The Container of Our Years

We’ve had the pleasure of my younger stepson and his girlfriend’s company for a few days. Between jaunts, they’ve been meticulously tracing and compiling family trees, something I’ll never have the patience or energy to do. It’s not just the double and triple checking of hand-written entries in various logs that bothers me; I can’t help but think of the inconvenient truths that lie behind some of these official documents. Are you really who they say you are? Mostly though, it’s just that I don’t feel that those long-dead ancestors, whoever they were, make me the person I am.

However, when my stepson produces an old ordnance survey map for Epsom in 1912, I’m very moved to see the outlines of two tiny little squares which instantly fill with colour and life. One represents the small Victorian cottage on the edges of Epsom Downs where I grew up, where I watched the ebb and flow of the seasons in the racing stable opposite from the bedroom window and where our family was ruled by Zorba, our naughty miniature dachshund. The other, another Victorian cottage, represents the first home Tom, my daughters and I shared. Our financial circumstances meant we had to consider properties other buyers rejected, but we walked in and saw past the wall-to-wall battleship grey décor and fell in love with the place which became our very happy home.

Occasionally we’ll drive past these two houses; the first still bears the wooden house name plate my dad made, the curtains that cost me hours of swearing and tears still hang at the windows of the second, but what’s most important about these homes are the memories they hold, those are the real fabric of my life.

The last month has created many moments for reflection. We attended a funeral for Tom’s cousin, a much-loved man enjoying a full, interesting life who suffered a fatal heart attack aged just 62. My parents-in-law are adjusting to the after-effects of my mother-in-law’s emergency hip replacement. And, in contrast, I’ve had the utter joy of ‘row, row, rowing the boat’ with my granddaughter and making her giggle.

To return to houses and memories, my novella Only True in Fairy Tales was inspired by growing up on Epsom Downs and includes a Wurst, a badly behaved dachshund and Gracie, the dog I always wanted, a retired racing greyhound. Writing friend, Tina K Burton and her husband Paul, gave a home to greyhound Cherry after reading my novella and today sees the launch of their book Fifty Tails of Grey, a collection of true stories about how and why people came to own their first greyhounds. All proceeds from the sale of their book will be donated equally between The Retired Greyhound Trust and Greyhound Rescue West of England. Tina says in her dedication that their hope is to help present and future hounds find love and kindness – now, isn’t that a happy ending?


Jane Lovering said…
Oh that's so lovely! I can never bear to go back to old houses I once lived in, it's too sad to look back on such happy times.
On the other hand - I'm very keen on retired (and unretired) greyhounds. I did decide to take one on once our Big Dog departs for that great biscuit-bag in the sky; but he's very much still with us and I got a Patterdale Terrier instead. But I shall never say never...
You've inspired me to dig out some old family photos now and have a wander down my own Memory Lane...
Frances said…
Chris, I think I am a bit like you in my thoughts about family tree researching. Way back in the last century, one of my Dad's friends was doing some family tree research, and agreed to research my Dad's tree at the same time, since similar record books were involved. I think the trail went pretty far back before reaching a dead (!) end. The next stage of the research required papers in a courhouse that had been burned down during the Civil War. (There had been no interest in researching my Mom's family tree.)

I do like the greyhound happy ending. How lovely to have your book's plot inspire such kindness.

xo to you and yours.
Pondside said…
Houses - there have been so many for The Great Dane and me. I haven't had the chance to drive past too many of them, but when I have there's been a tremendous 'pull'.
Family tree stuff is interesting to me, and has led to some very interesting and rewarding connections - a long-lost cousin sought us out 10 years ago, and the relationship that has developed is rich and precious now.
Clare Chase said…
Lovely to read about the places that mean so much to you, Chris – and to hear about Tina’s greyhound and her and her husband’s book too!

Looking back is odd. A couple of years ago I discovered my grandmother’s old house is now a holiday let. We went and stayed there, and her old curtains and wallpaper were still in place. There was even some junk mail addressed to her on a side table, which felt especially weird. But visiting also brought back a lot of happy childhood memories.
Kathryn Freeman said…
Ah Chris, what another lovely post. You're seeing both sides of life at the moment - the beginning and the end - but so glad you're making those important special memories with your granddaughter. And love the name of that book, Fifty tails of Grey - brilliant!
Chris Stovell said…
I can understand that too, Jane. We took Ma back to Boscastle where she was evacuated and it was so changed it upset her. Good news for your Big Dog, if not for your prospective greyhound! And I love Patterdales - some friends had a real cutie called Louis. Alas, Louis is no longer with us... or them.

Frances, I was just enjoying the lovely photos on your blog when I saw you'd kindly left a comment here. I do like the story of your family tree... with its dead end! And, yes, Cherry's story is one happy ending I never imagined when I wrote my novella. It's a Happy Ever After that never fails to cheer me up. Cx

Pondside, how lovely to hear from you. Yes, I thought of you when I was writing about family history because I know your research has rewarded you. Good to hear that an unexpected relationship with a long-lost cousin was one very satisfying and continuing outcome. Cx

Clare, that must have been so strange to see some of your grandmother's belongings in a different context. I'm glad it didn't spoil those happy childhood memories. Isn't the story of Tina and Paul's boom lovely - another happy ending for Cherry and hopefully others.

Thanks so much, Kate. It's been quite a roller-coaster so it's been important to seize those moments of pure happiness. It's a brilliant title, isn't it? Very clever!
Flowerpot said…
One of my brothers has done some family research but,like you, it's beyond me! Bu of course I would be delighted about the FiftyTails book - anyone that adopts a greyhound has to be good news! Hope life improves for you very soon XX
I think we are influenced by the recent past. I wonder if you're step son will find something exciting in the family lineage. How nice is it that you still have two very important locales of your life still at ready disposal? I think it's wonderful to know where you come from.

I'm sorry to hear about the loss you've experienced recently. I do hope your MIL is doing better soon. And congratulations to Tina K. Burton! Both for her new book and the lovely dog that's joined their household. Well done!
Chris Stovell said…
It's interesting to see which factors we feel shape us, isn't it Chanpreet? For me, the old map and the historic landscape of the town where I grew up was far more exciting than a list of names, but who knows what my stepson might uncover!

Thanks for your support in matters sad and glad - yes, well done indeed to Tina!
Tina K Burton said…
Thank you so much for telling people about our book, I really do feel that I owe it, and our darling Cherry, to you.

It had to be fate that made me read your book; it was all very strange.

We were cat people, and it had never entered our heads to get a dog - especially a greyhound. I didn't know anything about them, but when I read your book, I just knew we HAD to have a greyhound! Where did that come from? Very strange.

You'll be delighted to hear that the book is back at number one on Amazon's best seller list in dog care - woohoo. We've sold 82, only another 18 and it'll be 100 sales. :)

Thanks, Chris xx
Chris Stovell said…
Sue, sorry - your comment just popped up! Tina and Paul are amazing to have given Cherry a loving home and then to generously give so much of their time to raise funds to help other dogs like Cherry find new homes. Thanks for your good wishes.x

Tina, I can honestly say that Cherry's Happy Ever After was both the most unexpected and the most amazing and wonderful post-script to Only True In Fairy Tales or indeed any of my novels. It really moves me every time you post of picture of Cherry looking so well and happy. Of course, the heroes of Cherry's story are you and Paul for taking a leap of faith and adopting a dog. Huge credit to you both too for all the work you've done and continue to do for rescued and retired greys. I hope Fifty Tails of Grey continues to fly. Many congratulations to you, Paul and Cherry. Cxx
Arlee Bird said…
I enjoy going back to see places from my past. A couple years ago my wife and I did a cross country trip where along the way we stopped by 3 of my childhood homes in 3 different cities. I video taped what the places look like now and then shared this with my mother and siblings. It was fun reliving old memories.

I'm like you in that I don't have the patience for genealogy, but fortunately some of my relatives have taken great care to retrace our family histories. I begin to see some connections as I delve into these people in my past.

Arlee Bird
Tossing It Out
Chris Stovell said…
Hi Arlee, thanks for dropping by and for your comment. I agree, the fun is reliving those memories with the family!
Chris Stovell said…
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