London – 1940
“Oh, you’ll be fine Rose. Trust me.”
These words—the last I ever said to my sister—have haunted me these 70 years since. I spoke the words to her retreating back as she walked down the cobbled sidewalk of Great Peter Street towards Horseferry Road where she was quickly swallowed up.
I hated the blackout from the day it was instituted. It changed the feel of the city. Turned it from the bright, bustling and electric London I loved into something dark and daunting.
And on that night so many years ago the darkness took my sister.
Chapter 1 – 2005
I flip through the yellowed pages of the photo album—the plastic cracking noisily with every turn—and am filled with nostalgia at the sight of each familiar image. Looking through our family albums has always been my favourite thing to do whenever I visited my grandparents. A bookcase full of history—full of stories—just for me. I turn the final page and see my Nana, sitting on the same sofa I sit on now, smiling up at the camera, the knitting needles in her hands just a blur. In an instant, I am whisked back into my own childhood memories.
“Tell me a story from when you were a little girl like me.”
I’m eight years old and sitting next to Nana who is tucked into her usual spot in the corner of the sofa, knitting needles flying back and forth. She is hard at work on another afghan, this one made with green and blue wool which makes me certain it is destined for one of my older cousins. I’m the baby in the family, which means I have to wait for my afghan. And while I’m trying hard to be patient, I can’t wait for the day when I see pink yarn in her knitting basket and know my turn has finally come.
“What kind of story love?” she asks, the needles never slowing, the clicking sounds so familiar and comforting.
“A love story,” I reply with certainty, ready to hear the story of how she met my Poppa. Already anticipating the way the story begins; I was supposed to be on a date with your Poppa’s friend you know. But fate had other ideas.
But she surprises me. “How about a funny story instead?”
Eight-year-old me didn’t know my Nana had funny stories to tell, she’d certainly never told me any before. I reluctantly agree to this change of narrative tone and settle back into the big sofa cushions.
“Well,” Nana begins. “This story is about me, my roller skates and a very stinky fish…”
I’m brought back to the present day by the sound of my mother’s voice from the hallway.
“Andrea? Have you finished packing those photo albums yet?”
I run my fingers over the picture in the album resting in my lap; in it my grandparents stand in front of the door to 3F, both smiling broadly, Poppa’s left arm resting protectively over Nana’s shoulders and his right hand resting on my Uncle John’s shoulder. John looks to be about seven years old which would mean it was my own mother in Nana’s pregnant belly. The picture represented the start of my own direct family bloodline and a past chapter in the life of 3F. The very same flat in which I stood right now, getting it ready for yet another transition. I returned the smiles of my grandparents with one of my own before closing the album and placing it in the box with the others.
“Just finished,” I call out, placing the lid on the box and writing “PHOTO ALBUMS – Juniper Gardens” on the top. Juniper Gardens is the retirement home Nana is moving to. It will be the first time in her life she’s lived anywhere but here on Horseferry Road.
“This box goes to Nana’s,” I tell mum as she comes into the living room and stands above me.
“She’s taking too much stuff,” she says with a sigh. “There’s no way it’ll all fit.”
I stand next to mum and put my arm around her as we look around the room. There are only the big pieces of Nana’s furniture left now. I suppose I should start calling it my furniture as, in the end, the only way we could convince Nana to move to the nursing home and get the care she really needed was if someone from the family moved into 3F Horseferry Road.