Monday, 1 October 2012

Turkey, Tramp and Trimmings

OK, I've got a little story to tell. I've almost finished the next episode of the ongoing saga that is my past . . . and I don't have much anything new to add to the ongoing saga that is my present. So.

The other day, I was reminded of something that happened many, many years ago, when I was eight. Yes, that long ago. And yet, it's as clear, maybe clearer, than yesterday.

I'd been thinking about a couple of posts that  John at Going Gently wrote this week. One post led to another on the subject of including people who are generally excluded . . . and how or when we first learnt to do this, if indeed we did learn.

It didn't take me long to rake out my first memory of including the outsider . . . although being an outsider myself, I was only including him into my own outsideness, but that was better than nothing. Anyhow, I left a brief comment at John's and refrained from telling the whole story in the comment box . . . But the memory was unleashed and snippets kept playing over in my mind, jumping into my  thoughts out of nowhere, until I played it right through, sort of mentally re-lived it and settled it back into the archives again. I really hadn't remembered this in years. It was quite extraordinary . . .

It was Winter 1971 and I was almost nine. Half way through our school term a new boy had joined our class. His name was Lee-Roy and he was Black. West Indian. The only black kid in the class, possibly the school.  He looked as different as I felt and I recognised a kindred spirit. I wondered if life would be easier if I was black; if my difference showed up physically, it might be justified somehow. I was fascinated. I'd never spoken to a black person, apart from the bus conductor. I felt a connection with this lad; not only did he look as different as I felt, he looked as worried as I felt . . . and as lonely. We must be feeling the same inside . . .

We were seated in Alphabetical order of our Surnames, mine began with V and his with W . . . he was given a seat next to me! Next to me!. . . I helped him out in class, gave him my spare pencil and when it came to playtime, he stayed with me. I expected him to go off and play with the other boys but he didn't. We just sat together on the steps, we didn't even talk much, we just sat and watched the other kids playing.

Our school was on the edge of a notoriously rough council estate where Lee-Roy's mother had been allocated a house. She was a single mother to five or six boys but I didn't know any of this at the time. One afternoon in class, as we put our chairs up on the tables and sang our "going home" song, which always made me feel so sad, Lee-Roy asked if he could come round to my house one day.

"Yeah, of course, come round for tea . . . now".

I learnt this from my Dad. My parents were in the Salvation Army and did a fair amount of work in the soup kitchen with homeless folk. Dad was also an outsider, always had been, even though he wore the SA uniform and looked like any other man there, he never felt as though he belonged. He questioned other people's integrity when they said "Oh you must come to Dinner one Sunday" He wanted to say "Why one Sunday . . . why not this Sunday . . . or next Sunday?"
So, most Sundays after "open air" meetings in the city centre Dad would find a homeless beggar to come and join us for Sunday lunch.
"Yes, come on, up you get now, of course you can bring your dog and shopping trolley. Yes, you can bring your bottle. No thanks, I don't drink but you're welcome to bring it with you" . . . And Christmas, well Christmas dinner was not complete without a vagabond at the table. If they so wished, they could take a bath and he'd give them some "new" clothes, maybe a haircut and a shave Sir?. . . They were as necessary as the turkey itself. Turkey, Tramp and Trimmings . . . I digress.

We left the school and waited for the lollipop lady to see us across the wide and busy road that, I now know, separated the council estate from the private houses. His eyes grew in disbelief. I was always amazed at how curled his lashes were. "You live on the other side of this road?" . . . I had no idea this was a dividing road. I wasn't aware of those houses being any different to these houses. They were houses, built of red brick, on paved streets. They were the same. To me.

Mum came in from work and warmed up a tin of Heinz vegetable soup. She shared it into two bowls and put a loaf of white sliced Mother's Pride bread on the table. I don't think Lee-Roy touched his spoon. He ate slice after slice of bread soaked in soup until the bowl was clean . . . and the loaf was gone. All gone. We sat on the floor in front of the gas fire and his eyes shone, he seemed to come alive, to glow in the warmth. He smiled more. I wanted to feel his hair but I didn't dare ask. He stared at the burning plates of the gas fire as if they were beautiful dancing flames. His eyes watered from the heat, I think.

It was freezing cold and getting dark and eventually, very reluctantly, he left. I felt his sadness and my sadness.

Our bedrooms were freezing cold, early nights were the most efficient way of keeping warm. At that time my Sister and I had the small front bedroom with twin single beds, separated only by a small bedside cabinet. We would pull the blankets over our heads to get warm, leaving just a whispering space open and in the dark we would whisper about everything and anything . . . Until one of us realised we were whispering alone.

The next thing I heard was Mum screaming to my Dad . . .

"Bob! Bob! get up here! Help!! there's an animal! . . ."
I heard her running downstairs, then some more shouting in the kitchen . . . Then, running back up the stairs, back into our room. My sister was still asleep and Mum growled at me through clenched teeth.
"Get up now and get down those stairs! . . . What on earth were you thinking?"

I had no idea what I was thinking, or what I was supposed to be thinking. I was very confused and scared, I was obviously in big trouble . . . I got up, I remember; I was wearing a mauve stretch-nylon, flared legged, flared sleeved, catsuit. I loved it . . .  I crept down the stairs slowly, silently, trying to work out what I was meant to be thinking . . . I could hear raised voices in the front room now . . . Someone was pleading "She did not know Madam, I swear, she did not know" . . . It was Lee-Roy!!

Mum had heard the floorboards creaking in our room and had come up to make sure we were in bed. We were. She'd been horrified to see, shining through the darkness, the frosted head and two big eyes of what she thought was a dog, lying curled up on the floor between our two beds . . . As she'd stepped back and screamed, he had bolted on all fours, out of the room and down the stairs with all the speed and agility of a cat! He was heading for the back door where he had crept in, but Dad was in the kitchen locking up for the night. He was trapped and frightened. There was no way out now.

We all sat in the front room, Lee-Roy staring at the gas fire once again. And again, he pleaded with my parents; to believe that I had no part in this plan and not to call the police. He said his Mum already had too many worries with his Brothers. He was so sorry. So, so, sorry, he cried and cried. I cried. I was sent back to bed and Dad drove him home. Home, where there was no warm soup or soft white bread. Back to the other side of the divide. Dad insisted on going into the house to explain to Lee-Roy's Mum, she must be worried sick . . . She wasn't there, she was working nights at the city Hospital so she could be at home during the day time for the kids. As they stood in his kitchen, Dad hugged Lee-Roy and told him he understood. And he did understand; he knew the pain of hunger, the scrounging around for crusts of bread in the streets. His father would come home from sea, drunk and penniless, having spent a months wages in the boozer. He knew the yearning to be part of a family, part of something, anything; to sit at the table with another person and share some warm soup  . . .  To feel the warmth of the fire.

As he said Goodnight to Lee-Roy he noticed a note on their kitchen table, written by a child.

Mum . . . I go to live with Diane. I come back to see you soon. I love you.
Lee-Roy x x x

In his mind it was that simple. If only.

30 comments:

  1. Oh my god. What a story. It tugs and tugs at my heart. I am glad you had a father who was kind. Who knew the empathy of the outsider.
    Do you have any idea whatever happened to Lee-Roy?

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    1. Hey Ms Moon, you're back! What a nice surprise with my morning coffee. When I read your post yesterday (with this memory still in mind) I was thinking my Dad would've had that guy with the "signs and recycling" round for dinner every week . . . He would've loved him!
      I started checking on Facebook for Lee-Roy and there are many with the same surname, mostly in America . . . But I'll sift through the ones in the UK, eventually.
      OK, time to get the kids to school and work. I'll come back for my second coffee, reply on comments and check out the love in Lloyd today.
      Thanks for reading, great to see you here x

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  2. Lee-Roy was like most children just wanting love warmth and kindness.
    I know Lee-Roy also has kept the memory of that evening intact.
    Memories like this remind me that where all the same beneath every thing.
    If only more outsiders teamed up together there will be no one left alone.
    Beautiful story Diane.
    Thank you for sharing it with us.XoXoxoO

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    1. You're right there Bev, love, stability, food and warmth. And the irony is that his Mother was very loving, whereas mine . . . well, you know.
      I've always felt an empathy with the outcast . . . I'm relieved and pleased that my lads are both very sociable and popular, with a good group of friends. I'm hoping Hamper G will blend with ease too.
      Thanks for being here Bev, love sent to you x

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  3. oh my god this has made me sob so much, i was ok till the bit about the note he had left his mam. did you remain friends at school?xx



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    1. Hi Anon, Yeah we were friends for that year, then we moved house when I was nine. I've been checking face book though since writing this . . . you never know!
      Thanks for reading x x

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  4. Its strange how one can have so little and yet its still so much compared with some one who can live just across the road. Your Dad seemed to think it was mainly about hunger as that is how he grew up. But I bet it was more. I bet a lot of it was company, compassion and as you say fitting in.

    Its strange what you take into adult life from childhood. I do wonder what parts are are learnt and what parts come naturally. I guess that brings it down the whole nuture or nature debate. And for some families, I hate to think what they may bring to the future. Kids bought up with the best of everything, living a life where computers seem to be primary and basic skills and compassion hardly touched upon.

    Nice memory though. Sounds like your Dad had a nice way of sharing.

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    1. Hi Kim,
      I've been thinking about you, hoping you're feeling better.
      Yes, it all relative really. We were not well off, by any means but as you say, it was more about company and compassion.
      My Mum always asks me how I learned to love my kids . . . She's knows it wasn't from her and feels she didn't know how because she wasn't taught how . . . I suppose I'm lucky in that it came naturally.
      Yes Dad was/is (he's still alive but not well) good with strangers, he would help anyone.
      Good to see that you're well enough to be typing Kim, that's some improvement, although it was good to see you on video (I don't mean good to see you ill, I mean just to see and hear you). I love your accent. Take care and thanks for being here x

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  5. What a great story. I hope Lee-Roy is alright, you certainly have always had a kind heart then and now, Diane.

    Love Laura xx

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    1. Hi Laura! (hey we both have names!) I'm so UN-anonymous here with photos etc, that I thought I might as well out myself as Diane!
      I hope he's alright too, I've been checking Facebook but there are many Lee-Roys of the same surname. I'll keep looking, wouldn't that be fun to write to him.
      Love sent to you Laura x x

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  6. Tears from here as well. How wonderful your father was/is. How caring and supportive. And yes I have been an outsider for much of my life but not an outsider who lacked life's essentials. I hope that Lee Roy was Ok.
    This is a beautiful post. Thank you. Now, the question all of us want to know - how are you?
    Much love.

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    1. Ah, bless your heart,
      He was a good man (He still is, although now quite debilitated with Parkinson's disease). He went the extra mile for many folk.
      One year later we moved house and I never saw Lee-Roy again. I've been checking on Facebook though, so I'll keep you all updated.
      Now . . . Me! I'm hoping to post today . . . I'm actually feeling well and hopeful and loving the Autumn. I'm going by train to the city N/A tomorrow and taking advantage of being in the city alone (!) to start some Christmas shopping! Every year, I intend to start early and before I know it, it's too late and I panic. Not this year, I already have a stash at Mum's house, ready for wrapping.
      So, I'm looking forward to tomorrow and I'll update for sure.
      I hope you're both well, your garden is a delight. Much love sent to both of you x x

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  7. Well, you may have given us your name but you'll always be Lovey to me, Diane =) What a beautiful story. I'm saddened to hear he has Parkinson's but glad you still know about him. Facebook isn't pure evil LOL Good luck tomorrow at NA, Lovey - I'll be thinking of you!!! Have fun shopping. Love and hugs xoxoxo

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    1. Hi Lovey, That's my Dad who has Parkinson's, not Lee Roy. That was a bit confusing ;-) I never saw Lee Roy again as we moved house, but I'm checking on FB for him.
      Yeah, I reckon I'll still be Bugerlugs to most folk too, and that's fine by me. It's just another option.
      I'm definitely going tomorrow Lovey, so I'll update for sure. Love and hugs to you x x

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  8. What a story.

    It is funny that you look back and can pin point the day, the moment something like that hits you as a kid. For me it was first day at the Grammar School - I stood there at the end of the day with my mate Aidan who lived in the flats in our street - his Grandma knew my Grandma etc. and therefore we'd been "paired up" to go to the school on the bus together now he wasn't at the Catholic primary anymore. Anyway the master (in his gown!) looked at me in my second hand shorts, brand new blazer, old shirt and borrowed tie (we couldn't find a new one in the shops so I had one close to the right look for the uniform) and he said "When is your Mother picking you up?" I looked up at him and said "She isn't sir, she works in the yard (short for dockyard) with my Dad. I've the bus fare home sir." Off me and Aidan toddled towards the A2 and the bus stop full of older boys about to give us some stick - until I placated them with a hidden packet of Player's Number 6... but the thing I really remember was the other boys getting into cars... new cars some of them. A car visiting someone in our street was front page news in those days, seeing a line of them picking up my classmates was a sobering moment (ha ha just re-read that and realised it was possibly exactly the opposite for me in the rest of my life! :-)). I never did feel I fitted in there - luckily they shut that school a year later and we moved to the "campus" which was at the end of my road by the flats... my manor with my all my mates in the non-grammar bit of the new school. I felt much more at home then if still an odd fish out of water going to Latin not metalwork.

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    1. Hi Graham, It's strange how clear these memories are isn't it? every small detail is still there, even the clothes we were wearing! I'm glad that you got moved to a school where you felt more comfortable, even if you were still an odd fish . . . I think some of us just are, whereever we are. It's not a bad thing, it's other people's reactions to the odd balls that creates the problems!

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  9. What a sad story! I wonder where Lee-Roy is today? I hope he has found much success in life and can afford all the Heinz vegetable soup and white bread he could ever want.

    Your dad sounds like a great man...very loving and compassionate.

    Love and hugs,

    Summer

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    1. AWWW
      YOU HAVE A BIGGER HEART THAN MINE!!

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    2. Summer, Sorry it's taken me so long to get a quiet evening with time to write some. I've been checking on facebook for Lee-Roy but I haven't had much time to do that either. Maybe one day, I'll find him . . . I'll let you all know if I do.
      I've just noticed that you've posted today so I'm on my way to catch up. Love sent to you Summer x

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    3. John, I made it a habit for many years of taking in waifs and strays . . . Now I'm beginning to think animals might be easier x

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  10. You are such a beautiful writer. You depicted so well those feelings of being an outsider as a child. What a lovely story, but sad also for Lee Roy.

    And it's nice to meet you, Diane! xoox

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    1. Thanks Imogen, I'm glad you enjoyed it. It was rather sad I suppose, but there was a lot of love in Lee-Roys house. His mum worked hard to bring those lads up alone, which wasn't easy back then.
      And yes that's me, Diane! LOve sent to you Imogen x

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  11. God! That's so sad.

    We see boys (and girls) like Lee Roy every day. Cold, hungry, tired and often a bit dirty.

    We can only do so much, but a bit of guilt remains when we return to our nice middle-class existence.

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    1. Twisted Scottish Bastard, That must be hard as a teacher to see so many kids deprived in many different ways . . . and yet, not be able to change things for them. It hurts me when I see kids neglected in any way, especialy knowing how cruel the other kids can be towards them.
      Thanks for reading here x

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  12. I'm far too distracted by fabric softener issues to make any perceptive comments. Would you believe I have been round TWO Sainsburys and a Morrisons and CANNOT FIND "BLUE LENOR" ANYWHERE. The only type they have is the type illustrated in my post. "INFUSIONS". It comes in 2 variations with "x4" and "x7" freshness...

    As illustrated here:~~~~~~~

    http://gledwood4.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/bugerlugs-secret-how-to-make-clothes.html

    THE ONLY huge blue conditioner I could find, except supermarket own brand, the value brand and Comfort... is Comfort no good at all then? Could you if possible photograph the one you use and post it up. The mystery of this is eating me alive!

    Also, over a month ago I found a bag of clothes that had been put by someone's gate at night, which is what people do round here when they want whoever needs it to just take it. So I took it because if they were all crap there's a charity shop on the corner. Anyhow WEEKS later I took out the clothes to look them up and down and smell them and FUCKING HELL IF THEIR DETERGENT/SOFTENER DIDN'T SMELL FIVE TIMES STRONGER THAN MINE FIVE WEEKS LATER!!! HOW THE FUCK DO PEOPLE MANAGE THIS? AND DOES THE POWDER/DETERGENT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE? I'VE BEEN USING POUND SHOP BUT I SWITCHED TO MORRISONS OWN COLOURS GEL which I haven't tested yet but it smells a hell of a lot stronger from the bottle than Jeyes "Easy" aloe vera poundshop brand that I have been using....

    Also could you specify how many mls in the bottle you use? So I definitely get it right?

    And I hope that scraggly swine has come back after that very naughty adventure!!!!!!!!!!!!

    BY THE WAY IF THE TREND FOR INFUSIONS ONLY SPREADS OUT OF LONDON, LIKE A FABRIC-SOFTENER FORM OF CANCER I WOULD URGE YOU TO BUY BUY BUY ALL THE PROPER STUFF YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON... FOR BEFORE YOU KNOW IT, IT MIGHT ALL BE GONE FOR GOOD!!!

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    1. Hi Gledwood, you'll probably never read this reply now, as your comment was six days ago . . . but as I'm totally OCD about replying, I will reply even though I'm talking to myself. I'll post a photo of my Lenor tomorrow. They did try to introduce the infusions range here a few years ago. They were all on offer for a long time, which is when I tried them all . . . but No, no good. They still stock them in all my local supermarkets, but the Blue Lenor seems to be the more popular. Comfort (blue) is a close second, but it is definitely second. I will write you the details of the bottle tomorrow.
      That little blighter is still on the loose and still going strong! I can't beleive him, that must be three weeks now, I'll check on my Blog, the swine.
      And I think I may have left it a little too long to separate your offspring, I fear (by the tell-tale squeaking noises) that you might be a Grandad! yes, already . . . well, they will have to go to the pet shop this time, for sure. But I will post some photos for you first, along with the Lenor, I promise.
      Now, as you'll probably never read this, I'll shut up! With love, as always x

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  13. One thing is certain, Lee-Roy will never forget the kindness shown by you and your Dad. And knowing what effect it has on someone (to receive kindness), he will no doubt be passing on what he experienced and learned. Good on yer, Girl. A truly heart-warming story.

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    1. Hi Cro, I expect you're right, it's not the sort of thing one would easily forget. I asked my Mum about it the other day, she remembers it well.
      I'm glad you enjoyed it, thanks x

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  14. Replies
    1. OK Lovey, I've posted the next post now, and replied to the comments . . . I just couldn't help myself writing something here, because I'm bonkers! x

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