Most people, I guess, don’t think too much about the future; tomorrow can look after itself or in the biblical phrase, ‘is sufficient unto the day’. Today is what matters. Older people may not feel quite the same. We recognise that our days are numbered and, conscious that our tomorrows are limited, we reflect on our personal history and wonder what our life has been about. Whilst it is unhelpful to live in the past, there is this need to recognise where we have been and how the years have defined us. We would like to think we have helped to make the world a better place.
One of our cabinet files is devoted to family matters. It harbours a hotchpotch of memorabilia – photos that are not worth framing but which we don’t want to throw away, birth, marriage and death certificates, my CV prepared for a job I once applied for, old passports. And a note book with my father’s initials on it. In just four pages he traces events from his birth in 1900 to retirement in 1965, through what he obviously regarded as the seminal events of his life.
Written in 1978, only two years before he died, it is entitled ‘This Was My Life’. There are four pages of abbreviated headings that might have been intended as a basis for an autobiography, though I think probably not. It’s more likely that he just wanted to remember where his life had taken him.
He starts with his birth place, then his first school, Miss Broadribb’s School for the Sons of Gentlemen. From there he moved on to a Board School when he was nine and then to a technical school where he was ‘academically poor but sports O.K.’ His first jobs were in locality but then he became a stockbroker’s clerk in the city of London. He served as a naval signalman in the 1914-18 war. One of our family stories is that his ship was torpedoed and he was rescued after being in the sea for several hours.
Interestingly he doesn’t mention that. He was a civil defence officer in the 1939-45 war. The job he enjoyed most was personnel management in an aircraft company for which he worked in three different centres and for a short time abroad.
In passing he mentions that he was married in 1923, and that he had a son and daughter, but doesn’t name us. He notes that we were evacuated in 1940 and just hints at disagreements with my mother of whom he was deeply fond, when he writes that his last employer wanted him to stay on beyond retirement but ‘wife difficulties’ prevented it. The survey is all about facts, not feelings. He was of his time and culture;, emotion was something you kept to yourself.
Whist we remember him with great affection, it is as if he could only think of himself in terms of his work; of where he had been.
Who he was – a dear man – matters more to us.