A story from childhood – paper dolls

I found this story in my writing folder, and thought it was worth sharing – a memory from my childhood.

My uncle, Aunt and me (not sure who the dark-haired lady was!)

Uncle Sid, Me, a family friend and Auntie Edie

I walk slowly home and walk through to the back garden.  There is a hole in the fence behind the house, and I slip through and walk across the grass to the back door of the next house.  The birds fly off from the bird table as I go past.  I see a long-haired cat watching from the window, hiding his longing as he washes himself languidly.

I open the back door and walk in.  Uncle Sid is bending by the sink, replacing the litter tray that they keep for the cat.  The sink is a big butcher’s sink, with a wooden draining board, and in the corner of the kitchen is a big old copper that used to be used to wash clothes.  In fact very little in the house is modern, with no electrical luxuries like a fridge or washing machine.

Auntie Edie is in the living room.  She has lifted the cat down and placed him on the large solid table that dominates the room.  One wrinkled hand holds the cat firm, while the other pulls a flea comb through his long fur, and she carefully places all the lumps of fur on a piece of card and cracks all the flea eggs she finds, before rewarding the cat with a lump of steak carefully cut up for him.  He purrs happily as he tucks in, the indignity of his treatment and his confinement indoors forgiven as he eats his luxury food, fit for a human.

I’m here now for a couple of hours, until Mum comes home from work.  All my school friends are off playing somewhere, but I have to stay with my elderly next door neighbours. I’ve been coming round here since I was “small enough to walk right under the table,” as they’re fond of telling me.

The old radiogram stands in the corner.  A portable black and white TV stands on top of it, but that is only turned on once or twice a week.  On a Sunday evening they turn the radio on and the familiar sound of the Archers will fill the air.  But for now all is silent apart from the loud ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece..

I move round the table to the old desk which stands against the wall, and turn the key carefully to unlock it.  The front flaps down, and I take out the envelope that houses my supplies.  I lock the desk again and spread my things out on the table.  Auntie Edie always saves all the spare card from Christmas cards.  The pictures are used to make gift tags for the next year; it is my task soon after Christmas each year to cut them up  with zig zag scissors ready for the next year.  The backs are kept if one side is blank.  I have taken some of these and made myself a paper doll, complete with sets of clothes.  They’re primitive and not very well drawn, but I can amuse myself with them.  I place the doll down on a piece of spare card and draw round it carefully, then finish off the design, remembering to leave the tags on the shoulders.  Scissors held gingerly cut out the shape, and I bend the tabs and put the clothes on the doll, then look at it, admiring my work.

After half an hour it’s time for tea, and I tidy my bits away and then the table is neatly laid.  Uncle Sid gets the loaf of bread from the bucket in the pantry by the front door, and Auntie Edie gets the cake from the cake tin.  Uncle Sid cuts the bread thinly with a sharp bread knife, and I’m allowed to butter my own slice and spread paste on it.  After the bread, we have cake, and I’m allowed a cup of tea (on a saucer of course) with five sugars, from the teapot with the special metal tea cosy cover that matches the sugar pot.

After tea, we get out my game and play it; moving plastic frogs and toadstools across the board. I’m always orange.  No-one ever plays the red set.  We play this game every week, and I’m sure they let me win.  I have a set routine for moving my pieces, one that I’ve had many opportunities to perfect.

Eventually my mother appears at the back door, and I say my goodbyes and head back to my own house.

I spent a lot of time with my next-door neighbours when I was small.  It was quiet, and lonely, but I learnt a lot about making my own entertainment.  I also learnt how to sew, as another project was to use up old worn sheets by turning them into hankies, sitting carefully sewing the hem in all the way round.

Good grief, this makes me feel old!



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