This plump pewter tankard belonged to Grandad Lane and is inscribed with the following dedication:
Good Health – Good Luck
Chas H. Lane
From your friends at the
War Damage Commission
5th Oct 1954
I presume it was a retirement gift, and an appropriate one: I gather he was something of a bon viveur, charming and entertaining company. I have only the vaguest memories of him (but strangely enough I was also given a pewter tankard as a leaving present from a job some years ago!).
I experienced grandparents singly and in sequence, rather than in the usual dual or group arrangements that most families have. I didn’t realise at the time that this was unusual, of course; as a child everything around you is “normal” until you are told otherwise. Dad’s mother had died before I was born, and his father remained in Glasgow. I knew the warm affection of my Grannie Lane for the first four years of my life, until she died. Then a Grandad Lane suddenly appeared in our lives, and was around for a couple of years until he too died when I was 6. Then Grandad R. moved down south to be near most of his sons, and we had the pleasure of “Pop”s gentle fond humour until he too died when I was about 8.
All I remember of Grandad Lane is an old man with bushy white hair, quite posh, smoking a pipe with his foot wrapped in plaster or bandages. I had some idea that he had gout but I think it was an injury, a broken ankle maybe. We used to visit him occasionally; I remember a flat cluttered with interesting objects from around the world: a large heavy silver ball made of silver paper from cigarette or sweet wrappers, walking sticks, carved wooden boxes, ebony elephants. He was entertaining and affectionate enough for the brief time we knew him.
I was 10 or 11 when I realised that most of my friends had a Grannie and Grandad in a pair, and asked my mum why we hadn’t. It was bedtime and I had just brushed my teeth; I remember I was perching on the edge of the bath when she told me, in a calm, serious voice, the story of her parents’ break up. I think she must have been waiting for the question for a long time. So she told me about his squandering of their money, and her mother’s ultimatum about choosing between his friends and his family, and his desertion. And that they never heard from him again after their final contact following her brother’s death.
Then soon after Grannie Lane’s death, a policeman had come to the house asking for Mum. He brought a message from her father, who, as it turned out, was living not far away in west London. Charles had had an accident (the broken ankle) and was suffering from cancer. He wanted to track down his family and make his peace with them before he died.
He was just days too late to see Peggy again, and I can’t imagine the effect this must have had on my mum, still reeling from the loss of her own mother. She would have had every right to turn him away, but she didn’t. It is a testament to the kind of woman my mum was that despite everything, she took him back into her life and cared for him until he died (she even suspected that this was his main motive in tracking her down: the woman he was living with had died, and there was no-one else to look after him). So we had another grandad for a while, and when he died, leaving his body to science (Mum always said this was because he was too mean to pay for a funeral!), she dealt with everything, and inherited his few effects. Which have now come to me and my brothers, and include this tankard.
There is another reason that this tankard may have been an appropriate retirement gift. After Mum died and we went through all the stuff in the attic, I found some letters amongst his things, which Mum had never mentioned (read more about these in a later post). I began to wonder if there was more to the story of her parents’ break-up than we had been told. I made some discreet enquiries among the few surviving friends and relatives of her generation, but with little success. Her oldest school friend, Joan (who passed away last year), said that such things were simply not discussed in those days: “One day he was there, the next he wasn’t, and nothing was ever said about it”. Another lifelong friend of Mum’s from Lewis, kindly asked around on my behalf and was told by someone who knew them then that Charles may have been an alcoholic.
This explanation would fit with what I know of his character: manipulative, deceitful, always blaming others for his own failings. But not all alcoholics have those traits and not all people with those traits are alcoholics. Also, Grannie came from a strictly teetotal Presbyterian community in which anyone who has a drink may be considered an alcoholic. But if true it may also explain my mother’s strong objection to my own youthful drinking.
I don’t suppose I’ll ever know all the answers, but I am glad that we knew Grandad Lane, however briefly.