Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Treasured memories of Easter

Mother made it a special time of year for us all

By Jane Chippindale
Tuesday, 12th April 2022, 3:51 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th April 2022, 3:52 pm

Margaret Watson writes: Easter is with us again and I couldn’t let it pass without writing about my mother who loved this time of year more than any other.

I know I’ve written about her and Easter before, so please bear with me writing about her once again,

For, when I think of Easter I cannot help but think of mother and all the hustle and bustle of preparing for it.

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HAPPY DAYS: This is my favourite picture of my mother taken in her mid-40s - the age she’d have been when we walked together to church on Good Friday afternoons

It was the time for spring cleaning, not only in our house but in every house up our street and every street on which I lived as a child.

Mother made sure that all the spring cleaning was done before Good Friday, which meant we started some weeks before the great day.

The house was literally turned upside down with carpets given a good beating, mattresses a good shaking, furniture pulled out and the fireplace black leaded.

Every piece of furniture was polished until it shone and even the cellar had to be whitewashed and the outside lavatory scrubbed and scoured.

The floorboards too had to be scrubbed, the windows polished until they sparkled, curtains taken down and washed and the flags outside given a good scrubbing.

By Good Friday afternoon it was all done in time for mother to start laying the kitchen table in preparation for our return from church.

She would cover the table with a lovely white cloth and place a vase of beautiful daffodils in the middle.

Then, off we’d go, hand-in-hand up Halifax road to St Joseph’s Church, Batley Carr, to take part in the longest – and saddest – service in the Catholic calendar.

Mother, with her rosary beads rattling in her pocket, would entertain me on the way up with stories, both factual and fictional, about the people living in the fine, big houses we passed on the way.

She had a fascination with these houses, something she passed on to me.

And the fact she knew most of the people living in them made her stories more believable.

Most of the houses were owned by local mill-owners who she’d worked for and who had risen from rags to riches.

And, while she marvelled at the beauty of their houses she was never envious of them because she always said these people had their own crosses to bear.

They were now pillars of society and were expected to live perfect lives, especially as quite a few were local magistrates and councillors.

They had reputations to live up to and couldn’t let their hair down like we did, which in a way meant they were living in glass bowls.

Mother believed that people who weren’t laughing and singing all day, as she was, must be leading miserable lives, despite having lots of money in the bank.

Their children went to boarding schools and when they came home they always had to be dressed in nice clothes and on their best behaviour.

She didn’t think they’d be allowed to go potato picking in school holidays or chumping for bonfire night, or running wild in Caulms Wood like we did.

No wonder by the time we arrived at church, I was feeling quite relieved I didn’t go to boarding school or live in a glass bowl.

Because we were still in Lent, there were no flowers in church, and the priest was dressed in black because this was the service where we followed Christ to

Calvary.

The longest Gospel in the Bible, lasting 15 minutes, was read, and the nuns had promised if we stood perfectly still throughout, we’d receive a plenary indulgence.

This meant that a few days would be knocked off our time in Purgatory when we died, which was the Catholic equivalent of time off for good behaviour.

The service went on and on and it was all very sombre and sad, but I knew once the service was over there was much to look forward to.

For, on our way home, we always called at Burgoyne’s shop in Halifax Road for lovely hot cross buns.

Then, across the road to Brown’s greengrocers for spring onions, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and a dozen duck eggs.

Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Fridays, which is why we were having eggs instead, but why we had duck eggs on that day and never on any other still remains a mystery

But this was a tradition which mother kept right up to her death, and we her children continued it when our families came along.

All these years later I still think of those Good Friday teas and the joy and laughter which resounded round our family table.

My siblings kept this tradition going and making sure their children knew the true significance of Easter and that it wasn’t just about chocolate eggs.

Many times following a harsh winter, especially when Easter fell early, it wasn’t always easy to get daffodils, but I always managed somehow.

And, if their buds were tightly closed, I’d place them in front of the fire on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday) to make sure they’d be open for the big day.

These are only memories but this was a special time for me, having my mother to myself as we talked together up Halifax Road on our way to church.

Coming from a big family it wasn’t easy to get mother’s attention for very long, but I always got it on Good Friday – in abundance.

They were precious moments and I cannot forget one detail of them, even though it was over 70 years ago.

Not even the fact that we had duck eggs for tea.

Perhaps the humble hen’s egg wasn’t good enough for a Good Friday tea, or was it mother’s way of making this Friday more special than any other?

Once we arrived home, mother put on a clean white apron and sat down in front of the blazing coal fire and lit her first cigarette since Ash Wednesday because she always gave up smoking for Lent.

But on Good Friday, it was always a Senior Service, not her usual Woodbine, because this day was different to any other, including her choice of cigarettes on that day.

Lent, with all its disciplines and deprivations, ended on Good Friday afternoon, so everyone who had given up sugar in their tea could now enjoy their first sweet cuppa.

And all the children in the house could gorge themselves on barley sugars and bulls-eyes from Talk of the Town on Dewsbury Market.

Many Christians argue that Lent doesn’t end until Easter Sunday, but mother insisted it ended when our Saviour died on the Cross, which was Good Friday afternoon.

When she lit her first cigarette after weeks of going without, she felt she had fulfilled the Lenten disciplines of the church to the letter.

Yes, “everything had been done” by Good Friday, and we’d had our duck eggs for tea, daffodils were on the table and the house was sparkling clean.

Who needs big fine houses and money in the bank when you have such treasures as these?

Happy Easter to you all.

○ You can email your recollections of Dewsbury in years gone by to: [email protected]

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