressed and much-loved doll and my perfect little dolls’ house.