A Street in Rye

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In the years between the Wars, those golden years, each August my family would visit my grandmother in Rye; a little town on the south coast of England.

Both her and my grandfather had always lived by the sea. My grandfather, Good Old Charlie (as he was known) had spent his life working at Rye railway station.

Together they had brought up five children. One, my uncle Bertie, never returned from the Somme. There were many families like that in Rye, and in a thousand other places, I’m sure.

My grandmother always smelt of roses, and every time I passed a garden and closed my eyes, I found myself back there, sitting on her knee, feeling safer than I had ever done, or ever would.

That was the perfect time in my life.

On the Sunday morning, we would walk to church, which was up a steep path, and on our return my grandmother would bring out a cake stand, and sitting on top would be the most delicious cake anyone had ever tasted.

On the Sunday afternoon me and my grandmother would walk up Mermaid Street and gaze at all the houses. To me it was the most beautiful street in the world – probably still is.

My grandmother would take my hand and I would ask her all sorts of questions.

“Do you think Heaven will look like Mermaid Street, Grandma?” I asked.

She squeezed my hand tighter and said that Heaven was more beautiful than that, but that Mermaid Street probably looked like the path up to the gates.

When we got to the top of Mermaid Street, I always looked for the gates, but could never find them.

After the second World War, I met my husband and we got married. Every weekend, when we could, we would take a trip to Rye and we would both walk up Mermaid Street. I told my husband about my grandmother and her story about Heaven. My grandmother had left us a few years back, and had walked up Mermaid Street one final time.

One day in June, in 1953, a few months before my daughter was born, my husband took me to Rye and we wandered up the street that leads to Heaven. When we got near the top, he presented me with a set of keys. It was to be ours, a house for the family. A house at the top of Mermaid Street.

One near my grandmother, and one near the gates.

bobby stevenson 2017

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