Tony starts a new life in the Smith household
And so it was that I found myself squeezed into the Smith family house. Ma Smith fussed around me and made sure I was well fed with ham sandwiches and hot tea, and a sleeping bag was unrolled in the middle of the boys room for me.
Pa Smith was up before dawn to get on the boats, and soon the whole household was bustling with activity. “So, you’ll be needing some clean clothes to get to school in, I still have some of Billy’s that’ll fit you right enough until you get your own stuff,” Ma said as she served breakfast to us all.
I started to protest that I didn’t want to go to school anymore when a warning look from Ruby shut me up. You didn’t argue with Ma once she’d set her mind to something, that much was clear. So I reluctantly put on some hand-me-downs from Billy and set off to school.
Unsurprisingly, I was in deep trouble once I got there. There was a threat of expulsion, which I would have welcomed had it not been for Ma Smith’s clear indication that I needed to be at school or at work if I was to be staying in her house. I was given detention for the rest of the week, but the greater punishment was that I would not be allowed to continue with the rugby team.
When the weekend came, I went to see Uncle Jake, and he let me help him on the fish stall. I was keen to get some experience under my belt, and after a few weeks, I was able to run the fryers, serve the food, give people the right change, and carry on a conversation with them all at the some time. I was enjoying this part of my life, even if the school was deadly dull, and there never seemed to be enough time to be alone with Ruby. Jake wasn’t paying me for any of this, but he let me eat for free anytime I was in the area, and I was learning a lot about how the seaside stalls worked.
One busy Saturday evening Ruby came along to the stall with her friend Betty, who I’d not seen since the wedding. We got some of Jakes best fish and chips and started walking along the beach, just talking about life, school, and what it was like living away from the farm.
“I did want to talk to you about something in particular,” Betty said. “I don’t know if you heard, but I’m living full time with Dad now,” I told her I had heard, but not that the whole saga of Betty and her Mum and Dad had been raked over several times in the Smith household.
Betty went on, “Dad wants me to help with running the guest house when it’s done, and I’d really like that. It’d give me great experience when I come to running my own business. But he needs help with the building work, and he can’t afford to pay professionals, so it’s taking ages.”
“We were wondering if you wanted to lend him a hand in return for a bed and board. You must have only the rest of this term left at school, oh, unless you’re staying on for exams, of course.” She looked at me and I had to chuckle. “Nope,” I said “me and exams don’t really get along. I’m only at school now cos Ma Smith makes it clear I have to go.” I thought about it as we walked. I’d liked Morrie when we’d met, and the idea of having my own room again was indeed very appealing. I didn’t know the first thing about building work, but, I thought, how hard can it be?
“Betty, I think that’s a fantastic offer,” I told her. Then I paused. “But Ruby, would it be OK with you?” She smiled at me.
“She asked me first what I thought, and I told her it’s a splendid idea, and, at least, I’d have a friend there to let me know if you got up to anything!”
So it was agreed, and I moved the next day. It was a simple bare room, but Ma Smith made sure I had bedding, clean clothes, and even gave me a basket of food “in case you’re in need”. It seemed to me that she had a tear in her eye as she gave me the biggest hug ever, and I certainly had a lump in my throat as we parted.
“Now you be sure to look after yourself and keep in touch, OK?” She said as I turned to head out the door. “And don’t think you can skip off school just because you’re not here anymore, or you’ll have me to answer to.”