A piano stood against the small living room wall, and next to it a finely crafted glass cabinet containing mostly acquisitions from earlier years, including the Chinese tea set. A dining table stood against another wall with windows looking over the avenue. We never ate at that table - meals were always taken in the kitchen.
The smell of furniture polish is part of the memory of that house. My sister Ruth was given the job of dusting. To Ruth’s irritation, Mum would arrive home and check Ruth’s work by running her finger along the piano to see if there was dust. If so, it had to be done again. Ruth, in her teens, countered by watching through the kitchen window for Mum getting off the bus, and would quickly do the dusting in the few minutes it took for her to arrive home.
Ruth, who is ten years my senior and who therefore has more memories than me of the early days, says she felt that our mother was overly concerned about keeping the house perfectly in order, and that she never felt as a young girl that she could leave out toys or completely relax. While I don’t question that feeling in my sister, I had no such worries. I recall often spreading out my plastic US cavalry and Indians in huge set-piece battles and occupying most of the living room floor to do so. Perhaps our mother was more indulgent with me, her youngest. She would, occasionally, recruit me for other tasks, such as holding my two arms out so she could loop a coil of yarn over my hands while she wound the wool into a ball. Knitting was an almost constant occupation while sitting in the evening.
We all had house jobs. For my part, it was mostly the weekend shopping. Mum also worked on Saturdays, and each Saturday morning I would be given enough money to buy the essential items for the week - groceries, bundles of wood to help light the coal fire and perhaps a gallon of paraffin for the oil heaters. It was about a half-mile walk to the local shops, and it was my primary duty on Saturdays. Something of my mother must have rubbed off on me, because while I can’t recall ever being instructed to do so, I loved to get the house perfectly orderly on a Saturday, including lighting and maintaining the coal fire, and occasionally preparing a meal for when Mum and my sisters got home from work. As I look back over my own life, that work ethic may have been one of my mother’s best gifts to me.