My parents were married on September 11th, 1955. Unfortunately, my dad died three weeks before their 50th wedding anniversary. They were often in New York for their anniversary, but ten years ago, they had visited the Big Apple in March, and took to the seas, on a Mediterranean cruise for their latter year holiday. My dad was a tremendous character. He had a very quick wit and would make people laugh over, and over again. His father was, apparently, the same. My son has often been likened to my father. I remember saying to the headteacher (principal) for whom I worked, that my son inherited his character from my dad, whom inherited it from his father before him; He laughed and said, 'You think it skipped a generation? Think again!'
I have written over the past year or so about my life and times in the USA, but not from where I came. I do not intend to write my life story before my emigration, but when my mother commented that the displacement of families, during the devastating fires this week, was like the blitz, it reminded me of a story my dad told about my grandfather.
Unfortunately, I never knew my grandfather. Everybody loved my grandfather, except my grandmother! He was what is known as 'a lovable rogue'. My father was evacuated as a child, to a small rural village, and his father fought long and hard during the war, NOT to be an active part of the war! He feigned madness so as to be excused military duties, but my father built up a character that surpassed all others. My sister and I grew up hearing stories of how my grandfather had 'died' in every major battle that took place from the beginning of 1900 to the end of the Second World War. When we were old enough to realise you could only 'die' once, the stories changed, and he only 'nearly died'. By the time we were in our teens, my grandfather was the greatest war hero that never existed. Rumour has it that he would have piloted the Enola Gay had his presence not been so crucial on the ground. When Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, stood at the Yalta Conference, comments were made; 'who are the three guys next to Sid?' In truth, he never left the shores of England, but that does not mean he was never decorated for an act of bravery.
During the blitz, my grandfather was a taxi driver. He was also a great entrepreneur. Unfortunately, his ability to make money usually relied on something that was not strictly legal. He was the proud co-owner of a small hotel in London. Nothing illegal about that, you may say. However, as London was experiencing nightly bombing, it was not the greatest tourist spot, and the advanced booking ledger of the hotel was full of blank pages. I don't know if it was actually my grandfather who decided to turn the establishment into one that shone the metaphorical red light, but he certainly did not object. With many foreign soldiers in town, ladies of the 'oldest profession' were prospering, and my grandfather's building had rooms to accommodate. As is often the case, all good things must come to an end, and it is thought that a careless 'client' fell asleep with a cigarette in his hand and, before long, the room was engulfed in flames. Not wanting to involve the authorities, for obvious reasons, my grandfather telephoned the switchboard for the Taxi company for whom he worked, and asked that a call be put out for all drivers to come and help. As everyone was helping with the blitz, drivers had buckets in their cabs, and a fleet of taxis came along and helped put out the fire. Although my grandfather's business was now a pile of rubble, his secret was safe. His friends had come to his rescue. However, as London's reputable establishments were also burning to the ground, London's 'bravest' were busy battling other blazes. When the news of the small hotels demise reached the authorities, my grandfather and his cabbie buddies were praised for their actions, for not having to utilise the services of the London Fire Brigade. Finally, by default. my grandfather was a hero, and in the circumstances, a war hero.
My father did not, fortunately, inherit my grandfather's business acumen. He was, as my mother says, 'as straight as a die'. My dad was one to celebrate, more than to commiserate. Before he died, he told us not to be sad, but to remember him as someone who made us laugh. He would celebrate anything. Achievements, successes, graduations, flowers on a tomato plant! Restaurants in his area would forecast their future profits on whether his potatoes had blight. Dad was also a mind of information. With more knowledge than an encyclopedia, Jeeves would 'Ask Derek'! However, 'the character' has come down through the generations.
With all the reminiscing that has been shown on the television today, this post seems to be poignant. Families ten years ago had to rebuild their lives, as families in Texas have to rebuild theirs, and from different sides of the Atlantic, my family and I have had to rebuild ours. The laughter has helped.