I had three granddads when I was a young lad, two by the obvious bloodlines of my mother and father, although I never knew my father’s father. My third granddad was “adopted”.
Dad’s family was based in West Hartlepool, on England’s northwest coast and as remote as the far side of moon during the 1930’s when the great depression held the world in its frightening grip. Travel beyond distances a family could walk was not an option, and by the time the depression rolled into WW2 the Hartlepool granddad had gone beyond recall.
Coming “off the bench” as it were was a quiet, slightly rotund but remarkably fit and always jolly “grandfather” by proxy. He was the father of George Noon who had married my mother’s younger sister Emily.
Uncle George ran a small corner store near where I lived. By small I mean – very small. The front room of the house was “the store.” A bay window sported candy and canned goods. A small stall outside offered a modest variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. Customers could find basic needs – cigarettes, bacon, eggs, milk, cheese and butter inside where in summer a “cool cupboard” housed the perishables.
At the rear of the house was a long garden converted into a dog run; at its foot was the “coal yard” where coal was sold by the bucket or the 100 – weight sack on Saturday. Customers could opt for “take away” in their own wheel barrows or for a few extra pennies “home delivery.”
Granddad Noon (I never knew him by any other name) was in charge of the coal yard. He weighed the orders, I was the delivery boy with a four-wheel barrow capable of holding two one hundred weight sacks.
During the week Granddad Noon worked in the boiler room at Courtaulds’ factory in Coventry. On Saturday we ran the coal yard from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm when the store and the yard closed. I earned two shillings with a six pence bonus if it had been a particularly busy day rattling around the neighbourhood.
During summer holiday’s when coal orders were at a minimum and delivery could be handled late in the afternoon Granddad would suggest we take Aunt Pem’s (how Emily became “Pem” I’ve no idea) pedigree cocker spaniels for a walk. And off we’d go, Boy Blue of Beacons-Thorpe (Boy) straining at his leash, Dainty Lady Elena (Kit),trotting lady-like by our side heading for the wide open spaces of Weddington Meadows and beyond.
It was on those walks that Granddad Noon taught me to always hike with a sandwich and a small bottle of water in your pocket, and how to make a quick lean-to in a hedge if it rained. And I can still remember one day when the skies opened up and in no time at all we were tucked safely in a hedgerow “cave” in the dry with the dogs at our feet – all four sharing bread and cheese Granddad Noon had fished from his jacket before it became part of the shelter roof.
Aunt Pem claimed ownership of the dogs but I suspect Granddad Noon put up of the money to buy them. When Boy won first prize in a local dog show Granddad was working night shift. With no phones, smart or otherwise, a neighbour was prevailed on to ride his motor bike to Coventry with me on the pillion clinging in mortal fear that I might lose the winner’s rosette and certificate of victory, proof positive that Boy Blue was a winner. Granddad was called from the bowels of Courtaulds, wouldn’t touch rosette or certificate because his hands were dirty – but the wide and joyful grin as I held them for him to see, lit the yard.
He retired shortly after and spent many summer days on cheap rail day trips to seaside resorts. He would get up early. Wander over to the railway station and take the first train heading for Blackpool, Rhyl, Llandudno, Skegness, Colwyn Bay or any other coastal town within a two hour train ride. After his day on the beach he’d catch a train back home usually arriving in time for the evening meal. If he was late a worried Aunt Pem and Uncle George would chide him for causing them concern and he would smile and continue his independent ways.
What about my other real Granddad, my mother’s father? Ah, that would be Jimmy Startin, a story for another day. Like Granddad Noon he also taught me a great deal about integrity, work, kindness, independence and the joy of living.
And they had both moved on before I was old enough to understand and say thank you.