My mum was one of six children of Gran. Uncle Reg (Stacy) and Auntie Nina lived in West Horsely, in the Surrey countryside. To get there, we would go by train to Horsely Station, changing at Effingham Junction, and then walking about a mile along a lane where rather grand houses had driveways crossing over a little stream that ran parallel to the road.
Reg and Nina and cousins Joy and Nigel lived in a house called “Cherry Trees.” The big attraction was a swing in the back garden. The big game to play was jumping off the swing to see how far you got. Joy was really good at this, but my brother Eric was better (and I was not good at all – I could never get the timing right: When to let go of the swing at its highest forward arc and fly through the air. I went clunk!).
Uncle Reg was a diplomat. He became the permanent undersecretary to the Board of Trade and negotiated treaties with emerging nations after World War II. He was stern, especially while I was staying at Cherry Trees during one of my mother’s illnesses. I took off by bicycle to get to the South Coast without telling them where I was going. I did not get back until 1 a.m. the next morning, having cycled 130 miles at age 11 or 12 on a heavy upright bike with a fixed gear.
He was also a kind man, as in the poignant photo of him (in this column) with my younger brother and sister and his children walking along a country lane just after our mother died. This would be called “counseling” today. Then, it was just Uncle Reg, soothing the fears of some sad little kids. He bought me my first real book, David Copperfi eld. Auntie Nina schooled me in the proper comportment for a 17-year-old in preparing for our voyage to the New World aboard the Cunard Liner Caronia. Cousins Joy and Nigel are well, and I stayed with Joy (Cheery Trees was sold long ago) on my recent trip to England for Uncle Doug’s funeral.
Uncle Eddie (Stacy) and Auntie Gladys lived in Stowupland Suffolk but moved to Strawberry Hill near the River Thames near Richmond west of London. To get there, we traveled to Strawberry Hill station, which was very close to their flat near the level crossing and within sight of the railway lines. That was a thrilling place to visit. Uncle Eddie was a stockbroker and had done very well after humble beginnings. He and Uncle Doug had to go to an orphanage when my grandfather died and Gran could not afford to support six children at home. Auntie Gladys was a vivacious lady, and they were fun to visit. They were “modern.” They had one child, Cousin Neil, a few years younger than me. Neil Stacy is alive and well and is a noted actor in the UK, having appeared in numerous stage, screen and TV roles, including several Masterpiece Theater plays aired here. We were slightly envious of Neil, because Uncle Eddie spared no expense in getting Neil wonderful things: Stamps, coins, construction sets, train sets, models, etc. Neil is also a history scholar, and qualifies to live in rooms in one of the great National Trust Houses of England called Dyrham Park (shades of Downton Abbey without the Upstairs Toffs and Downstairs Servants). Actually, it has a mysterious upstairs. Lynn, Michael and I stayed with him, and he told us he’d put us on the fourth floor.
One of the creepiest things I’ve done was to venture out where dogs dared not to go into the halls of that great creaky mansion alone in the middle of the night!
I’m not going to get to all the Stacys in this episode, but Uncle Gordon and Auntie Elsie bear a paragraph. Uncle G. was the butt of jokes in this family. He did not get married until he was nearly 50 and lived in Gran’s upstairs at number 45 Walton Avenue, down the road from us. He was famous for two things: Putting his foot through Gran’s ceiling when he went up in the loft to unfreeze a frozen water pipe, and standing guard over a 2,000- pound unexploded bomb that landed in London. I wish I could find the picture of brave Uncle G in his Home Guard uniform and holding a rifle next to this towering bomb! He had a wonderful book, a leather-bound catalog of paintings that one could buy to decorate one’s house or mansion, I suppose. My brother and I pored over those colorful pictures that influenced my bro to go to art school and spend his life painting for pleasure and profit. I did not get beyond this. Auntie Elsie outlived Uncle G. and lived well into her 90s.
Tony Amos is a research fellow at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas and director of the ARK – Animal Rehabilitation Keep.