Mother says I’ve got gumption. I’m not certain what it is, but if it makes her happy, that’s alright. I think it’s the gumption that makes her keep me home from school though. It’s always me, not my sisters.
Listen, she’s calling me. ‘Ellie May, has the yeast man been yet?’
‘Yes Ma. An ounce and a half with a halfpenny change.’
‘Good girl. Bring it up then.’
I’d already taken the earthenware bowl up earlier. It’s too heavy to carry with a half stone of flour. My new baby brother was suckling at the breast and making horrible slurping sounds.
The oil cloth was freezing cold to my legs when I knelt by Ma’s bed to knead the dough. ‘Pa will bob in from work to put it in the oven,’ Ma said.
Sometimes, I’m a bit scared of Pa. He works at the chemical firm down the lane and he’s always bad tempered. Mother told me it’s because he works shifts to make ends meet, but secretly, I’m not sure she likes him much either.
I overheard heard her telling aunt Eliza that he gets cross with her for keep having babies. Aunt’s eyes popped out on stalks and her cheeks turned beetroot. ‘And where does he suppose they’re coming from?’ She asked. But I think Pa will know the stork brings them.
Anyway, he’s everybody’s mate when he’s been down the ‘local’ for his ale on payday. It’s something to do with fighting in a Great War, I think.
It’s over now but I hear them talking. Everyone is hand to mouth, Ma says. I think that means they’re very poor. Then she says, ‘No worries. God will supply every need.’* That makes Pa really mad!
‘Ellie May.’ Here we go again. ‘When Pa’s gone back to work, I want you to nip to the baker’s and ask for two pennies worth of broken buns and miss-shaped teacakes. We’re going to celebrate our little Arthur’s arrival.’
Oh, this sounds good. Sometimes Mr Stead throws a few broken biscuits in for free. He says all kiddies should have a little treat now and then. He’s lovely, but I’m not a kid. I’m nine and I’ve got gumption.
I hopped and cartwheeled all the way to the baker’s shop, only stopping once to look in Mrs Dawson’s grocery shop window. Ooh, she has penny candies, scrumptious rainbow kali and liquorice sticks to dip in. Sometimes she puts a few aniseed balls in a white paper bag, for nothing. It’s because I’m a little angel, she says, always busy helping Ma.
Mr Stead was leaning on the wall chatting to Mr Thompson, the butcher next door. It was about food rationing and the high cost of everything. Mr Thompson said he was finding it difficult to sell his sausages now. He’d been adding cereal to them. ‘That way,’ he said, ‘I can knock ‘em down a copper or two.’
I’d never thought about sausages. Pa keeps hens and rabbits. He kills them and Ma cooks them. We had a goat too, but one day it butted Ma as she was pegging out washing so he killed that too. I wonder what’s inside a sausage.
‘What’s inside a sausage Mr Thompson?’ Well, that’s tickled him pink! ‘Is it oats, like porridge? Or wheat?’ He thinks I’m hilarious. ‘You said you were adding cereal.’
‘You’re a star Ellie May,’ he chuckled. ‘Sausage is made from ground up meat. I fill one end with it, then add more rusk to the other so it doesn’t cost as much.’
‘Is it goat meat?’ Now Mr Stead is laughing too. I’ll get the buns and go home.
Mr Thompson got over his giggles. He said, ‘Call back tomorrow and I’ll make a special sausage, just for you.’ I ran all the way home. I couldn’t wait to tell Ma.
Next day, he was a bit silly at first. He said, ‘Morning madam. What can I get for you today?’
‘My special sausage please.’ I said politely.
‘Goodness me. And are you a special person?’
‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘I’m a little angel, a star and I’ve got gumption.’
‘In that case,’ he said, reaching under the counter, ‘here’s one for you, and one for each sister. And no wheat or porridge mind, both ends meat.’ I remembered to say thank you and skipped all the way home.
Wait ‘til I tell Ma that Mr Thompson knows how to make ends meet. Hope she doesn’t tell Pa.
*Philippians 4:19 (KJV)
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