The 'Good Old Days'


The morning sun shone through a chink in the faded floral curtains of Mrs Darby's bedroom, illuminating the overcrowded room that was full to overflowing with old furniture and memories. Mrs Darby eased herself out of bed and complained about her arthritis, which had kept her awake most of the night. Each day it seemed to take her longer to dress and each day was the same as the day before; there was no variety in Mrs Darby's life.

Breakfast consisted of a good strong cup of tea, which kept away any headaches, and a bowl of Cornflakes, "full of vitamins you know". As she sat alone at her breakfast table her mind wondered back to the days when 'her Jack' would lay the fire before going to work at the pit. Those were the days of skimping and scraping to buy food for the family, the days of the tin bath in front of the fire and black water from the coal dust.

Things had not changed much for Mrs Darby, she still had to 'skimp and save' because the pension did not go far, and she still bathed in the same tin bath, only it was getting harder to empty it each time. She was also alone now. 'Her Jack' had died many years before with a miner's disease she could not even pronounce. The children were all grown up and they had their own lives to lead, or so they told her. It was much too time-consuming to travel to the cottage, but she was pleased when she received the occasional letter and Christmas card, which she would read over and over again, afraid in case she missed the slightest word or phrase.

When breakfast finished she would wash each item with deliberate care. Things were so expensive and she was loath to throw anything away. As she washed the dishes she would go over in her mind where each item came from. This was a wedding gift from a friend; this was bought at a sale at the CO.OP. Things were hard to come by in those days so each item was treasured and looked after.

The cottage where Mrs Darby lived was old and in need of repair. The garden was a jungle of 'Old Man's Tobacco', nettles and weeds but a paradise for wild life. There was no gate and the fence was unpainted and crumbling into decay. Vandals had made sure that what was left standing had been abused and disfigured.

The roof had many missing tiles and leaked in bad weather. The doors and windows also let in the wind and rain making the cottage cold and damp. The rooms were small and few but adequate for a woman alone. There was no bathroom and the lavatory was in the yard, often freezing up in the winter or smelling badly in the summer.

Each room was full of furniture collected over the years, each holding a special memory and having its special place in the cottage. The floor was scattered with 'Clippy Mats' which Mrs Darby had made out of scraps of wool or material, a permanent threat to her safety but a permanent part of her life. Each one had taken some time of her life to make and was a reminder of the old days, days when she would follow the coal man and collect whatever he dropped, days when you did not have to lock your door when you went out, days of hardship struggle and happiness.

It seemed to Mrs Darby that they were good times and she hardly seemed to remember the bad things. They were the days when the family were together and she was needed and loved. It seemed that no one needed her now, and where had the love gone.

Once again the cottage was cleaned and dusted, as it was every day, but little by little those inaccessible places became more difficult to reach. And so the work became harder to do and more and more parts were left to the dust and grime.

She would often sit in her large chair listening to the constant 'tick tock' of the old clock. Sometimes she would listen to the radio but batteries for her hearing-aid would often run down and it was a long way to the health clinic to obtain more.

The occasional social worker would call and would often find Mrs Darby asleep in her chair. She often complained of not being able to sleep at night, even with the help of sleeping tablets, and was often awake at sunrise. Getting up at five in the morning made the days seem long and tedious and lonely.

At ten o'clock Mrs Darby checked the doors and windows and removed all electrical plugs in the house before retiring to bed. It had been a long day and she felt weary. She counted out two tablets that helped her sleep and two pink ones for her heart. She checked she had taken all her other tablets also, one because she had dizzy spells and two for her arthritis. The doctor once said if he shook her she would rattle and she thought he was right.

As she settled down into bed her mind once again went back and she re-lived the good times and recalled old friends, until the sleeping pills blanketed her mind with a black vacuum and peace.

Georgina Smith

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