I didn’t tell a lie but I didn’t tell the truth either. I just didn’t tell.
I was four years old. I’m seventy-four now but I can recall every detail of that day. I have an excellent memory which seems to be a blessing these days. Years ago it would have been just that your granny had gone a bit loopy. Now there’s a whole industry of memory tests, scans, and medication. Spare me!
The few photos I have of my childhood show a cute and angelic looking child. Here I’m sitting on a swing, all curly blond hair and winning smile, a veritable Shirley Temple. I was doted on by my parents until, that is, she came along. Then everything changed. People would stop mother in the street, bend over the pram and coo at her. They would turn to me and say
‘Can I take your baby sister?’
‘Yes’ I would reply without a moment’s hesitation.
‘She doesn’t mean that’ mother would say apologetically. ‘You love her, don’t you Ruth?’
Cue for me to hang my head and stay silent.
The day that ‘it’ happened she would have been only a few months old. Mother had called to see an elderly couple to whom we were vaguely related. I’d spent an uncomfortable hour, sitting on a scratchy horsehair sofa that had made the backs of my legs red and itchy. Trousers had yet to become an accepted form of dress for girls. My mother had chatted on and on, and I was hungry. At last we set off for home, but then she decided to call at the corner shop. I wanted to go into the shop. I might get some sweets, a stick of liquorice, or a chocolate mouse. Failing that, as the shop was filled with factory workers from the local mill getting food for their lunch break, I might get patted on the head, or chucked under the chin, and my mother told what a pretty child I was. One in the eye for that ‘pudding in the pram’ out there.
Fate decreed otherwise though. The pudding started to cry and my mother insisted I stand outside.
‘Just keep jiggling the pram handle and hopefully she’ll go off to sleep.’
I was mortified. She’d won again, the pudding. I stood jiggling as mother watched from inside the shop and nodded encouragingly. The more I jiggled the more furious I got. I started to kick out at the pram wheel. Mother could only see the top half of me, so I kept on smiling and kicking, until I swapped from the wheel to the brake. I knew full well what would happen, but I was full of devilment. Sure enough, after several hefty kicks of the brake, the pram took flight. It started to roll along the pavement, and as the road was on a slight incline it gathered speed, ran off the curb, veered into the road, and hit the tram lines, tipping over onto its side. I must have run after it, for the next minute mother and several workmen charged out of the shop, and into the road to retrieve the pram and child. The pram was a wartime Utility pram and built like a Sherman tank. In those days there was little traffic, except for the trams, delivery vans and horse drawn milk floats. My sister, tucked snugly inside the pram, was therefore, none the worse for wear.
Mother, however, was distraught. We were escorted back to the shop where mother was seated and given a strong, sweet, cup of tea.
‘I couldn’t have put the brake on properly’ she kept saying, over and over.
‘It’s all my fault. She could have been killed and it would have been my fault.’
Standing at the side of her chair, looking down on the now sleeping baby on her knee and then at my tearful mother, I said not a word. Nobody asked me what had happened, so I never told a lie. They came to the conclusion that if the brake had been applied lightly, the jiggling of the pram handle would probably have been enough to cause it to give. The matter was laid to rest, along with the truth.
That incident taught me a useful lesson in life, however. From then on I found that a sweet, angelic face can be a great advantage.. People always believe the best of you. It saw me through many close calls. I never needed to tell a lie, nor did I need to tell the truth. I just didn’t tell. You could literally get away with murder, and I should know, because eventually I did.
(c) Dorothy Snelson