I recently had the rather surreal experience of attending my daughters Graduation ceremony amidst the pomp and splendour of academia followed by a trip to my roots in North Yorkshire. The two events couldn’t have been more different.
Although I have spent two thirds of my life living away from the region where I was born and brought up, as my uncle reminded me, ‘you can take the person out of Yorkshire but you can’t take Yorkshire out of the person’. It’s years since I felt that as strongly as I did last weekend.
My family have regular reunions but I think this one will go down in the annals of family history as one of the best as it took place on the farm that has been in our family for several generations. Four generation were present with ages ranging from ninety one years to the newest member, a four week old baby. My cousins were the hosts and along with their families had put in so much effort to make for an interesting and very different experience for everyone present.
The day dawned with grey, leaden skies and rain but it did little to dampen our spirits. Everybody present contributed food and the family caught up over a delicious meal. A table covered with photographs, documents and letters had been set up illustrating the history of the family on this and various other farms we had connections with. Those old enough to remember reminisced, whilst those born more recently had the opportunity to compare the past with the present. Luckily the weather improved after lunch enabling us to enjoy the display my cousins had in store.
Walking to the stackyard memories of past visits resurfaced for many of those present. To children this working farm had appeared to be a vast adventure playground where they could climb stacks of straw or make dens, swing from ropes, and sit on machinery pretending they were old enough to drive. With imagination the bigger equipment became props in our games, taking the place of various craft, from pirate ships to stage coaches.
As I walked with one of my cousins I asked if they still had ‘The Old Lady’. This tractor holds a special place in the hearts of the family, being the first one the family bought as they made the transition from horse to engine power. It came from George VI’s estate at Sandringham and they had seen it advertised in a newspaper. I don’t know how they negotiated to buy it but my uncle went to collect it, driving it all the way to it’s new home. I was delighted to see it still has pride of place and today was attached to a threshing machine, the fore-runner of the modern combine harvester.
While one of my cousins fired the Old Lady up, the other gave a talk and they both demonstrated how the threshing machine worked and what back-breaking work it was. The corn was put into sixteen stone bags, raised on a sack barrow then carried up the granary steps on a farm labourer’s back. Four, four stone weights had been brought out so that people could get an idea of how hard this job was. I can just remember when threshing machines were in use and how labour intensive the operation was.
After the thrill of seeing these machines in action we walked to a field where several vehicles were lined up for our inspection, some from the present day and some from the past. Some of us were lucky enough not only to be given a short ride on the machines but to actually go for a drive.
As people began to drift back to the house for dessert, my cousin took a handful of people round the buildings where there are various machines being restored. I thanked him for all the effort he’d put in to make it such a great day, mentioning that all he needed to complete the collection was a grey Fergie tractor like my father’s. Little did I know he’d kept the best till last, ushering me to the side of a building where he proudly pointed out just such a tractor. Telling me to go and sit on it, he then pulled the final rabbit out of his hat by telling me it was indeed my dad’s old tractor and a vehicle I was so familiar with, in fact the vehicle I learnt to drive on.
Writing this I reflect that the day was so enjoyable because it brought back many happy memories not only of place but of people no longer here. As we age we are accused of looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles but I feel that last weekend my cousins created new memories for a younger generation to look back upon, whether or not they give them a rose-tinted wash.