Ever Yours, Nellie

Staincross, South Yorkshire, England, 1924 – 1929

   When I think of my early childhood, what comes to mind most is the sheer busyness of everyday life. Everyone in my family, including myself, had a full day of work. It was contented, happy work, but work nonetheless. My father, Charles Rickson, had three jobs. Six days a week, he did a twelve-hour shift at the local coal mine, the Wooley Pit. It took him three quarters of an hour to walk to and from the pit. To this day, I can still close my eyes and envision his hands. They were giant-sized and strong— cracked and stained black.

Charles and Mary Jane Rickson

   He and my mom, Mary Jane, were caretakers of St. John’s Parish Church. He was tasked with stoking the fires, digging the graves and helping with the heavy work. Lastly, Dad was employed by the farmer beside us, Mr. Webster. Among other things, Dad picked potatoes, carrots, turnips, and fruit. Mr. Weber would pay him with fresh meat, milk, fruits and vegetables.

    Mom worked just as hard. She spent most of her day as the church caretaker. On top of all the cleaning and catering, Mom had to ring the bell for every service as well as weddings, christenings and funerals. When she was done at the church, she’d return home to do the daily house work.

    All our washing was done by hand. Clothes were soaked, whites were boiled, then rubbed on a scrubbing board. My sister and I helped hanging out the clothes. We didn’t have hot water pouring out of a tap. Water had to be boiled in a set pot over a fire grate, which was built into the corner of our kitchen. The fire under the grate was always lit.

   All the cooking was done by hand. Mom baked breads, cakes, pies and pastries. And don’t forget, this was ten years before the invention of the refrigerator. Everything was kept in an ice box.

    We lived in two-bedroom house with a kitchen and living-room. I shared a bed with my sister, Sally, in the same bedroom as my parents. My brother, Joe, slept in the other bedroom. When I was young, my uncles Fred and Hubert and my Aunty Alice also lived with us. Where they slept I’ve no idea.

    We had no bathroom. Toilets were in the out-house. Baths were taken in a large zinc tub in the kitchen. Many hours a week were spent filling and emptying the set pot. I filled it every night before bed.

   Aunty Alice was the first to leave. She married a shop owner who had a grocery and flower store. Aunty Alice had a knack for money and quickly expanded the business. She hired my brother as a green grocer. He travelled by horse and cart throughout the county, selling fresh and prepared foods to rural areas. When I was a baby, Joe often carried me along with him in his travels. He took care of me while everyone else was at work. He sat me in a banana box, plopped me into the cart and off we went on our voyages throughout the English Moors.

   I was still very young when Alice gave me my first job. I remember helping prepare fruits for jam, jellies and marmalades and vegetables for chutney, piccalilli, and pickled onions. I could keep some of it for my family, and the rest was sold on the cart.

   I started school when I was four and a half, but this didn’t mean that I wouldn’t have to work anymore. When I was five years old, Mom recruited me to help at the church. I was tasked with dusting the chairs, putting out the prayer books, shaking the mats and sweeping. As I got older, I cleaned the brass and silver, swept the Sunday School and set it up for classes on Sunday. Dances were held in the Sunday School and some of them were catered by mother and Sally.

   They baked all kinds of cakes, pastries and pies. We worked every waking hour and yet we were never sorry for ourselves. We even thought of ourselves as lucky, blessed with a good life. Of course, work was a way of life. I even took it for granted. I was never hungry and always clean and well dressed. Most of our entertainment centred around the church, garden parties, dances, card parties, day trips, concerts and even operettas. We once did Madam Butterfly. Sally was the Princess, Joe was the Lord High Executioner.  

Chapter 2 will be added on July  28th.