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Monday Memories – Beginnings #11: Big Change Happens

By the summer of 1955 I had a second sister. That summer was unusually warm, or that is how I remember it. The baby spent her days lying in a pram in the shade of the laburnam tree whilst I worked in the garden.

By now I had begun to worry that, were my mother to marry her suitor, I might have to leave the boarding school because I would no longer be eligible under the foundation’s rules, now having in practical effect, two parents. At the Easter holidays in 1956, with still no sign of a divorce or a new home in the village, I came to believe, with no real evidence, that my mother was pregnant again. This made me inexplicably angry. It was a purely emotional reaction that I did not understand then, nor do I now. My intuition proved correct, however; by the summer holidays her condition was obvious. And, now at last, a house move was in prospect.

My three sisters outside the former Manse that we renamed “Homelea”. This photo was taken around 1960 or ’61.

The end house of a block of three on a hill just outside the village, originally the property of the trustees of the Baptist Church, had come on the market. My mother’s future husband’s employers had agreed to loan him the purchase price and an offer had been made. The aim was to move during the summer holidays so that I would be around to assist with the heavy lifting. As things turned out, I had to take the first week of term off because the legal documents were not sorted out until well into September.

I was due to return to school the day after the move. Many years before we had been given a collie-cross puppy. Fed entirley on scraps and the occasional dish of dog biscuits softened with tea, Bruce had become a loved family pet who was, by now, becoming quite elderly. My mother’s suitor, in addition to his full time employment as a council road maintenance man, carried out a number of specialist tasks on a casual basis for local farmers. These included rabit catching for which he used a wire-haired terrier as a working dog. There would not be space for two dogs in our new home.

Since the working dog would have to stay, the family pet would have to be sacrificed. My mother gave me a half crown and told me to go to the home of our landlord’s son who farmed the next property on our side of the lane. He cut hair for his male neighbours. “Get your hair cut. And take Bruce with you and ask him to put him down.”

I remember struggling to hold back the tears as my hair was cut. Job done, I sobbed out my mother’s instruction. “No, no, I can’t do that,” came the welcome response. Of course, I pleaded with him but he, no doubt well aware of my distress, was adamant.

Bruce was saved for a few days – until my mother’s suitor made the necessary arrangements days after I was back at school. Years later that incident was the inspiration for my book “Summer Day” in which a boy runs away with his sick dog, determined to prevent his father shooting it.