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The Family

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
I was born in 1952, 21 months after my brother, and not long after the end of WW2, although I don’t think that registered till I was at least in my teens, probably later, knowing my poor grasp of historical facts. I’ve learnt since that rationing remained for certain items but I don’t remember it  - why would I? There was always food on the table, and if we didn’t have bananas or oranges one week I certainly didn’t notice. I do remember sugar bring sprinkled liberally on cereal - and even on fresh fruit and in sandwiches so that was obviously one item that had returned to the shelves. Sadly for my brothers and me, as it turned out: we had years of return visits to the school dentist, and numerous fillings and extractions. 
In my parents’ defence they had gone without luxuries, and even basics, for so long that I’m guessing they thought sugar was a treat. After all, this was the generation that was daily subjected to advertisements and billboards encouraging smoking to cure all manner of ills.
For the first ten or eleven months of my life we lived in a couple of rooms in my grandparents house, which was a common arrangement in those days. Money was scarce, as it was for many people after the war, my dad was a student, working part time, and, of course, my mom had to leave her job as soon as she married.
The Family
By the time I started school, aged four, our family had surpassed the average number of 2.4 children.  The birth of my brother a few weeks previously had put paid to anything average. Whereas my elder brother and I had been planned and welcomed I believe my younger brother came as a bit of a shock, albeit, as it turned out, a happy one. I still remember being called to see him in his cot the morning after the home birth, standing on tiptoe and leaning in to kiss him.  This was possibly the best present a nearly four year old could have - a real life, living, breathing doll.  I’m not saying our childhoods were all smooth sailing, we had the usual arguments and fights, and John still reminds me that I used to tell him he was adopted, which was certainly a bit strange, considering I’d been to at least one ante natal visit with my mum, the abiding memory being not the sight of her rounded belly but my shock at the flesh coloured suspenders hanging from a huge corset.  We children might have bickered and argued but if any other child dared to cross one of us we were in there defending each other like wild tigers.  I once embarrassed my younger brother by coming across him, mid argument with a group of kids and wading in feet first to back him up, despite the fact I had no idea what the row was about. 
I’ve seen this, too, in my own children.  My daughter once practically leapt over the bar of the pub she was working in when someone threatened her younger brother.  She soon saw the aggressor out of the door.  I do love this loyalty within families.  I can moan all I want about the husband or kids but woe betide anyone else who criticises them.  This is the strength of family: not just the love that binds us, but the shared experiences and the loyalty we have for each other.
The Family
I learnt to read with Janet and John, who had the perfect family: Mummy, daddy and not quite two point four children.  Daddy had an important job (I can’t remember now what it was) and mummy, of course, was ‘just a housewife.’ Janet stayed with mommy and baked cakes, and John went out with Daddy and did exciting things like flying toy aeroplanes and riding his bike.  I didn’t think there was anything odd about this when I was four.  It was pretty similar to our own family lifestyle, although it didn’t take long for my quiet, shy mother to start coming out of her shell and insisting boys and girls were treated equally, at least in our house.  I realised, years later, that this was pretty revolutionary in the fifties.  But then my mom was - and still is - quite a force to be reckoned with. When my brother was in sixth form at a pretty prestigious school in the early seventies he was warned that if he didn’t have his shoulder length hair cut he would be expelled.  My mom took herself straight up to the school and put her son’s case to the headmaster.  I think her main argument was that the length of his hair had no impact on his ability to learn. The head stuck to his guns, there was probably a bit of a stand off, and my brother got expelled. I’ve always admired my mom for taking a stand and backing my brother.  Personally, I still think it’s a ridiculous rule and the argument continues within schools to this day.  Incidentally, John went on to do great things, kept his long hair for a while and then chopped it off.  I don’t think anybody in our family likes being told what to do when there’s a good argument against it. And we do all love a good argument.
My dad had been brought up in a patriarchal household.  His dad, my granddad, like most men of his generation - born in the late 1800s, was at the head, and his wife and three children did as he said. Except my dad didn’t. He was extremely naughty by all accounts, not only constantly teasing his sister and making her cry but also getting into fights and scrapes with other boys. As a child I loved to hear these tales but, as an adult, I had huge sympathy for his parents, who despaired at his behavior.  My Gran spent more time up at the school than she did in the kitchen, and that was saying something.  From what I’ve heard, my granddad sat with a cane, if not in his hand, at least by his side, most of the time, which seems totally alien these days. With the benefit of hindsight I’m guessing that my dad managed to alienate both teachers and children by being extremely clever but also extremely annoying. He once got a report from school stating, ‘must try harder.’  He had achieved 100% in the subject, so it wasn’t surprising that the comment left him rather puzzled.  
The Family
My mum’s family was quite different. My grandma was a fierce matriarch and my granddad, although smarter, would do anything for a quiet life, which generally meant agreeing with his wife. He was the calming influence. My mom had two brothers, one two years older and one nine years younger - another surprise, apparently. My grandma, was, unintentionally, quite ahead of the times. She would take herself off to visit her spinster sisters in Yarmouth - sometimes with her youngest son - for weeks at a time, leaving the rest of the family to fend for themselves. This was certainly unusual in those days and I think my mom made the decision that when she married, she and her husband would be equals and her children, whatever their gender, would also be treated equally.  It might have taken her a few weeks to convince my dad, but knowing my mum, she didn’t give up, and we siblings grew up in the knowledge that Geoff and John were just as likely to be seen wielding an iron or a saucepan as I would be changing a wheel on a bike or some amateur DIY.  I’m glad that we got those opportunities, especially as schools at that time were strictly segregated by gender.  No woodwork or metalwork for me, and no domestic science for my brothers. 
Not a day goes by when I don’t think how lucky I am to have been born into this family.  The morning after my dad died we gathered from all across the country, not just family but partners and spouses.  We spent the day hugging, crying, chatting and laughing, and I’m sure the love and strength that we shared between us got us all through that day - and the next when we did it all again.  This joint, unplanned act was somehow primal.  Like animals we converged at the family home to surround the person who overnight had become the oldest, weakest, most vulnerable member, my mum, suddenly a widow.  
The Family
THIS is the strength of the family.

How to Make a Family* by Jill Reidy
Take two people,  Any colour, any gender Stir together gently Till they blend  Check for sense of humour  Add more if necessary (This part is very important) Whisk in as much love as you can find Fold in kindness Sensitivity And respect Check again Remove any meanness  And replace with generosity Add babies and pets if required (But not essential) The mixture will expand  Watch quietly  As it grows Do not stir or whisk It will now begin to gain its own momentum Your result should look like nobody else’s Don’t compare It’s unique
You have made a family 
* Level of difficulty - beginner (if instructions are followed)
Thanks for reading, 
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