Branches

Eighteen
SANDRA AT MOSELEY STREET
Sandra had every reason to hate Moseley Street. It was not a happy
home. If it was not for Mr. and Mrs. Storer, life in Ripley would have
been even worse. Elsie and Joe Storer were a childless couple, resigned
to the fact that their love would never produce the child they
so wanted. They had a beautiful red setter dog which they doted on
and had named Susan. It was because of Susan that Elsie first met
Sandra.
At a little more than three years old, Sandra had wandered out the
entry of number 44, and as soon as she saw Susan, off she toddled as
fast as her little legs could carry her. Elsie looked at the little girl
coming her way, and slowed her walk so that Sandra could catch up.
“What’s his name?” Sandra asked as she bent down to pet the dog.
“It’s a lady dog, and her name is Susan,” Elsie smiled. “And
what is your name?”
“My name is Sandra Mary, but I only get called that when I am
bad. When I am good it is just Sandra.”
Elsie laughed at this precocious child, who seemed much older
than her years.
That fateful day was the start of a wonderful relationship, providing
Elsie and Joe with a child to love and care for, and Sandra with
two people who loved her unconditionally. Elsie was a little concerned
that Sandra had wandered up the street all by herself, and
thought that she should take her back home. Taking hold of Sandra’s
hand, Elsie smiled, “Come on lovey, Susan and I will walk you back
home. Your mummy must be wondering where you are.”
“Oh that’s all right, she does not worry about me. I play by myself
all the time. I can even go down to the bottom of the street all by
myself,” Sandra said, very matter-of-factly.
Elsie was a little surprised to hear that such a small child had such
liberty. Although she was not a mother herself, she had a natural

motherly instinct. She looked at the little girl holding her hand, and
knew that if this was her child she would never let her out of her sight
for a moment. Sandra was a cherubic little girl with the greenest eyes
Elsie had ever seen on one so young. Her hair was braided into two
pigtails and she was dressed in a pretty little dress. There was no
outward indication that she was not looked after well, but Elsie
detected something sad about her new acquaintance.
Number 44 was a few doors farther down the street, and a much
smaller house than the one that Elsie and Joe lived in. The Storers’
house had a double sized entry way, and a much larger back garden
where Joe raised his prize bantams and budgerigars. Elsie had never
particularly noticed number 44 before, but when Sandra stopped in
front of the entryway, Elsie thought how unloved it looked. The
entry was long and narrow and devoid of any whitewash. It looked
black and foreboding. The single small windows on the upper and
lower floor looked as if they needed a good clean, and the paint was
flaking off the old wooden sills.
“Bye, Sandra. I hope I see you again.” Elsie really did hope she
would.
“Can I come and take Susan for walks with you?” Sandra asked
eagerly.
“Well, if your mommy says it is okay, of course you can. Susan
and I would like that.”
Sandra gave Susan a big hug and disappeared into the dark entry.
Elsie turned around and went back up the street. She stopped in
front of her home and admired what Joe had done to renovate it. The
double entry was whitewashed and clean. The old windows had been
replaced with wider double pane windows which sparkled in the
afternoon sun. The lace curtains framed a big bowl of daffodils that
Elsie had arranged and put on a table below the window. Her heart
was a little heavy having just had a glimpse of what she was missing
by not having such a child as her own. When she walked into the
bright living room, she knew how much she had to be thankful for: a
husband who loved her and a home she loved.
When Joe came home from his work as a painter and decorator,
Elsie was eager to tell him about her visit from Sandra.
“Joe, she’s a little imp. You can just tell that she’s full of mischief,
but somehow she looked sad. She lives at number 44, and the
house looks like no one really cares about it.”

Joe knew the house and also had heard a few rumours about the
occupants. He had not told Elsie, as he knew she would worry about
the little girl who lived there. Joe knew the neighbours, and had heard
that Sandra was often left alone in her room at night while her parents
were out. Joe was an accomplished drummer with a big band
which played for some of the dance competitions. He had seen
Mattie at some of the competitions and knew she was an excellent
ballroom dancer. She was an outrageous flirt, however, and although
he never saw her pay particular attention to one person, she was
always surrounded by admirers.
“Elsie, you know who her mam is. She is the young lass who does
competition dancing. I am sure you must have noticed her at some of
the medal events: kind of attractive in her own way.” Joe smiled at
Elsie who was just as opposite. He looked at his wife who was perfect
in his eyes. “Not as beautiful as you, by far.”
Elsie knew Joe meant his words. They had a very deep love, and it
was not born of any superficial outer beauty, but of a connection of
souls. Elsie was not much over five feet, and although not by any
means fat, she was round and “cuddly” as Joe called her. They were
exact opposites in stature, as Joe was over six feet and slim, with
sandy coloured hair. Their only disappointment in life was that they
had not been blessed with a child. Neither wanting the other to feel
guilt at their inability to produce a child, they chose not to seek
medical advice.
For a moment Joe was sad as he thought of how much Elsie would
have loved a child, and he knew without a shadow of a doubt she
would have been an excellent mother.
That night when Elsie went to bed, lying in the arms of Joe, she
could not help but think of Sandra. “She loved our Susan, Joe.
Maybe she will come to see her again.”
“Maybe it was you she was drawn to, my love. I’m sure she’ll be
back up the street again.”
Joe was right. The next morning Elsie went out to take Susan for a
walk, and there was Sandra, sitting on the doorstep.
“What are you doing out at this time in the morning, lovey? Does
your mommy know you have come to visit?”
“Yep. I told her that I was going to see Susan. It’s all right. I can’t
speak to strangers, but you’re not a stranger. You are Susan’s mom.”
Sandra’s speech was almost perfect for one so young, and Elsie

smiled as she reached for her hand. The two walked down the street
to Borker Fields. It was a short walk past the old row houses to a field
that led down to a viaduct, and Susan loved to be let off her leash and
run around the field.
There was a little seat against the stone wall surrounding the vicarage
that backed onto the field, and there Sandra and Elsie became
acquainted. For some reason, Sandra, normally articulate, found
Mrs. Storer hard to say. After several attempts, Elsie smiled, “Why
don’t you just call me Auntie Elsie?” Sandra was delighted.
“I have two aunties, Auntie Belle and Auntie Vera. They don’t
live in Ripley, though.” Sandra thought how wonderful it would be to
have an auntie living so close by. “My Auntie Belle lives in Matlock,
and Auntie Vera lives in Alfreton. I can only see them if we go on a
bus.”
“Well, my love, you can see me anytime you want,” Elsie said,
not realizing Sandra would take this literally and from that day forth
would be a daily visitor.
The next day was a Saturday, and Mattie and Alf were in the habit
of lying in a little longer on the weekends. Alf’s job at Aiton’s started
at 6:30 a.m., and he was a bus ride away from work so he usually left
home at 5:30 a.m. during the week. The weekends were a pleasant
break from long days spent in horrible conditions in an iron foundry.
Mattie enjoyed the mornings when she could wake up with Alf still
by her side. No matter her many dalliances, there was only one man
for her and that was Alf. She knew she did not deserve such a love as
the one he gave to her. Often in the quiet of the night she truly
wished that being a wife and a mother were enough, and that she
could be content without her endless quest for excitement.
Sandra had not had a good night. Saturday night was the worst
night of the week, as that was usually a competition night for Mattie,
while Alf met his mates in the pub to celebrate the end of a work
week. This meant Sandra was left alone in the house from around
7:30 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. Her bedroom faced onto the narrow street,
and the old house was far from soundproof.
Seven p.m. was bed time, and that meant going upstairs to a very
cold and damp bedroom with a cold linoleum floor, and a utility war
time bed, which was made with slatted wood. The only furniture in
the room was a chest of drawers that had seen better days. There
were no pictures on the wall, nor any ornaments like at Landrose.

There was no Rupert story. Just a peck on the cheek and a closed
door, with the command to stay in bed and go to sleep.
Sandra was used to the routine and lay awake long after she had
heard the heavy wooden door close downstairs. She knew she was
alone, with only the dim light of a gas mantle, which was set as low as
it could be. The flickering light made eerie shadows around the room,
and when an occasional car went down the road the headlights were
like searchlights finding all the darkest corners. Her heart was pounding,
hating every minute of knowing she was alone, and she silently
counted from one to ten and back again, always thinking that by the
time she reached ten that she would hear her parents return. It was
only then that she could go to sleep. That night, she lay watching the
familiar shadows when she heard a horrific noise. It sounded like the
house was falling down around her. She shrieked and sat up in bed
until the noise stopped, and then, shaking with fear, she cried until
there were no more tears left.
On the street below her bedroom window, Evan and Polly could
hear their granddaughter crying and had no way to enter the house
and calm her fears.
“Oh Polly, what were we thinking? They’ve left that child alone
again, and the poor love is frightened out of her mind. She must have
heard the coal dropping into the cellar.”
Polly and Evan had brought a couple sacks of coal for Mattie and
Alf, as coal was still expensive and they had more than enough,
thanks to Evan’s job. They always delivered the coal during the week
at night, away from the prying eyes of any neighbours, but this time
they had missed their usual night.
“Evan, what can we do? Can you get into the house? Did they
leave a key anywhere?”
Polly and Evan went down the entry and searched in the outside
laundry shed and all around the door, but could find nothing. They
did not know what to do. Alf was not a man to be questioned, and
although they knew where he would be drinking, they knew that to
confront him before his friends would be a disaster. Where Mattie
was, neither of them had any idea.
“It wouldn’t take much for me to knock that door down and take
her back to Landrose, Polly.” Evan was beside himself with anger.
“Oh Evan, if you do, they might not ever let us have her again. It
breaks my heart to leave her there, but we have no choice. I’ll try to

speak to Mattie tomorrow when they come for dinner.” Sunday
afternoons were always Polly’s joy, as she got to spend time with all
of her children and Sandra.
“That poor child. I wish we could take her back with us and keep
her at Landrose forever. Neither of them are fit to raise a child.”
Polly was inconsolable and could not believe any child of hers could
be such an irresponsible parent. They tried not to let Sandra know
they were there, as they knew she would not understand why they
could not take her home with them.
“I should have thought before I dropped the coal in the cellar,
Polly.” Evan blamed himself and silently fumed at his inability to do
anything for Sandra.
“It’s not your fault, love. They never think of anyone but themselves,”
Polly said between sobs. Her heart ached to go and console
her only grandchild, although she knew it was impossible. Polly
looked back at the bedroom window as the car pulled away, and she
cried all the way back to Landrose.
It was a long while after that when Sandra heard the door being
opened and the sound of raised voices. Her mother and father were
having one of their frequent, volatile, but brief arguments. She waited
until she heard the argument abate and the sound of their footsteps
on the stairs, then turned over and feigned sleep.
Mattie peered into Sandra’s room, and seeing her daughter motionless
in bed, turned off the gas light and crossed the narrow
passage to her and Alf’s bedroom, oblivious to her young daughter’s
terrifying night.
Sandra fell asleep at last, but it was a fitful sleep full of bad
dreams. The next morning, while Mattie and Alf were still in bed,
Sandra decided to go and visit Auntie Elsie. Pulling a coat over her
nightdress, she left the house. She had seen her mother open the
door of the front room with the key that was always left in the lock. It
was not a door that was used very often, as it opened directly onto the
street. The big back door was too hard to open as the lock was out of
reach and the door was much heavier. Up the street she went as fast
as her legs would carry her, and down the big wide entry to the back
door. Joe was already up and feeding his bantams when he noticed
the little girl standing at the back door. “Hello, you must be Sandra.
What are you doing here so early in the morning?”
“I’ve come to see Auntie Elsie and Susan,” Sandra said as her

curiosity got the better of her, and she walked towards Joe and the
bantams. Susan came running down to meet her, and Sandra threw
her arms around the gentle dog, who appeared not to mind the enthusiastic
greeting.
She chattered incessantly and asked a thousand questions, all of
which Joe did his best to answer. He was just as drawn to this little
girl as Elsie was. “How about you hold the basket for me to put the
eggs in,” Joe smiled, “and then we’ll go and see if Auntie Elsie will
make us some breakfast.” Elsie was at the kitchen window and could
not believe her eyes when she saw Joe coming down the garden path
with Sandra by his side.
“Look who I have here, Elsie. This young lady came to see her
Auntie Elsie for breakfast.”
Elsie looked at Joe and knew instinctively that from now on he
would be Uncle Joe. It was as if someone knew this little girl needed
them as much as they needed her. Elsie took the eggs and brought
out some fancy egg cups that looked like chickens. Joe helped to set
the table and made toast while Elsie boiled the eggs. Sandra told
them she had eggs at Mama Polly’s, but the eggs were bigger. Joe
explained that these were smaller birds called bantams and so they
laid smaller eggs. Putting two cushions on the chair, Joe helped
Sandra up and placed a plate in front of her. He had carefully cut the
toast into fingers and sliced the top off the egg. Placing a finger of
toast in her hand, she needed no coaxing to dip the “soldier” into the
egg. Neither Joe nor Elsie ever remembered a breakfast they had
enjoyed more, and they did not realize it was now close to ten o’clock
and Sandra had been there for almost two hours.
“Oh my goodness, Joe, her mam must be worried sick wondering
where she is.”
“Somehow I doubt that,” Joe replied, without thinking.
Elsie looked at him questioningly, but decided that this was not
the time to voice her concerns.
“Come on, love. It’s time to go home. Your mummy and daddy
will be wondering where you are. Susan and I will walk you back
home.”
Sandra was in no hurry to leave, but throwing her arms around
Susan, she followed Elsie through the door.
When they neared number 44, Mattie was just opening the front
door. When they had got out of bed and noticed Sandra was missing,

Mattie had found the front door unlocked. “I bet she’s gone up the
street to see that dog she’s taken a liking to,” Mattie called to Alf at
the same time as she saw Elsie and Sandra hand in hand with Susan
at their heels.
“I hope you don’t mind, Mrs. Wetton, but Sandra came to see
Susan, and ended up staying for breakfast. We didn’t notice how the
time had flown past. I hope you weren’t worried.”
“No, I thought she might have gone to see your dog, as she’s
talked of nothing else all week. I hope she wasn’t a nuisance.” Mattie
took Sandra’s hand. “She misses Tony, her Mama Polly’s dog, but
we’re going to see him today, right?” she said to Sandra.
“She wasn’t a nuisance, and if you don’t mind, she can come to
visit Susan anytime. Joe and I quite like the company,” Elsie said as
she looked past Sandra into the bare front room. Mattie had obviously
taken great pains with her own appearance, as every hair was in
place and her dress was immaculate. Elsie felt a little drab in her
presence, as she was wearing a plain day dress and her naturally curly
hair had a mind of its own.
It’s funny that someone who looks so neat and proper does not take such
care of their home, Elsie thought to herself as she walked back up the
street to the warm and cozy home she shared with Joe.
“Come here, Sandra. Sit still for five minutes,” Mattie said impatiently,
as she struggled to get Sandra’s hair braided and ready to go
to Landrose. Mattie was proud of Sandra’s long shiny hair, and
always took great pains to see that it looked especially nice when she
was going to see Polly and Evan. She had dressed Sandra in a little
cream dress with pink rosebuds embroidered on it. It was one Belle
had bought from Rowell’s, and Mattie knew Belle would like to see
her wearing it. Mattie looked at her young daughter, who looked
party perfect, and she knew that after an hour at Landrose she would
be back to the dishevelled imp that was more the norm.
Polly and Evan were not looking forward to the visit, as they knew
that they had to say something about the previous night, but had no
idea how to broach the subject.
“When they get here, you take the men out to show them the new
barn, Evan, and I’ll try and get Mattie by herself so we can have a
talk. It will only cause trouble if you say anything.”
Belle and Alf were the first to arrive, and Darren left to fetch
Winnie. Dinner was all in the oven and the table was set. There was

still an hour or so before dinner, so Belle decided to go for a walk with
Tony and Sandra. “Come on, Mattie. It’s lovely outside, come with
us,” Belle tried to convince Mattie to go down to the bluebell wood
with them.
“You go ahead. I might come later,” Mattie responded. “We’ve
just walked all the way from Ripley.” Her feet were tired and she had
no intentions of walking any further. The walk from Ripley was a long
one, even taking the short cuts across the fields. Sandra walked as far
as her legs would carry her, and then Alf hoisted her onto his shoulders
and carried her the rest of the way. Sandra loved this, as from
her high perch she could see for miles, and she was always the first
one to see Crich Stand. It was a game that Alf always let his young
daughter win. Crich Stand was a monument to The Sherwood Foresters
who had been killed in World War One, and it stood high at
the top of Crich Hill, on their way to Wellington.
Polly seized the opportunity to talk to Mattie alone. “Evan and I
dropped you a couple bags of coal off last night, love. Where were
you?”
Mattie looked at Polly’s worried face, and knew she was in for a
lecture. It was not the first time Polly had voiced her concerns about
them leaving Sandra alone in the house. “We weren’t gone for long,
mam, and she was already asleep when we left and fast asleep when
we got back.” Mattie gave Polly a look that said “Keep out of this. It
is not your business.” But she said nothing, choosing to stop the
conversation where it was. Polly was not going to be stopped this
time, though.
“That’s what you think, my girl. She was crying her socks off
when Evan and I were there. It’s not right to leave her on her own.
She’s not yet five years old. If you and Alf can’t look after her, then
maybe Evan and I should keep her at Landrose where she is wanted.”
One look at Mattie’s face and Polly knew she had already said too
much.
“Does she look like she is not looked after?” Mattie snapped
back. “Have you ever seen her not looked after? It’s a different story
when she stays here: She looks like a ragamuffin when I pick her up.”
In truth, when she was at Landrose Sandra spent most of her time
outside, and Polly had long since given up trying to braid her unruly
hair. Playing in the field with Tony, she was often dirty and dishevelled
when Mattie and Alf came to pick her up. Polly bit her lip,

knowing Sandra loved the freedom of the open fields, and she had no
intention of restricting that freedom.
“A bit of good honest dirt never hurt anybody, Mattie. You seem
to forget how you played with the gypsies and came home blacker
than coal. It does hurt a child to be left alone in an empty house at
four years old!” She was afraid if she said more she would run the
risk of not having Sandra stay again.
Sandra ran ahead of Belle and burst through the door with an armful
of bluebells and cowslips. “Mama, for you,” Sandra said proudly
as she held out her bouquet.
Polly had to smile, despite her recent altercation with Mattie.
Belle was holding both of Sandra’s ribbons, and the braids were now
twirling freely around her shoulders. The cream dress was grass
stained where she had sat in the grass and made a daisy chain, which
Belle had made into a garland for Sandra’s hair. Polly had to admit
that Sandra looked happy and healthy. Maybe I am worrying too much
about nothing? Polly thought.
“Give them here, my pet. I’ll find a jug.” Polly looked at the window
ledge and thought of all the times it had been filled with glasses
and cups of all sizes when Sandra came to stay with them. What
would she ever do if those visits were stopped?
The family were all together at last and dinner was served. Alf
sensed Mattie was quieter than usual, and soon after dinner she was
eager to leave. Evan went to get the car to give them a ride home, as
he usually did, but Mattie politely refused his offer, saying they
would take the bus. One look at Polly told Evan not to argue, and so
the evening ended.
That night Polly and Evan lay awake in bed and discussed the
day’s events, but neither of them could see any resolution to their
worries about Sandra.
“All we can do is give her as much love as we can, and make sure
that when she is with us she knows how much we love her,” Evan
tried to console Polly. “Mattie and Alf are both good people, Polly.
They just aren’t that good at being parents. Everybody doesn’t have
a natural instinct, and maybe they will learn as they go along.”
“In the meantime that poor child is being left alone, and there is
nothing we can do about it?” Polly questioned. It was a question with
only one answer, for Polly knew as well as Evan that any interference
on their part would be met with hostility.

On the bus ride home, Sandra was already fast asleep on Alf’s
knee, having tired herself out with all the fresh air at Landrose. Alf
questioned Mattie as to the reason for her obvious bad mood. Mattie
could not tell him as she did not know herself. Was it her own nagging
conscience that disturbed her, or the fact that Polly had
criticized her parenting? Whichever it was, she knew she could not
tell Alf. He was the master of his own home, and for anyone to question
either him or his wife was unthinkable. Mattie did not want to
drive a wedge between Alf and her parents. She knew in her heart
that they only wanted the best for all of their children. They had
helped Mattie and Alf on many occasions when rationing was difficult.
Polly and Evan brought eggs and ham, and what they would do
without the coal, she did not know. Alf loved Polly, and he and Evan
got along well, but he sometimes thought they had far too much
influence over their children. He would have been furious to know
Polly had questioned what they did in their own home.
“It’s nothing, Alf. I just had a headache, and I thought the walk to
the bus stop would blow the cobwebs away.”
“And did it blow the cobwebs away?” Alf said as he wrapped his
free arm around Mattie. He knew that there was more to the story
than Mattie had admitted, but also knew that whatever it was, Mattie
was not going to tell him.
That night Mattie did not go straight to sleep, but lay awake
thinking of the words that had passed between her and her mother.
Am I really such a bad mother? she questioned herself. In her mind she
justified much by rationalizing that Sandra was always dressed in the
best clothes their meagre income could afford. She was never hungry,
and Mattie made sure she had a bath twice a week, and her hair was
washed every week. The fact that Sandra was left alone many nights
was something Mattie chose not to dwell on. “She is safe in bed, and
what harm can come to her?” She truly had no idea of the trauma
Sandra suffered on those nights.