‘However tender your years, you knew better than to show any resentment to who footed the bill’ (26).
Sundays in Charlbury were for family time. They were the one day of the week that no one worked and Amy’s family could unite in familial comforts around the dinner table. Amy shows a sense of longing for her father’s presence in her younger years. The fact that he was only there on a Sunday seems to be a significant part of her life – so much so that Amy entitles a section of her memoir ‘Sunday at Home.’ Through reminiscing on memories of her dad, Amy expresses a sense of sadness. Her dad had to move to the ‘lodge’ to work as an ‘electrician or an engineer.’ The fact Amy does not quite know what job her father had indicates just how distant he was from the family because of work commitments.
Amy tells her reader, ‘We’ve started off with Sunday because it’s about time you got to know Dad. Sunday was the only day he was around. Although – yes – when we moved to the lodge, he was near enough to come home for breakfast when circumstances permitted. But we’d be off to school, weekdays, so still didn’t see him much’ (Gomm, 26). The sadness Amy felt over the absence of her father is clear but also she accepts his commitments to work as it was part of working class life. Despite the upset she undoubtedly felt at her father’s absence, she knew better than to show resentment regarding her father’s work. After all, it paid the bills. It was an accepted part of their family life.
Amy writes about attending Sunday school and having to sing hymns such as “All Things Bright and Beautiful” or “Onward Christian Soldiers.” The ritual of attending Sunday school was important to Amy as she knew after she would spend some time with her father, ‘Sunday school would be followed by the morning Church Service. Then home, with sharp appetites for Sunday dinner. This was the only meal we had when we all sat down together, and Dad’s Sunday off made it special’ (Gomm, 27). This is a rather poignant depiction of Amy’s family life as she focuses on the simplicity of a Sunday dinner with her father being a special and celebrated event.
Amid Amy’s appreciation for Sunday dinner with her father, chaos erupts within the family due to the large number of people. Amy uses the word “caddle” to describe the noise and chaos of everyone at the dinner table. Meriam Webster defines “caddle” as a confused mess or trouble – and either meaning recreates nostalgic childhood images of chaos at dinner time. Perhaps it was just the sheer excitement of having their father at the table that made the children so excitable. Nonetheless, Amy’s father was an authoritative figure and did not allow any “caddle” at the table, ‘Be quiet, everybody!’ Dad would thunder. Then with less force, ‘My only meal at home with them, and all this caddle, you can’t hear yourself think’ (Gomm, 27).
Amy indicates that her father was a man to be listened to but also by softening his tone it shows he is used to the behaviour every Sunday. It is like he wished they would stop but at the same it comforts him because that way he knows it is Sunday. Naturally, the silence that the father demands does not last as the children burst into “giggles” harmlessly disrupting the peace of dinner. Part of the “caddle” was the everyone wanted to speak to their father after not seeing him for a week. Amy writes, ‘so much to say…so little to say it all’ (Gomm, 27).
After dinner Amy’s parents would read newspapers and leave the children to entertain themselves until six o clock when visitors came round. Amy notes how the men would talk about politics or radical issues and the, ‘girls and women would be busy boiling kettles, cutting bread and butter, setting tea, indulging in women’s talk over their work.’ The sexism of this activity is something Amy does not point out as it would have been typical behaviour of the time. It was expected that women would not get involved in discussions regarding politics and the men would keep out of domestic tasks.
Although the majority of this section is devoted to Amy’s father, she briefly writes how she is impressed by her mother’s ability to entertain so many visitors. She tells us, ‘With our own crowd – nine, now – and visitors, there might be about twelve or fourteen to tea. How Mother managed is a mystery’ (Gomm, 30). Amy is overwhelmed by her mother’s ability to provide so many people with tea despite her father earning seventeen shillings a week. She writes how the food was not, ‘caviare, or smoked salmon, perhaps. Bread and butter (always butter on Sundays) and jam, and solid wedges of dough cake…’ (Gomm, 30). It did not matter to Amy or the visitors that it was not fancy food because butter seemed to be a more enjoyable treat. After tea the visitors would leave and Amy’s mother would clean up then send the children to bed – meaning another week before they saw their father again. Joanna Bourke writes that, ‘working-class housewives were overworked and exploited by patriarchy or capital’ (143). Through the changing of generations, this is something Amy came to terms with in her adulthood but as a child she was impressed by her mother’s devotion to domesticity.
The familial relationship that was enjoyed in the Gomm family is disrupted by the father turning to alcohol: ‘it was obvious that he was drinking more than was good for him. For the first time: we were a family divided’ (Gomm, 130). John Burnett writes that in autobiographies, ‘Part of the process of discovery of the real world is the ending of certainty and the onset of doubt, particularly about relationships which have never been questioned’ (Burnett, 1994, 10). This sums up Amy’s entrance into the adolescent world as she starts to question the behaviour of her father and note that it is not normal. Once in Amy’s life she looked forward to spending a Sunday full of “caddle” with her father but his alcoholism eventually ruined their relationship – a relationship which Amy would have never questioned in her childhood years.
Read Josh Emery’s Home and Family Post about William Wright here.
324 GOMM, Amy Frances, ‘Water Under the Bridge’, TS, pp.163 (c.55,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Bourke, Joanna. Housewifery in Working-Class England 1860-1914. Oxford University Press, 1994.
Burnett, John ed. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the1820s to the 1920s.London: Alan Lane, 1982
Children at Sunday School:
Family Dinner During the 20th Century: