The Legacy Project | Week Four, Part 1 - Parents

The Legacy Project was born out of a need, a responsibility, to write down my own stories, my history, for my children.

This week's prompt is about our parents. Originally I was just going to write this chapter myself answering the questions below (and I will get to those questions later!) - but then I decided to ask each of my parents about themselves, to find out a bit more about who they were before I knew them as "mom" and "dad".

Well, as my mom said, I unleashed a monster! 😂

They both sent me such amazing emails filled with details about their respective childhoods. 

So as not to overwhelm anyone reading, and to keep the stories as clear as possible for when I print these posts into a book for my kids, I've decided to split this week's prompt up into three blog posts. The first, today's, will be my dad's story of his childhood. Tomorrow I'll share my mom's story, and on Friday I'll answer the questions below.

Here we go!

DAD'S STORY

I wrote to my dad and asked him this:

"Okay, time to tell me about YOU.

Where did you grow up, what was your childhood like? What were your favorite hobbies when you were growing up? What are they now? What did you do after you finished school? Did you ever imagine you would be where you are now?"

And this is his story....

My dad writes,

"So, your questions could fill a book! Here goes:

I was born on the day after what is now known as VE Day – Victory in Europe – the war was officially over. My Mum (Granny) was out celebrating in the streets VE night – dancing and drinking - along with everyone else in Britain. I was born the next day – coincidence…maybe?

We (Granny, Grampy and me) lived with my grandparents in a small 2-bedroom house in Cheltenham. My Gran was a cleaner at a local college, and my Grandad was a carpenter. The house had no electricity, no running hot water, an outside toilet and no bathroom! The streets were still lighted with gas lamps. Milk and coal was delivered by horse-drawn carts; no cars. Sounds Victorian but this was post-war Britain. Also rationing – needed for sugar (and candy – we called them sweets), meat, cigarettes, etc. I should also add that Uncle Pete and Aunt Joan (and later Scott) also lived in the same 2-bedroom house with us! Sounds crowded, and maybe it was, but it was also a very happy home. I went to primary school at around 4 years of age – it was only just down the road – and was there until age 11.

My dad and his cousin, Scott.

I can’t remember who moved out first, but when I was about 5, Mum, dad and I moved into a council flat on a new estate about 3 miles away from my Gran’s house.  (“Council flat” = public housing in Britain. Post-war under the labour government, there was a huge building program to house all the returning troops and families and also to replace houses destroyed by the war.) Pete, Joan and Scott also moved into a council house in a different estate in Cheltenham. I lived in that flat until I was eleven, catching the bus to and from school. I can’t quite remember, but Mum (Granny) worked in a greengrocer’s (produce store) near my Gran’s, and I think she used to take me to school on the back of her bike. But I know that from an early age (i.e. 6), I would catch the bus back home by myself!

We had no television until I was about 9 or 10 – the first TV I ever saw was the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, which we watched at a friend’s house. Our only entertainment was the radio, which we listened to every evening, plus frequent trips to the cinema (movies). As kids, we used to play outside in the streets all the time – totally unsupervised. In those days, there was no traffic to worry about and we used to wander all over the place, and get up to mischief! In the holidays and on Saturdays, my friend and I would catch a bus to Leckhampton Hill, and wander all around, or we would go to the large outdoor pool in Cheltenham and spend afternoons there. I also did the usual schoolboy stuff like trainspotting, stamp collecting, etc. I was also an avid reader of comics – all the British comics like the Beano, Dandy, Lion etc. Later I would get into the American Marvel and DC comics as they became available. 

Dave was born when I was about 7, and I guess we were on a wait list for a house, which we eventually got when I was around 11. So, we moved into a council house in yet another new estate in Cheltenham. Dave and I shared a room until I moved and went to college at 18. Granny was still working at the greengrocer and my Dad by now was working as a machinist in an aircraft factory midway between Cheltenham and Gloucester, where he made parts for the hydraulics for the landing gear.

My dad with his parents and grandparents.

In Britain in those days, everyone took an exam at age 11 – it was called the “Eleven-Plus”, and the result determined which school you went to next. I passed the exam and went to Cheltenham Grammar School, which was founded in the time of Henry VIII – i.e. back in the 1500s. It was an all-boys school of about 700. Today it is co-ed and still ranked in the top-3 schools in the country. We had tons of homework everyday, so was studying most evenings and much of the weekends, but in my free time I listened to music (this was the late 50s/early 60s, so was the emergence of Rock & Roll.) I was also a keen lepidopterist – i.e. collected butterflies and moths; out in the fields with a net, and also raised some from caterpillars and pupae. I also did a lot of sport representing the school, primarily rugby and track & field (long jump and 100 yd sprint). I was county champion one year in long jump and placed third in the SW of England!

When I was about 16 I joined a club called The Young Everyman with some of my school friends. This was associated with the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham and we used to go in on Friday and Saturday to work backstage assisting the scene shifting etc. The Everyman was a thriving rep, and had a great permanent cast some of whom went on to long careers on British TV; it was fun to see them turn up in various roles in both sitcoms and drama over the years. We used to meet with them in the bar for drinks after the Friday performances. Great fun until I left for college.

In the UK then, and maybe still now, there were formal nationwide exams at age 16 and again at 18. Most kids left school at 15/16 to enter the workforce, with just a small percentage staying on to take Advanced Level (A-Level) exams. Your results at A-level determined if you could go to university. I did well in my A-levels, was accepted at Birmingham University in the Chemical Engineering department, and got a full scholarship from the County. So, I left in 1963 at age 18 to go to Birmingham, about 50 miles to the North of Cheltenham. This was just before the advent of motorways, and it seemed a long way, especially in the old car I had bought from my Dad.

I was at Birmingham for 6 years, leaving with a Master’s degree in Chem Eng, which I never used!! I went straight into the newly emerging computer software industry, and never regretted my decision. I still remember sitting down one Saturday morning and writing applications to about 20 job adverts in the Sunday Times, and doing interviews and sitting aptitude tests. As luck would have it, I was offered a job from the second company for which I interviewed, and was given a job as a programmer in their Reading office; hence why you were born and lived in Reading! That company was one of the leading software companies in Europe.

You asked “Did you ever imagine you would be where you are now?”. The short answer, of course, is NO. From the above, I was the son of a shop assistant and a factory worker living in public housing in a small English town. Now I am a retired from a well-known computer company living comfortably in a house valued at $2M+ in Silicon Valley in California; a place most English people of our era could only dream of visiting after seeing it in the movies and TV."

* * *

My father didn’t tell me how to live. He lived and let me watch him do it.
— Clarence Budington Kelland

Stay tuned for my mom's story tomorrow...

Francesca Russell is a documentary-style family photographer and filmmaker located in Garden City South, NY. If you'd like to see more of her recent documentary family photography, head over to her Facebook page or follow her everyday adventures on Instagram. If you are looking for a family photographer or lifestyle videographer on Long Island or in the New York City area to document your family, small business or event, please contact her for more information.

The Legacy Project was inspired by the 52 Stories Project.