Harold and Glady called at the farm each Sunday evening. Friends of my grandparents they would sit in the farmhouse sitting room and talk about the events and news of the week.
Glady’s name was presumably “Gladys,” but, if it was, it was never used. Names were not necessarily what you might have assumed. My grandmother was known by everyone as “Cis,” a name that apparently arose from her little brother’s inability to pronounce her name “Geraldine.” My Auntie Gus’s full name was “Augusta,” something I only discovered years after she had died. Glady’s full name might have been anything.
In memory, Glady wore a hairnet during her Sunday evening calls, but that might be a conflation of memories of Glady, Gus and Ena Sharples from Coronation Street. In memory, Glady is not very agile, but that cannot have been due to her age.
While Harold and Glady seemed very old to a small boy, they were of my grandparents’ generation, which means the Sunday evening visitors were not yet sixty, for I was twelve before my grandmother was sixty and thirteen before my grandfather reached his sixtieth birthday. It is odd to think that the couple I remember as elderly were younger than I am now.
Memories of Glady surfaced because I paused for a few minutes and sat on a wooden chair. Glady always liked a very firm chair upon which to sit. Perhaps she had orthopaedic problems, perhaps the desire for a hard chair was just a matter of personal preference.
Sitting upright on a firm seat could sometimes give the sitter an almost regal air. Auntie Gus would sit bolt upright in her sitting room, in the chair where she passed the days sat beside Uncle Jack. Jack had suffered severe hardship as a prisoner of war and as forced labour, in a coal mine during the First World War, and it would have been easy to have imagined reasons why he would have found a straight-backed chair to be more comfortable. It would not have been so easy to have explained why Gus chose such seating.
Perhaps straight-backs were cultural. Born before the Great War, Harold and Glady and Gus and Jack would have been shaped by the culture of their times. The body language of an upright stance suggests confidence and transparency and a willingness to conform with the rules.
Perhaps sitting straight-backed was a mark of respect to one’s host.
Perhaps Glady sat straight-backed because that was the way that chairs were.