Monday, January 09, 2006

A Voice from the Past

The call came at 4:00 today, just as I was about to leave to mail a box of shoes to Arizona (don’t ask.) The caller announced herself: “This is Ruth”. The miles and the years disappeared in an instant and vivid memories of high school years came flooding back.

I met Ruth in September 1951. Clad in green gym slips and white blouses, we were embarking on a course of education which would separate the lambs from the goats and send the lucky few to university to enjoy a free education, and even a little spending money, courtesy of Clement Atlee and the welfare state. Our numbers had already been culled by the 11+ exam, and although we had risen to the top of the milk bottle, we were about to run the gauntlet of a staff of Jean Brodies who would identify the crème de la crème.

It is probably fair to say that Ruth and I were rivals, though we excelled in different areas. She couldn’t outdo me at languages, though when it came time to add some subjects to prepare for O-level, she joined me in Greek class, but insisted on adding Physics. Her strengths were in English and History and she had an analytic mind second to none.

So it was ironic that the school play in which we “starred” together was Sheridan’s “The Rivals.” She made a dashing Jack Absolute, while I wrestled with the role of Mrs. Malaprop. (She also did a great job in another production as Romeo.) It was no surprise that Ruth won a coveted place at Oxford and she read History at St. Anne’s. Our paths crossed again after graduation when we both took a postgraduate certificate course in Education at London. She then became a history teacher at the elite Bedales school where the parents she faced across the table at parent teacher conferences included Sir Laurence Olivier and Princess Margaret.

Why the phone call? She is planning to go into London tomorrow to do some research on the family history of a friend. She knew that some of his family had worked in Enfield at the Royal Small Arms Factory and in doing some preliminary research she had come across my maiden name. Considering the date in question, I don’t think it was my grandfather, although he certainly worked there. Then we found out that the object of her research and my grandfather lived on the same street (see the Christmas Eve entry.) I promised Ruth I would do some checking and e-mail her. I actually have a history of the Small Arms Factory and I got so engrossed in it that I managed to burn the beef I was browning for soup. It was one of the books I had set aside for “later”, and I was thrilled at the old photos of the streets where both sets of grandparents had lived. Thanks, Ruth, for spurring me on to explore my past a little more. Maybe I could have done OK at History.

No comments: