Blackberry Lane – Episode 18

Christmas, 1942

KATE crept down the stairs and let herself into the kitchen. Festooned with streamers, and with a tree gaily decorated in the corner, it looked bright and inviting. The sight wrung her heart painfully. How her Ken had loved Christmas morning.

Moving over to the back door, she opened it and stood for a moment, breathing in the cold, crisp air. It was dark still; the sky speckled with stars, and the only sound to be heard was the distant lowing of cattle as Archie led them to be milked.

That was what hurt the most – that life carried on even though he was gone. By rights, everything should have stopped the moment he died. It had for her.

Yet this morning she’d a meal to prepare. She had no heart for it, but for everybody’s sake she would do her best.


“Auntie Kate, look what Marcus has brought us!” Marty exclaimed excitedly. He weaved through the roomful of people to show her his bar of chocolate.

“Has he indeed?” Kate paused to take a look. “I hope you’ve all thanked him nicely.”

“They have, Mrs Proctor,” Marcus assured her.

Annie stood at the range, stirring a pan of gravy.

Paul looked a different boy to the forlorn figure who had arrived at the village. A neat cap of ash-blonde hair softened the contours of his skull now, and his eyes followed Frances or Annie trustingly wherever they went.

Marcus approached Kate rather self-consciously. He held out a small prettily beribboned parcel.

“This is for you, Mrs Proctor.”

“For me?” She took it uncertainly. “You’re very kind, but you shouldn’t have.”

“I wanted to. It’s very good of you to let me share Christmas day with you all. I appreciate it, ma’am.”

Kate looked up into his earnest brown eyes and couldn’t help smiling. With Maureen’s arm threaded through his they did make a lovely couple, she thought.

Ted slapped Marcus on the shoulder.

“Will you have a glass of beer with us?”

“Thank you, sir. That would be very nice.”

“Oh, enough of this ‘sir’ business. The name’s Ted.”

He led Marcus to the far end of the room, where the men had collected round the fireplace.

“Archie you know,” he said, “and this here’s Dougie Painter, a friend from the village. He’s our sweep.”

Marcus shook Dougie’s hand politely.

“Pleased to meet you, sir” he said, with a puzzled expression. “May I ask – what is a sweep?”

The men roared with laughter.

“The chimneys, lad,” Dougie explained, pointing at the firegrate. “I sweep the soot out of the chimneys.”

“Oh, I see,” Marcus answered, though he was clearly still a bit bewildered.

“Don’t you have chimney sweeps in America?” Ted asked.

“Um, I don’t know. I’m not sure we do,” he replied, which made the men laugh again.

Jeanie’s voice was heard to rise above the hubbub.

“Where can I find some more chairs?”

“In the back room,” Annie replied. “Use the ones with the red seats.”

“Boys, will you get them for me?” Jeanie called out to her sons. Marty and Russ rushed off in search of the extra chairs, while Jeanie continued her task of laying the table.

It looked lovely, she thought. Never mind that the cutlery or glasses didn’t match, or that the old napkins were frayed at the edges. As a finishing touch in the centre of the table, a candle burned amidst a small arrangement of holly.

“I just need to peep at my Yorkshire puddings,” Kate announced, grabbing her oven gloves.

“This gravy’s ready,” Annie said, removing it from the heat.

“Shall I put those veggies on the table?” Maureen asked.

“You four,” Archie said to the children. “Why don’t you all sit down while this hot food’s being carried around.”

Suddenly there was silence.

Everybody’s eyes were fixed on the chicken, golden and glistening, surrounded by roast potatoes. It was a real treat to see after living so long with rationing.

Kate placed the platter at the end of the table, where the carving knife and fork waited ready in front of Ted’s chair.

“Oh, my,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “It’s been a while since we’ve had a nice roast bird. Now I know it’s really Christmas.”

“Well, don’t just sit there looking at it,” Kate responded. “Get yourselves to the table, and let’s be eating it.”

Kate watched all their faces as they tucked into the food, and was glad she’d made the effort.

Nothing would bring her boy back; he’d never sit at this table again. There were new friends here, though, and with everybody gathered together there was a lovely atmosphere in her old kitchen.

Hard as it was, she was learning to accept, and to carry on.

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!