We stayed with my Mum and Dad until the 30th August, the day on which we had to have everything ready for Pickford’s. We had a trunk and cases and wanted to send it all off so that we wouldn’t be lumbered with luggage on the train journey to Carlisle, then on the cross-country line to Haltwhistle, Northumberland, where John was to be minister. It would be nerve-wracking enough arriving, without having to have heavy cases to contend with! Also there were small items of furniture such as the lovely display cabinet Annabel and Jim gave us. Mum and Dad’s gift was a dinner set in the Willow Pattern which I always loved and which would cover every eventuality in table setting. Incredibly, I had forgotten that and was under the impression that they gave us our table trolley, just right for two people to dine on, but Annabel is sure I’m wrong. I still use Willow dishes all the time but there are few of the originals among them. John and I had a long history of breaking china – by accident I hasten to say and not by throwing it at each other! Auntie Annie and Uncle Bob gave us a nest of tables and Marion gave us a Colclough Ivy Leaf pattern tea set, the traditional gift from the bridesmaid. All are still in use and treasured. Plus there was all the lovely bedding, which included a luxurious eiderdown with a bedspread and all the linen to go with it, from John’s Mum and Dad. And loads of other things!
During the week we spent time at John’s parents, visited the Aunties, and so on. We also did some shopping for items we didn’t get as presents. The only ones I actually remember were a large biscuit box, white enamel with a red lid and BISCUITS in large letters on the front, and a matching flour sifter. It was cylindrical and quite big. In those days you always sifted the flour when you baked, but I think it is more finely ground now. I used it for years and can’t remember if it got broken, but it didn’t survive – unlike the biscuit box which is still in use in the under-stairs cupboard, full of electric light bulbs and a little bit worn looking after 59 years of constant use!
In spite of being so happy with John and going off together it was awful leaving Mum and Dad. I was glad Annabel and Jim were staying with them for a while and they weren’t losing both of us at the same time. Anyway, I shed tears then – and every time we stayed with them, or they with us, I cried again. In later years I wept when our daughters went to University and then finally left home. Then when Harriet and Cassie came into our lives – same again. When they were grown a bit I know fine when we took them to the airport they were nudging one another and watching Granny to see if she would cry! Strangely enough, when we saw them off after John’s funeral, and their visit later on, I didn’t actually shed tears so maybe I’ve grown up at last!* Writing about Mum and Dad, I had a laugh when the thought came to me that after having me around for nearly 30 years they were probably quite glad to see me off and just waiting for Annabel to get her own place and leave too!
We left on Thursday, 30th August. I can’t remember much of the day at all, but I do know that when we got off the train at Haltwhistle we were met by Robert Elliot, the Circuit Steward, and his wife, Betty, who drove us round to the Manse where a lovely tea was prepared in our own dining room. The other Steward and his wife were there, Mr and Mrs Tallentyre, and the Superintendent Minister, Walter Thynne and his wife Olive. We were always sorry we only had one year with the Thynnes. They were so caring and helpful and we both learned a lot from them. We enjoyed the meal and the stewards did the washing up, having brought everything with them, then they went off and left us.
Our first priority was to find the bed linen and choose which room to make the bed up in. We were pleased to see the downstairs was fully carpeted in green. We were amazed to be told later that a former Steward, who was a wealthy man, had got new carpet for his billiard room and had given the old one to the manse. It must have been a very big billiard room! Manses often had other people’s cast-offs, but we weren’t complaining. The furniture was old-fashioned, but solid and roomy, and we were happy with it all except for the horsehair mattress. It was jaggy and my legs got spots like acne which itched. We spread a blanket under the sheet which helped a bit. However, after a few weeks one of the older ladies in the Church asked me how we liked the house and I said we were nicely settled apart from the hair mattress. She was horrified that anybody had a hair mattress! She stirred things up and we actually got a new bedroom suite soon after. It was absolutely beautiful, as was the new mattress. I can picture the wardrobe yet – it was walnut, I think, and highly polished, a joy to behold. Mrs Maughan was a forthright lady and became a good friend.
The day after we arrived was spent unpacking and bringing some order to the rooms. We had chosen the front bedroom, and the first night we were wakened about 3 am by a loud noise which turned out to be a train whistle. The railway was in a cutting right in front of our house and the mail train stopped there every night to take on water because it was steam-powered Blowing the whistle was part of the routine. Surprisingly, before very long we didn’t even notice it and seldom wakened.
On Saturday, 1st September, John went off to the Quarterly Meeting having cut his face in several places while shaving. Obviously he was nervous! Fortunately, I noticed the last little tuft of cotton wool sticking on one of his wounds before he went out. All 14 churches were represented. John was paid his quarterly stipend in advance and that continued throughout his Ministry. It took careful budgeting to ensure we didn’t run out of cash before the next Quarter. That day was the official beginning of six very happy years in Haltwhistle, during which we made lifelong friends and, indeed, where everybody was friendly, Methodist or not!
*Recently I read that Cecil Day Lewis, who was Poet Laureate, wrote a poem after his son left home in which he said:
Selfhood begins with a walking away
And love is proved by the letting go