Compiled by Victoria Washuk,
as written in the diary of her great-grandmother, Ruby Alice Side Thompson
Read by Amanda Meuwissen
Friday, December 1, 1939
There is news this morning that the Finish Prime Minister resigned and a new cabinet is forming in Helsinki. Meanwhile, there is a lull in the Russian attack. I suppose Finland will have to accede to all of Russia’s demands, or else be absolutely exterminated. Anyhow, Russia will swallow her, then, who next, the Scandinavian countries?
I received a queer complement this morning. I went out in mid-morning and crossed the bridge into Victoria Road; to go to Sam Gold’s, the fishmonger. On my way back, an elderly woman walking with a cane accosted me.
“I must stop you,” she said. “I saw you go down the street just now, and I said to my son, ‘There’s that woman. I want to go and speak to her.’ I saw you once before, and I couldn’t help noticing how sweet you looked, and I said to my son if I ever saw you again, I should have to speak to you. You have such a happy face. You look so contented, so well, so at peace. You look lovely. It’s hard to walk against the wind isn’t it? What is your trouble? Is it Arthritis? I have a stiff leg, it’s quite set.”
Of course I answered her; we stood and chatted a full ten minutes or more. She told me her name was Mrs. Green, she was sixty-eight years old, and she lived with her son, who had recently taken over “The Chocolate Box”.
She didn’t look sixty-eight to me; perhaps enthusiasm keeps her young looking. When we parted, she squeezed my arm, and said, “Let’s hope we meet again. You’re lovely!”
Maybe she’s a crazy woman. I don’t know. What astonishes me is that she should think I looked happy and content. I should have thought that in repose my countenance had a melancholy cast. Apparently not. Apparently it still wears that faint smile of amiability, which appears in all my photographs, from childhood on. And peace, when I know no peace? That makes me remember Francis Burke saying to Patricia Saxton, “Don’t you love it when Ruby visits you? When she comes into my house I feel all my troubles drop away. When Ruby comes in, peace comes in. Oh, she’s so serene!” That didn’t seem true then, but Patricia agreed that it was so.
Queer isn’t it? My interior woman is forever in tumult; my soul is violent, yet my exterior is calm and calming, maybe because I pray for peace, for holy indifference, for serenity. To be serene; I suppose that is the deepest and most long abiding desire of my whole life. Apparently I have attained some sort of visible serenity. Queer.
Thursday, December 21, 1939
It is the shortest day of the year. I am alone for the first time in weeks, and dreading to hear a knock at the door at any minute. I have been engaged very deeply in Selma’s affairs. She refused to go to Worthington, as Bertie had arranged for her, so then old Bert said she would have to leave the house, as he positively would not have her in Arden Cottage. For days I had old Bert here twice and thrice a day, and Selma the same. They would both call on each other’s heels, and Selma would sit in the kitchen and quake, and old Bert goes into the parlor to jaw. I consider him a first class bully. However, I finally found out that he would make her an allowance, though not until I had telephoned Peake, his solicitor. I would have taken the matter to court. As it was, I did go to the police station to find out exactly what he could do and couldn’t do as he was threatening to practically put the girl out on the doorstep.
Then I had the job of flat hunting for the girl. Selma and I were out two days, looking for a suitable flat. Then I had a day with Bert, surveying some. He wanted to stick her up in Moss Lane, one of the Romford slums. Finally, I persuaded him to let her have a flat on this street, a new one, near the station.
If the girl has to live alone, as she had, position is very important, and she should be pleased with a good look-out, and very close to the main road. So she has gone into number twenty-two A. Taking up tenancy a week ago on the Eleventh, but then I had to supervise all the establishing, seeing about linens, blackout curtains, soap supplies, pots and pans, groceries of all sorts, coal and kindling, electricity, and so on. Bert shoved the job on me, but I made him pay for it, by stocking her up with enough of staple supplies to last her for three or four months. I was glad enough to do it for the girl. I think she has had a rough deal. Actually, she has been put out of her home to please the housekeeper, a Mrs. Webb, who presumably is no better than she should be. It is a fact that Selma is a selfish bore and a fool but she is old Bert’s daughter just the same, and his action toward her is absolutely hateful and shameful.
Well, now she is settled, or we all hope she is. She still comes in to see me daily, and bores me to death with her silly talk; but once the holidays are out of the way, I shall tell her outright that I don’t want her to come and see me every day. She must learn to live alone, and to manage her life for herself. She is a poor retarded introvert, but my God she is a plague to all who can’t escape contact with her! Old Bert simply put her out. But that’s a crime. What a likeness here to my Ted, both brothers arbitrarily arrange their lives to suit themselves, quite regardless of their children. Queer, isn’t it?
Well, I have written the Christmas letters, made no Christmas preparations, read no books. I have been absolutely tired out with the Thompson affairs. We are going to be alone for Christmas. Neither of the boys will be able to be here. Artie who is training at Nutley, Sussex, will have leave from December Twenty-Nine, to January Second. Cuthie, who is now with an operational squadron, stationed at Driffield, Yorkshire, does not expect to get any leave before March. I have written to Hammersmith and asked Mother to come and spend the Christmas with us, but so far have had no reply.
The war continues to get worse and worse. Finn’s have not surrendered to Russia, and up to date are proving very successful fighters, but as there are about forty Russians to every Finn, I don’t see how they can win in the long run. The war at sea is dreadful. The Germans are laying magnetic mines, and attaching neutrals. They bomb fishing boats from the air, and machine gun the fisherman on the decks, and in their little open boats.
Last week there was a big naval battle off South America, with the German pocket battleship, the Graf Spee. She was forced to take shelter in Montevideo Harbor, and when the Uruguayan Government declined to allow her to remain longer than seventy-two hours, she put to sea and sculled herself at the mouth of the River Plate. Yesterday came news of her commander; Captain Langsdorff had shot himself. This is all very inglorious. Also, yesterday, the German liner “Columbus” scuttled herself because she saw a British warship.
Wednesday, December 27, 1939
Christmas is safely past and we were alone for the day; the first time in all our lives that we have ever had Christmas alone together. It was nice, and we were happy. I’m still happy. This is very unusual for me; usually Christmas time depresses me horribly. This year, in spite of the awful wars, in spite of not having the boys, and they away soldiering, in spite of black fog, and no religion; nevertheless I was and am happy.
Our first Christmas together in America we spent with the Oberle’s; our second with the Harvey’s; our third was spent in Fortieth Street with Eddie in the crib, Mary Crowley in the kitchen, and Arthur Thompson arriving from Toronto just in time for dinner. There was a Mrs. Smith there, too, a Barbadian, whom Ted had invited because she had nowhere else to go, and there was an unborn infant there, too, as I was near my time with Harold. After that there were always children about, and visitors. And then here in England, the visitors again, at Arden Cottage, and since Tillie’s death, we have made a Christmas again, for old Bert and Selma, Mother, and our twins. This year nobody was here.
Selma came in on Sunday, which was Christmas Eve, and stayed from three o’clock until ten thirty p.m. I wished her further. When she arrived she said her fire had gone out, so could she come to tea with us. Of course we had her but only because it was Christmas Eve, and we didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Should she ever come with that excuse again, I shall tell her to go home and relight her fire. I have had that girl here every day for a month, or more, and I am heartily sick of her. However, we let her stay and kill Sunday.
The weather was awful, too. We had one of the blackest fogs we have had in years. Saturday was foggy, but Sunday was worse, and Christmas Day worse yet. Yesterday was foggy in the morning, but clearing at mid-day. Today, now the holiday is all over, we have sunshine again but it is very cold.
Artie surprised us by coming in about one o’clock on Sunday. He got a pass for the day. When evening came, he couldn’t return. Neither buses nor trains were running. Nor could he hire a taxi. The fog was impenetrable, so about seven o’clock he returned to the house, and stayed here all night. This was very nice for Ted, as the two of them went to the 8 o’clock mass together on Christmas morning. Artie couldn’t get a bus to Nutley until eleven o’clock so had time to have breakfast here. We expect him again on Friday, for a five-day leave, unless he is punished for not returning to headquarters on Sunday. He couldn’t get there. It was one of the thickest fogs in years. On Christmas night, we heard in the news that a steamer from Jersey, which usually crossed the channel in six hours, had three nights on the water, with two hundred passengers aboard!
Yesterday, Boxing Day, the Jude’s came to tea and spent the evening. It was all very jolly, and all had a good time. Today, we are going to the movies. I’m meeting Ted at five, at the Plaza, to see Stanley and Livingstone, Spencer Tracy as Stanley, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Livingstone. We didn’t get to the movies last week. Nothing particularly attractive to us was offering, and as the weather was very disagreeable, we preferred the fireside.
It strikes me as we are going to hear some very bad news tonight. Our airplanes are going over constantly, bombers, in both directions, and flying very low. A group passed now which seemed almost to graze over our rooftops. There are many more about today than is usual, especially in this last hour.
Thursday December 28, 1939
Snow began falling about noon, and is continuing steadily, and there is a yellow darkness everywhere. All is very still, very cold, and very gloomy.
We expect Cuth home today, for a twelve-day leave, so if he is traveling down from Yorkshire today, he’s going to have a beastly journey. I have just put two hot water bottles in his bed, and after tea, I will put some onions on to boil to make a nightcap for him. Artie is due home tomorrow, for a five-day leave. We got letters from him this morning. It appears he didn’t get back to the barracks on Christmas Day after all. When he got to London on Christmas morning, he found there were no busses running and no train to East Grimstead until seven in the evening; so he went out to Hammersmith and ate a Christmas dinner with his Grandma. He writes she is as fit as a fiddle. When he did get to East Grimstead, he had an eight-mile walk, in the fog. However, he was excused his absence. It seemed that none of the fellows on leave with him were able to return, on account of the fog, but he was the last one of the lot to get in, being the one who had gone furthest a field. So, there were no punishments.
There was a severe earthquake in Turkey; between five and six thousand people killed in Anatolia. This world suffers one misery after another.
Letters arrived from America this morning. They have been on the way since December Eighth. New babies expected early in the year. Harold and Kay expect one in Christmas week, so that may be born already. Eddie and Chic expect their first in March, and Johnny and Ruth their fourth in January. This will bring the number of our grandchildren up to twelve. Incredible, but there it is.
I brought out an old photo of Grandma Searle this morning, to show to Mrs. Jude, who, of course, was calling. With Mrs. Jude and Selma, I never anymore get a day to myself. Mrs. Jude at once perceived a strong resemblance to me, in the picture. I can see it too. So, there’s the Irish in me, for Grandma Searle was fifty-percent unadulterated Irish. She was the daughter of the infamous Joe Beate’s. The damnable Irish!
Saturday December 30, 1939
It is the last Saturday of the year. I am alone in the house. The boys at a dance at “The Kings Head”, the Scottish New Year’s Eve affair, which cannot be held tomorrow, that being Sunday, and Ted round at Bert’s. Nine o’clock now, and in a few minutes I am going to make myself some sandwiches, and take them into the parlor, with a hot whiskey, to listen to Raymond Gram Swing from America, and the music that follows after. I have been writing and now I am tired.
When I got up this morning I was in a full flow of composition, with such an imperative urge to write, that I began jotting down before anyone came to breakfast. I have been writing in swatches on and off all day. I feel fine, and full of excitement, and of satisfaction. I am pleased with what I have done, and I feel I can continue in this strain. I haven’t been able to write for months, but today the power began again with a rush, and I’m well away.
Wednesday January 10, 1940
Mrs. Jude just left: then a chat with Miss Coppen on the telephone. The twins are twenty-one today. They were born just after the termination of the Great War; now they are fighting in this one. Artie was home for a few hours on Sunday, but did not see Cuth, because he was spending the weekend with the Spaul’s in Cambridge. Cuth returned to Driffield on Monday. Mother must have been the age I am now when the twins were born; if I live another twenty-one years, I shall be as old as mother is now, providing I also live so long. Time; and time passing.
I was thirty-four when the twins were born, still a young woman. We were still in Bayonne. My God, I pray that long before another twenty-one years pass, I shall be living in Bayonne again! There’s my home, there’s where I can really rest in this world.
© 2011 Copyright Victoria Washuk
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