Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Childhood Easter memories

Always a duck egg salad for Good Friday tea.

Sunday, 4th April 2021, 6:30 pm
THE HAPPY COUPLE: Minnie Gallagher and Herbert Blacker, pictured with their families outside the home of Laura and Wilfred Gallagher.

Duck eggs and daffodils might seem an unlikely combination to arouse memories of a happy childhood, but for me that is exactly what they do, and no more than on Good Friday.

For it was on this day when mother filled the house with daffodils, the harbinger of spring, and served duck eggs for tea.

Being Catholics we weren’t allowed to eat meat on Fridays, especially on this, the most important Friday of the year.

Why we had duck eggs instead of ordinary eggs, I’ll never know.

But I think it was mother’s way of making the day different from any other.

She had the happy knack of making simple things seem special in an age when there was little money and few luxuries.

She always served tea in china cups, never a pot or beaker, and the table cloth was always a white one.

The cups and saucers never matched and most of them were second-hand, bought on the market or at a jumble sale, but who cared?

Mother loved Good Friday more than any other day of the year, and she prepared for it weeks in advance, starting in early March cleaning the house.

She wasn’t the only one, all the other women were doing the same, scrubbing, polishing and sweeping away the winter cobwebs.

They called this kind of cleaning ‘bottoming’, which meant cleaning from top to bottom, starting in the bedrooms and working their way down to the cellar, which was also given a good white-wash at this time of year.

All the drawers in the house were turned out and cleaned, carpets hung on the line to be given a good beating and curtains taken down and given a good wash.

By the time Good Friday morning arrived, all was calm and serene, at least in our house it was.

In the afternoon I would set off with mother to St Joseph’s Church, Batley Carr, to attend the Good Friday service, which was always sad and solemn.

We cheered up on the way home after calling at Burgoyn’s shop in Halifax Road for teacakes and hot cross buns, no time to bake your own with all that spring cleaning going on!

Then straight across the road to Brown’s greengrocers for a dozen duck eggs, lettuce, tomatoes, celery, radishes, cucumber, spring onions and, of course, a few bunches of golden daffodils.

From that moment on I knew Easter had really arrived – no more giving up sweets for Lent, no more scrubbing and cleaning. My favourite time of the year.

How we all loved our Good Friday tea in a kitchen which smelled so beautifully clean and fresh with a lovely duck egg salad laid out on a crisp white linen cloth.

And, there in pride of place, standing in the centre of the table, a vase of simple yellow daffodils, which provided a picture which has remained with me all my life.

Some years ago I read the diaries of a Briestfield lady, Ruth Walker, and was pleased to find she too prepared well for Easter, starting her spring cleaning weeks before.

In March 1947, prior to Easter, Ruth, who called her husband, William, “dad” wrote:

“Monday – Decided I had better think about spring cleaning, bedrooms and also re-papering, but I must have someone to help with the work. I began to strip the old paper and when finished, it looked a real mess, and the dirt was dreadful.

“Wednesday – Dad and I went into town, calling at Horace Cave’s, Thornhill, to ask him to paper and paint bedrooms. He promised to do the work after Easter. Came home happy knowing how much easier it will be for me afterwards.

“Good Friday – It was a bitterly cold day. Very few people left home for walks in the country. Generally, if a fine day, many townspeople come up to see the pretty little village of Briestfield, also hoping they may buy some really new-laid eggs.

“Easter Sunday – Went down to Tomroyd Farm. Ethel made us very welcome. She provided a very good tea - a big problem these days when nearly everything we eat is on points.

“Each person is allowed points per month. A 2lb tin of golden syrup is 20 points, a tin of marmalade, five points, and biscuits per lb and jelly sauces, 12 points.”

After reading her diary and of her simple pleasures of life, Ruth sounded very much like my own mother who rejoiced in the simple things of life like getting new curtains or getting the bedrooms painted.

These women seemed to have had an inner contentment, even during the war, which doesn’t seem evident in the lives of so many of us today.

The reason I keep alive childhood memories like these is because I learned so much from these people, their resilience and acceptance of what life offered them.

It might only have been a cup of tea in a cracked china cup or a simple bunch of daffodils, but they were given with love and that’s what counts in life, isn’t it?

Let us remember things like this during this terrible time in our history, and although none of us will be going far this Easter, I wish you all a very good one.

The above picture was taken in Victoria Road, Springfield, where I grew up, and typifies the kind of people who were my neighbours when I was a child.

The happy couple, Minnie Gallagher and Herbert Blacker, are pictured with their families outside the home of Laura and Wilfred Gallagher who were great friends of my parents.

Laura is pictured with son Henry on her knee, and Wilfred is pictured second right on the front row.

The little boy pictured third from the left is their son Stephen, who was my brother Joseph’s best friend.

It was a small house like ours, but all the guests at the wedding were happy to return for a cup of tea and a piece of cake.

Where they all sat in such a small house, one can only imagine, but they did manage to squeeze in. Happy days.