It always seemed to happen on a rainy Sunday afternoon when the family were gathered together for one reason or another, and the old photos would be brought out of their dusty tattered brown boxes.
Small black and white photos would be handed round and relatives past and present would be remembered and stories recounted. There would be much laughter and sometimes sad reminiscences as a faded photo of a much loved relative now long gone was reverently gazed at and slowly passed around.
It struck me as a child that we were a matriarchal family with few, if any, photos of male family members and I remember asking where they all were and why there were no photos.
No reasonable explanations were ever offered
I have very few childhood memories of my own father as he and my mother had parted when I was around 6 or 7. My sister who is 5 years older than me and had more memories, had told me a few stories but my mother said little, only saying he was a very brave man. She told me that he was RAF flight crew in the Wellington bomber during the second world war and flew many wartime missions over enemy territory.
I was fascinated to know he was called the "tail-end Charlie" in charge of small arms fire
Then one Sunday when I was around 10, the boxes were brought out again, and there he was in a small black and white photo in his RAF uniform looking back at me. In that moment I remember recognising his very blue eyes, his voice and his smell. My stomach turned over and I asked the obvious questions of where he was, was he alive and were my sister and mother in touch with him?
I was told little, just that he was away abroad and had a new wife who lived in England and he would not be coming back. As a child I accepted these facts as I knew from my mother and sister's reaction that I should not ask too many questions
I carried on with my life achieving reasonably well at school, was school sports champion and passed the 11 plus exam. My strong sense of independence was nurtured during these years as my mother worked from 8-6 and my sister had just begun work at 15. My grandmother had died when I was 8, so I was left to my own devices most of the time and undoubtedly got up to all sorts of mischief.
Those years hold few happy memories for me and and despite being first in class and qualifying for a senior secondary school, I remember my mother saying to the headmaster at my primary school, that I needed to earn a "pay poke" at 15 and should go where I could learn shorthand and typing
so it was decided that I was to attend Junior school in my sister's footsteps.
My destiny then was sealed and after a first difficult year I settled down to my fate, worked hard and achieved well becoming first in class once again until I left school at 15 to earn my living
It was during my teenage years that I began to think again of my father. I became more curious and my sister shared some of her memories with me but it was obvious that she harboured some resentment and I know she stayed with him briefly when she was around 18 but came back and I was not told how she got on till much later in my life.
My mother never spoke ill of my father but on the other hand did not welcome my questions nor did any of the family and I was given the definite impression that it was a closed subject
My saviour during these difficult years was my Uncle Donny my mother's brother. He arrived from Canada and revolutionised the family with his wisdom and wit, taking me under his wing and pointing me in the right direction. His political views, and his vast knowledge which he shared with me, stays with me to this day and he was undoubtedly one of the greatest influences in my life. He played the role of father figure to me during these years and we became the greatest of friends.
To my utter devastation, he died very suddenly when I was 18 and 8 months pregnant and he remains in my thoughts to this day.
Read Part 2 here.