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Indian TrainHolidays and Christmas 1916 -1926

The First Homecoming - Part 2

Mumma, Dada, I’ve got you a present,’ she cried as she ran to greet them. Then as she fumbled in her schoolbag, her face started to crumple. Instead of the firm ball of snow, all she could find was one soaking wet handkerchief.

What’s the matter my little one,’ her Dada asked as he hoisted her onto his shoulders. She blurted out her surprise, tears rolling down her cheeks. Her eyes watched her parents look at each other. The corners of their mouths turned upwards so she knew they were not cross. But she didn’t really care. She was so happy to be home. Within minutes her eyes closed and her head rolled to one side of her Dada’s shoulder, his arms locked lovingly around her. It was the first cuddle she had experienced for nine months.
camera Click here to view a picture of
Mum with two of her brothers
(I think Bill and Peter)

Beatrice awoke with a start. Her room was too bright and instead of the usual early morning clatter of shoes across cold stone floors, she fancied she could hear the chattering of birds. She sniffed; her sheets smelled different; familiar but strange. Then she heard the call.

Wake up Trixie. Wake up.’ She sat up and was greeted by a mop of red hair, just like her own. Her mouth crinkled into a huge grin as she recognised her brother Peter. He was leaping up and down on her bed entangled in the pretty bedcover as he tried to pull it from her.

Two more tousled red heads stood a little further away. John was making faces at her, Bill copying him.

Wake up,’ echoed Bill in a tiny voice.

For a moment Beatrice felt as if she did not belong in this room. Then, now wide eyed, she looked at the brothers she had tried so hard to picture on her last night in the convent dormitory.

‘Billy can talk,’ she said excitedly. Bill was now over two tears old. He had been little more than a baby, unable to say much more than mumma and dada when Beatrice was sent away to school.

Peter toppled as she leapt out of bed.

‘I’m going to find Mumma and Dada.’ Grabbing Bill’s hand, she didn’t wait to see if John and Peter followed, though she knew they would.

She now remembered that this was the beginning of her long holiday, no more rules, and no more nuns. She also knew it was a time for rejoicing for soon it would be Christmas.

When she wasn’t playing with her brothers or her cat and dog, she helped in the kitchen preparing the Christmas food. The cake and plum pudding had already been made but Beatrice felt so proud when she was allowed to hide the silver trinkets inside the pudding before her Mumma gave it a final soaking in funny smelling liquid called rum. And as an extra treat, her Mumma said she could help make something special for the grownups. It was called milk punch.

What a funny name Beatrice thought as she poured the carefully measured amount of milk into the mixture her Mumma had made from Treble X rum and the juice from freshly picked lemons.

"Watch the milk curdle."

Beatrice wondered what curdle meant, then saw the milk break into lots of little pieces as she poured.

Now we will strain it through this piece of muslin and have a lovely clear liquid.’
‘Can I taste it?’

‘Good Lord no. When you are grown up maybe.’

Beatrice did not question her Mumma further.

Christmas and Boxing days were always spent at Granddad Lys’s house in Roorkee. He lived in a big house on his own with only the servants for company. She knew her grandmother was in heaven with the angels and had been there since her Mumma was a girl.

Two days before Christmas, the Mason family, (mother, father, three brothers, cat, dog and even some of the family servants), all set off on the long journey to Roorkee. Beatrice knew that lots of her aunts, uncles and cousins would also be there. She remembered last Christmas, playing games, singing and having heaps of fun. Only one thing spoiled it for her, but this year she felt very grown up – she would not let Father Christmas make her cry when he spoke to her in his gruff voice. How she hated it when his whiskers (that smelled just like her Granddad’s) tickled her mouth as he squeezed her so hard she thought she would die.

After Christmas everyone would return home for New Year. Then in March, Beatrice knew she would have to go back to the convent of Jesus and Mary at Mussoorie.

But that was years away and for now she was revelling in the attention she was getting from her family and servants, who welcomed having a small girl to attend to instead of a brigade of boisterous boys. Her days were filled to the brim with laughter and hugs. If only her Mumma would not take away and hide from her, the dolls her Dada sometimes gave her when he returned from working away.

camera Click here to view a picture of
Beatrice and her brother Basil

The pattern of Mum’s life began to take shape: March – December, nine months spent in the convent with the nuns: December – March, three months home and family: ten years split between school and holidays. In all that time she spent the equivalent of only two and a half years with her family.

More than once I asked her whether she went home during other term breaks.

Never, she said. Other girls would go home but not me. When I asked her why, her answer was always, I don’t know. It was probably too far. And the subject would be changed.

The pattern did have some variation though. My Granddad moved regularly in his army postings, though almost always in the region of Uttar Pradesh. The journeys home from the convent began to vary, sometimes to military townships in the foothills of the Himalayas, sometimes further inland. The only constant according to Mum, was the lengthy wearisome train journey.

To most of us, separation from family, coupled with house moves would be incredibly traumatic. But Mum had even more to contend with. Twice she returned home to find she had another sibling. Basil was five months when she arrived home for Christmas 1918 and Michael even younger, only two months old at Christmas 1922.

Whether Mum was ever told by letter that she would have a new baby brother or sister when she next came home, or whether she arrived to a complete surprise, I don’t know. But is it any wonder that the mum I remember was always calm in a crisis, preferred home life to socialising and never tired of her own company.

The year 1923 brought a further change to mum’s life. Her Granddad Lys had died so there would be no more travelling to Roorkee for Christmas.

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The Story of Beatrice Mary Mason. Written by F. J. Louis | Copyright © 2009