“It’s a good thing we didn’t have Father’s Day when I was a girl,” said my mother, perusing a brochure that came through the letterbox with suggestions of expensive items that every Daddy needs.
I understood immediately what she meant. Her mother’s birthday was 21 June, so if Father’s Day had fallen on that day, as it does this year, she would have had a hard choice to make, since her penny-a-week pocket money would not have stretched to two presents. Luckily, Mothering Sunday made no demands on her pocket, as the traditional present for that day was a posy of hand-picked wild flowers so it was only a matter of going out and finding them.
I asked what kind of presents she gave her parents for their birthdays when she was a child in the nineteen-twenties.
“Well, Mother liked reading, so often we’d buy her favourite magazine. Or a bar of Rowntree’s chocolate. And instead of suspenders to hold her stockings up she wore garters, so sometimes I’d buy her a pair of pretty garters with daisies or roses on.”
I never saw my grandmother’s legs above the ankles, as she always wore long skirts, but I’m sure her pretty garters must have made Granddad’s heart beat faster!
My mother continued: “I used to give my father a bar of chocolate sometimes, or a packet of Woodbines and a box of matches, or a packet of pansy seeds for his garden. Those all cost about threepence, so I’d have to save my pocket money for a few weeks. Sometimes if we didn’t find anything in the shop we could afford, we made things for them, like a brooch or necklace for Mother or a buttonhole for Pop. They were always very pleased with our little gifts. And if we didn’t have any pocket money to spare, we’d help a bit more with the chores or do something special for them.”
I remember my grandparents well, and am sure that they really did appreciate the offerings from their children, which were genuine sacrifices of love: depriving themselves of their pocket money for three or four weeks was true hardship. And a bar of chocolate was indeed a treat in their household, which was rich in love and children but not in material things.
My mother chuckled, and explained that actually, although she or her brothers regularly gave their father a packet of Woodbines and a box of matches for his birthday, he didn’t actually smoke. What did he do with them, then?
“I suppose he passed them on to his mates at work, or perhaps he swapped them for something he wanted. I think sometimes he did smoke one, just to please us.”
Father’s Day hadn’t been introduced to England when my father and grandfather were alive, but we have just spent a pleasant hour reminiscing about them and my grandmother, who would have been 122 years old today.
Happy birthday, Granny, and happy Father’s Day to all the daddies. Especially those who don’t smoke!