A Childhood. Sandra Barnard and Myrna Shoa record their stories. The world through the eyes of children. The stories of first generation immigrant's children born in Cheetham Hill Manchester, England. Their stories may resonate with yours. Sandra and Myrna are artists, teachers and storytellers.
Friday, 16 February 2007
BIRTHDAYS, WEDDINGS & OTHER STORIES
BIRTHDAY PARTY WITH PUNCH AND JUDY
When we were living at our house in Stanley Road and aged about three and four years our mother decided that as our birthdays were only just a month apart she would arrange a joint birthday party for us and as a special treat would hire a Punch and Judy man to entertain us and our guests.
The great advantage of our house was that it had been built over three floors and the top floor, which was a huge room, was our wonderful playroom. It was the place where our imagination could run beyond any limitations. It was our space and it was in the playroom that the puppet theatre had been set up.
After the usual birthday tea of egg, tinned salmon, cheese and tomato sandwiches, chocolate biscuits, jelly, and birthday cake we all trooped upstairs for the live entertainment. At first everyone was having a great time until the crocodile made his first appearance. This was all too much for Sandra who immediately burst into tears. Luckily for her, Myrna was at hand to comfort and protect her.
THE MARRIAGE OF AUNTIE ROSIE
Meyer’s daughter Rosie, a pearl in his eyes wanted to get married and her parents had to make a suitable match.
But a match was proving difficult to make for unfortunately she wasn’t an attractive girl. In fact she looked older than her years, with a raw peasant face and strapping figure and although she had qualities, conversation wasn’t one of them. She had the habit of repeating the trivial bits of gossip that fascinated her but left others yawning. Every year at the Jewish Passover feast she would ask the same question about which Matzo we had this year.
Now it is 2015.
THE FESTIVAL OF BRITAIN LONDON 1951, SANDRA GETTING LOST
By 1951 the country was ready to forget the austerity of the post-war era, so the government had the brilliant idea of holding ‘The Festival of Britain’ on the South Bank of the Thames in London.
Our Uncle Robert and Aunt Jeannie from Chicago were coming over for a visit as well. It was the first time Robert had been back to the U.K. since his emigration nearly thirty years earlier. Our parents went to London to meet them from their flight. They stayed overnight leaving their daughters in the care of Margaret the maid and Edie the charlady, who had worked for the family for years before the girls had been born. They all came back to Manchester the next day. While our parents were in London, Sandra had suffered an accident at school and hurt her arm. She was taken for an x-ray at the hospital the next day where it was discovered that she had chipped a bone. So by the time her parents and their guests arrived in Manchester her arm was in plaster.
Uncle Robert had thick white hair and seemed very old, auntie Jeannie was nice. She was a teacher in America and was keen to visit our primary school in Cheetham Hill and this was arranged. We all enjoyed having our American visitors to stay. They seemed both familiar and exotic at the same time. It was decided that we would all spend some time in London. Robert wanted to visit his two sisters Jean and Betty who lived there. Robert and Jeannie would go on to Scotland to see his youngest brother James while we would see the sights in London, visit ‘ The Festival of Britain’ and go to Battersea Fun Fair.
This was Myrna and Sandra’s first visit to London.It was very exciting. We stayed in the Cumberland Hotel at Marble Arch, travelled by tube for the first time, had our first meal in a Chinese restaurant as recommended by our Uncle Billy the chef. We visited Madame Taussauds waxworks museum, Trafalgar Square, where we fed the pigeons, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, which in those days were both pitch-black due to pollution from coal fires.
We spent a day at the festival show ground.The only memories Sandra has are of the ‘Skylon’, a slender leaf shaped aluminium sculpture on a huge scale held upright by tensioned metal wires and a sculpture of a family group in bronze by Henry Moore.
The following evening we all went to spend an evening at Battersea Fun Fair. This for the girls was one of the highlights of the whole visit. It was crowded, noisy and exciting. There were dodgems, roundabouts, coconut shies, and shooting galleries. Everything you could possibly imagine at a fun fair and more. Sandra was in the care of Margaret the live in maid. They had been watching someone unsuccessfully trying to throw hoops over prizes. When Sandra was ready to go she turned round and to her shock there was no sight of Margaret. In fact there was no members of her family about at all. She panicked, started to run, first one way and then the other. Nothing! She began to cry. Luckily she was quickly found by a special warden whose job was to rescue lost children. She was taken to a huge hangar-like building where other lost souls were waiting to be claimed by their families.
It didn’t take all that long for Sandra to be reunited with her family but it did take a long time for her to get over the fear of
being lost in a strange place.
THE TIME OUR LIVES CHANGED FOREVER
Our father died
It was a Friday evening, mid-July 1961. We were waiting for our father to come home from work. Our little dog, Tamba, would watch out for him standing on a chair in the dining room bay window, with his front paws on the windowsill. He would start to bark and wag his tail in excitement as soon as he spotted him.
Dad arrived home at his usual time. He looked tired. Dinner was nearly ready. We all sat down and ate our Shabbats dinner together. After the meal had ended and the dishes had been cleared away, we settled in the living room to watch some television.
At some point our mother glanced at our father and noticed that he was very pale and that his lips seemed blue. He hadn’t said a word, but she knew that he was having a heart attack. She phoned a near neighbour who was a doctor and he was at our house within minutes. We girls were sent out of the room while the doctor attended to our father. We had no idea what was going on. After a while the doctor and our mother came out of the living room. The doctor was saying something like ‘this time you have been very lucky’. Our dad had survived his heart attack. We were so relieved and grateful. The doctor said that our father needed a good nights rest and that he would arrange for him to be admitted into hospital the next day, then he left.
Our mum had a serious talk with us both. She said that life would be very different for us all now. Dad would probably have to give up work and retire. We didn’t mind, we just wanted and really needed our kind and funny dad to be well.
We all went to bed, mum was able to relax and finally fall asleep when she heard our dad snoring gently. In fact, it was the silence that alarmed her when she woke some time later and checked on him. She came running into our bedroom, crying and wailing ‘your dad’s dead. Come at once.’ Myrna was the first to leap from her bed and followed our mum back into the other room. ‘He can’t be dead.’ Myrna was saying. She sat on the side of the bed and touched his face She knew immediately that he was gone. He was so cold, felt like a cold, dead chicken. Sandra didn’t enter the room. She couldn’t bear to see her father like that.
We were all shocked. There were things to attend to. People to inform, rituals to perform, curtains drawn, mirrors covered and this got us through the next few hours. A funeral had to be arranged. If possible, a Jew is buried on the day he dies. As soon as the death certificate was signed the undertakers arrived and our father’s body was removed. A week of mourning takes place in the home of the deceased. The men gather in one room and say the prayers and the women sit in another room and comfort the wife.
Our mother was in a state of profound grief and everyone told us girls how we had to support her and be strong for her, but we were grieving too, only there didn’t seem to be any space or time for us to talk through our feelings and pain, as we had to give all that focus to our mother. No one asked us how we felt, comforted us, or noticed us. Mum’s grief was all-important. It was more than fortunate, that as sisters, we had each other. Up to today we still have each other.
‘Did you have a good summer holiday?’ This was the first question college friends’ asked Myrna after she returned to her art course at Manchester College of Art and Design for her final year of the Art Foundation course. She was only 17 and Sandra 16 years old. Our Dad had died in July. She couldn’t tell them that. They might have felt awkward and she would have felt too emotional Our Dad was only 58 when he died without warning. Dad was sweet, had silly jokes and was our protector against Mum. Myrna felt that her perception of life had changed forever. The temporariness of everything took away her innocence.
Months after Dad's death, our little dog, Tamba would still watch out for him, standing on a chair in the dining room bay window, with his front paws on the windowsill. He would start to bark and wag his tail in excitement and tremble with the anticipation of seeing him again.
SANDRA IS THERE FOR MYRNA
As a child, at bedtime, my active imagination was often too powerful for me to sleep. I was frightened of fluttering moths, scared of the dark, the passing cars lights, strange sounds and flickering shadows terrified me. I found it hard to close my eyes and go to sleep and dream. Sandra was there to support me. We would hold hands across our two, side by side, single beds, and when my fearful imagination got the better of me, I would get into her bed and sleep cuddled up to her.
My wonderful sister Sandra is still there to support me when I feel stuck in emotional and practical situations. She is brilliant at helping me sort out calculations regarding finance or number. I have a powerful visual brain and I just don’t get the concept when it comes to number. She has helped me tremendously over the last few years.
WHAT MY SISTER MYRNA MEANS TO ME
There are a few really important people in my life and I include among them some dear friends. I can’t even begin to quantify or qualify the love I have for my two sons, it is beyond measure. However I do want to try and describe the love and appreciation irstI feel for my sister Myrna.
Whenever there is bad news or good news to share, Myrna is the first person I need to talk to. When my marriage was breaking down, I spent hours and hours pouring out all the emotion and pain to her. She would listen without complaint as I went through this cathartic form of therapy. In January 2006 I discovered that I had advanced cancer, with secondary tumours in the lung and liver. Myrna was at the hospital and stayed to support me within hours of my being told.
Myrna is always the one to encourage me in trying something new. She has helped me in learning computer skills, in teaching adults to improve their literacy and numeracy skills and she has, most importantly, encouraged me to be creative in all parts of my life, to study and make art just for the pleasure of it.
When I look at the very old photographs of Myrna and me as little children, maybe four and three years old, it seems that Myrna is always either holding my hand or has her arm around me in a protective way. This is something she still does for me now and it makes me feel loved and cherished.
SANDRA REMEMBERS HER FIRST STAY IN HOSPITAL
When I was about three years old I needed to have my tonsils and adenoids removed. It was arranged that I would go into hospital and have the operation and these are my memories and interpretations of what was happening to me.
I can recall the room where I stayed. It was a side-room, which I shared with one other patient. He was an adult male and I think I was told not to bother him, as he wasn’t very well. I can remember being really offended by being put in a cot with barred sides. At home, I slept in a proper bed. Only babies slept in cots.
As I was so young, it was decided by the doctors and my parents that they wouldn’t visit me in hospital as it was felt this would be more upsetting for me. I can remember that the young doctors and the nurses made quite a fuss of me.
When I explained later, to my family, what had happened to me, I said. ‘ I was put on a tea trolley and wheeled down to this special shiny room, then I was put on an ironing board. A nurse put these football socks on me and then I fell asleep.’
I soon recovered from the operation and was allowed to go home. I was taken down to the hospital kitchen to wait for my mum to come and collect me. I watched the cooks prepare the food, but I wasn’t allowed to sit and watch, as the chair by the table belonged to the hospital cat.
When I got home there were lots of exciting toys waiting for me, to cheer me up. The best was a wooden Noah’s ark with cut –out wooden animals in pairs. I loved that toy.
SANDRA AND MYRNA. CREATIVE WOMEN
Sandra Barnard paints Wild dance Images
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Myrna Shoa. Art & Stories on a Print or Greeting Card
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SANDRA CELEBRATES HER BIRTHDAY 0CT 2007
GOODBYE TO SANDRA
Sandra died on November 18th 2007. Myrna, Nahem and Inma, and Sandra's sons, Simon and Daniel put her ashes into the sea at Bawdsey and threw flowers and floating candles. She lived creatively and lovingly until her death. Living and dying entwine.
Links to related sites, stories and images, video and animations
- A CHILDHOOD
- United Kingdom
- stories of a childhood for our families to read, to answer questions about their backgrounds, history and connection to the other cultures they have come from. 'We wish that we had found out more about our stories from Dvinsk'. Always find out what you can from relatives and friends about your history, your family stories, and write down or record them on film. All our stories are part of the patchwork quilt that makes up Life. You can't change the past but with a clearer picture of it you can walk forwards into the future instead of walking backwards into the future.