I HAVE HAD A GOOD TIME ALL MY LIFE . .
By ALFRED GROSCH
WHEN my father observed to me on one occasion in his sixties: "If I were to 'die to-night, I could have nothing to regret. I've had a good time all my life! " I wondered, for I imagined at the time that I
knew my father pretty well, and having my own ideas then as to what constituted a good time, it occurred to me that if what he said were true, he was very easily satisfied.
1 couldn't recall any particular high-lights in his life worth boasting about. He'd run his own business in Kentish Town with varying success over a period of 30 years and was then still running it. He'd brought lip in some style a family of two girls and three boys. Of those three boys, however—I. the eldest -had given him no end of trouble. Indeed. any modern boy who got into one half the mischief I achieved would soon find himself in an Approved School. There were no such schools or juvenile courts in my ynung days and the discipline my father relied upon was a particularly muscular arm and a long pliant cane. I gave him ample opportunity to exercise both, but it couldn't have been pleasant, for he was no sadist. I think, as a matter of fact, it gave him much anxiety. Apart from the trials of a troublesome boy there were, however, plenty of other setbacks and worries that must have given him many a headache. Trade was at times very had. Sometimes in later years I knew him to be hard put to it to pay his way. Once a bosom friend quarrelled with him and instituted a lawsuit v,hich went against my father. My mother, who. of course, was his right hand in the running of the shop, had a long. expensive and serious illness when I was about 23, and my father had to run the business practically on his own. In later years both my parents were unhappy. My elder sister— almost blind and very deaf—was a burden on his shoulders from the day of her birth until the day of his death over 50 sears later. To crown his troubles he knocked his leg in the shop one day and as a consequence suffered from a running sore for a good many years; and yet this was the man who declared in his sixties that he'd had a good time all his life.
OF what this good time consisted I could not possibly imagine, though I often tried to work it out from the few pleasures in which 1 knew him to indulge himself. In our very young days there were parties at which the older folk drank Irish hot, and the men smoked cheap black cigars. There used to be songs and games into which my father entered with great zest.
As we grew up, however, these parties died out and, further, shopkeeping was not exactly conducive to them for, whatever was going on upstairs, someone had to be downstairs to attend to the customers, The hours in the shop were very long. 14 on weekdays and 16 on Saturdays, with no half-day early closing. Occasionally my father would take a day off, run down to the sea with one or all of us children. or spend a day with a friend cycling in the country. I recall one occasion when he took my two sisters and me to the sea for a day. He endured agonies from toothache the whole time, but to please us he caught a late train home when he might well have caught an earlier one.
He liked an occasional visit to a music-hall, for which he had a pass. later he used to visit the cinema on the same terms and invariably he called in some pub for a whiskey on his way home, which was about his one extravagance, except perhaps a good cigar when he could get one.
A s I have said, hed run a business for over 30 years. It had maintained him, my mother and their five children and, to end his tale of woes, not one of us showed any promise in any direction as an offset to the fortune he had not made out of his business.
.Now there are not many people, I imagine. who would be of my
father's opinion that he had had a good time all his life. There weren't any good times that 1 could see, not then. at least; but have now reached the age my father was when he made that astonishing statement and find on looking back that my views to-day are very different from those l held then. Indeed, considering the matter with due care and reflection, and in all its aspects. I find myself to my own astonishment echoing my father's words to the very letter: " Were I to die to-night 1 could find nothing to complain about,'' for I, too, have had what might be truthfully described as " a good time " all my life. Having made the statement, I look back over the years and almost at once am forced to confess that I can find as few high-lights, or what the world would call " highlights," in me own life as I was ever able to And in my lather's. Like him 1 have lived a life of toil that for the earlier and greater part was never very highly paid. married early and all too soon had a little family to maintain. The first World War swept me away THE AUTHOR. Mr. Grosch, an occasional contributor to " The Catholic Herald," died a few months ago. Ile look to writing sta a profession after III health had obliged him to leave the Police
from my wife and children for four long, dreary years, one of which I spent in a dreadful prisoner-of-war camp.
A[FR my return home I joined the police, but four years later recurring war injuries turned me out, and for a whole year I was not only without work but quite unfit to do any.
For the next 17 years, however, 1 held down a quiet little job, not a big wage, but just enough to keep us reasonably. There were few luxuries, an occasional visit to the cinema, and a week by the sea once a year from which we invariably returned broke to the wide,
Then came the second World War to take not only my son but my daughters as well. This was a great blow. MY health gave way in 1942 and I had to give up my lob, leave my house and go and live in flee country. For five years my wife and lived in a semi-ruined cottage with. out light, water. gas or sanitation, but at a rent of 5s, per week all-in. Then we came back to town and lived in lodgings at 50s. a week for two rooms.
Well. I can hear the comments: " Where were the high-lights anyway, and the good times? ' To be perfectly frank there weren't any in the accepted sense of the word. They just didn't exist. But a good time is not so much a physical as a mental condition. There are plenty of people who do nothing but have what the world calls " a good time," but would they admit it? Are they happy? A good time does not consist of round after round of gaiety and physical excitement; in fact, that sort of existence palls quicker than any other. It is extremely wearing and leaves those who indulge in it empty of everything but weariness of soul and body.
In the wars
UNBELIEVABLE as it may seem, I enjoyed my four years of soldiering in the first World War. I wouldn't have missed it for a fortune. To have taken part in a World War, in great battles. to have endured captivity, to have served my country and survived to return to it and to my wife and children—I count it something to have done that.
Like Henry V's veteran on Crispin's Eve I can roll up my sleeve—metaphorically speaking— arid say: "I got this on March 21, 1918. fighting with Gough's famous Fifth Army ", which with 14 divisions against 40 broke the back of Ludendorfs Big Push. and paved the way for victory in the November of that same year.
But, of course, my attitude to war in my sixties is very different from what it was 35 years earlier. We have discovered from bitter experience that war nowadays has nothing to commend it. It never did have much, but two World Wars have left us no illusions on the subject.
IHAVE always been a writer of sorts, scribbling almost from my schooldays. When I found that I was turned out of the police a very sick man, with no hope of working even if I had work, and with a wife and three little children to support. 1 decided that I would forthwith begin to write in earnest lest I might not be able to work any more.
Five years went by before. 1 earned a penny, but I kept at it. You need to cultivate patience when you become a writer; meanwhile, I worked at my quiet little job.
Five years more went by during which I built up something of a reputation as a writer though, alas, much of the work I did was unpaid. Yet at 50 I was on top of the world, doing what 1 wanted to do and thoroughly enjoying it. I saw my name three times above short stories in leading London news. papers.
But hist as I was getting into my stride. the second World War came along. The bottom dropped out of the free-lance writer's market almost in a night. There was no money in it any more.
Nearly 10 years earlier I had begun to write a hook. my own life story. I had little hope of ever selling or publishing it. hut I wanted to write it for it gave me a certain pleasure to do so, and I went on writing it. My wife and I went to our crooked cottage and lived in paradise. We found peace. tranquillity. freedom from worry. and all the beauty of English pastoral scenery to cheer and charm us.
The war ended. I found a publisher to accept my hook. Our children came hack from the war— my son unharmed from a bomber's crew, my daughter from the A.T.S. to begin her home life and my son-indaw from the Eighth Army to begin his. Now they are repeating the pattern of family life which we in our day repeated after the pattern set by our parents, and their parents before them.
Ask a little..
T LOOK back over the picture I have painted and in it see quite clearly what it was that made my father's life a grand one to him. Not the high-lights, or what the world calls " high-lights." hut the simple things of life that lead to the cultivation of a quiet heart and mind. The little things that mean so much to a man whose life inevitably must be made up of toil for a living with love, courtship, marriage, home and children. a decent job. a little leisure and a hobby to fill it; freedom to worship as he will. a better chance for his children than he had himself and. finally, a little nest-egg to keep him and his wife from want in age. No man gains all, but most hope to. and if they manage hut a few things they are satisfied. The average man really asks very little and considers he has had a good time if he wins hut a fraction more than he asks. Therefore 1 know now what my father meant when he said he'd had a good time, for my own experience has shown me that he meant exactly what I mean and what every man means whose sense of proportion has not been distorted by false values. It is to he able to look back upon one's days with gratitude to God for the good days—and all days are good when a man's wants are within the compass of his own power to satisfy them.