by Sue Seaman
My Dad was born Frederick Arthur Herbert, in the August of 1927. His mum was English and his Dad, German. He had a brother James who was three years older and they lived in part of London called Hoxton on a street called – would you believe it? - Herbert Street!
All who knew my dad knew him as Fred, although his own mum and dad often called him Freddie. My dad told me that his mum and dad were quite hard on him and James and he used to get a clip round the ear just for being cheeky – let alone actually being naughty. Fred and James would often stand outside the local pub in thin clothes whilst his mum and dad were inside drinking beer. I once saw a photo of my dad as a boy with a big grin on his face. He was thought to have ‘ruined’ the picture because one of his long socks had worked its way down to the ankle and standing with his foot twisted. He had spoilt the picture so he got a clip round the ear for that. So you can get a picture of what he was like and what his parents were like towards him.
The war came and my dad and his brother James were separated and evacuated to different parts of the country. My dad was one of the more fortunate kids who were evacuated to a nice part of England - Newquay in Cornwall. He stayed with a nice couple who lived on a farm. (Many years later, when I was a little girl, mum and dad took me on holiday to see the same couple who looked after my dad when he was a boy.)
Anyway, as a young boy he enjoyed every minute of his stay in Newquay - it was nice and quiet away from the sounds of bombs falling on London. He was certainly fed extremely well with fresh milk from the cow, cream, beef, chicken and lots of good home cooking including apple pie made from the farms own apples. As you can imagine, he enjoyed his stay there - quite a different way of life to what he had been used to.
When my dad was 16 he enrolled in the Royal Navy and sailed all over the world, docking at ports all around the Mediterranean. When on leave he would make his way home to visit his family. By now he had a younger brother, Ted and a sister, Joyce. Joyce would always look forward to his return, as he would bring her gifts back from his many trips. He travelled extensively: Egypt, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Malta, Cyprus and Greece to name a few and he thoroughly enjoyed that way of life.
One time, the Navy docked at Mevagissey in Cornwall. When the sailors came ashore they found that there was a film crew on the quay about to make a film about the conflict between French and English fisherman all fishing in the same part of the sea. The film was called Johnny Frenchman and starred a famous actress during that time called Patricia Roc. The film crew needed some extras to play the part of French sailors dancing on the quayside. My dad and his pals were hired to play the parts and I remember my dad saying to me that he was paid a few ‘quid’ for his part in it.
He only features in the film for a couple of minutes but I still have that film on video tape to remind me of him, which is wonderful.
My dad always liked to meet up with his old friends from school days and would arrange to meet them whenever he came home on leave. They would usually meet at a local club. One of his closest friends was Alf (known to all his friends as Nobby.) My dad had known Nobby and his young lady Connie, since they were all 4 years old living and playing together in Herbert Street.
One day my dad was going to meet up with Nobby and Connie for a drink and to talk over old times. My mum - Gladys worked with Connie as a machinist making dressing gowns at a local factory called Cohen’s. It was Connie who asked my mum if she would like to meet her naval friend, Fred. As Connie was dating Nobby my mum agreed to go along with her. Connie had told my mum a lot about Fred.
My dad had by this time come out of the Royal Navy and had enlisted in the Australian Navy staying with some nice people when he was on leave out there. (I can’t remember which part of Australia as he docked at so many places.)
In the January of 1955 I was born - followed my brother John in 1957 and my younger brother James in 1959. We had to move house several times due to our growing family. One of my earliest memories was when I was two years old, looking out from the balcony of our little flat and waiting for my dad to come home from work. As soon as I saw him coming along the road I would call out to him “Hello Handsome!” That always made my dad smile, and seeing me he knew that he was loved by his little girl.
My dad was a loving and caring man and also a very strong person. He would face many trials in life with my mum, mostly in respect of their children’s health.
It just doesn’t seem ‘fair’ that such caring people like my mum and dad should have had so much to cope with - and so much heartache but that they coped remarkably well. Both my mum and my dad believed in God, and it was Him they trusted in - especially my mum. From a very early age my mum and dad encouraged me to pray each night. And although as a young child my prayers were probably repetitive, I do remember them saying “Don’t forget to say your prayers.”
My dad had gone to Sunday school as a boy and my mum had always believed in the Lord of heaven. Sadly she was the only one of her brothers and sisters to feel that way. My mum’s faith helped her with what the future would bring. My dad survived typhoid at the age of seven. He was put in an oxygen tent where he would stay for several weeks. He almost died but you could say, the Lord had other plans.
When I was seven years old - the epilepsy stopped. There was now no need for me to have medicine. Mum and dad were so pleased when that happened. The pressure of three sick children was now down to two. John was now 5 years old and was placed into a long-term hospital in a place called South Ockendon. He would spend many years there with mum and dad picking him up once a week and bringing him home for the weekend. We would all jump in the car to take him back on the Sunday evening.
By now, my youngest brother James was at nursery school. Then at the age of 5 years old he to was sent away to boarding school where there were other children with learning difficulties and epilepsy. It was a Catholic school known as St.Elizabeth’s in a place called Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. Although as a Catholic school much of the ceremonies were very ‘religious’ James would take part in and through God’s grace my brother James, even with his learning problems, invited Jesus into his heart and life. I can tell you, we certainly saw some wonderful changes that God made in James’ life.
We saw his behaviour change from very naughty to very good and his attitude from being very rude to being very polite. We all noticed the change when he came home once a fortnight. But of course, this now meant that once a fortnight we would have to do a double journey – taking James back in the Sunday afternoon and then taking my brother John back to the hospital in the Sunday evening. It was rather trying for my parents and upsetting to have to do that.
But with John and James both away during the week I experienced being like an only child again. And I can tell you - I enjoyed it immensely! Mum and dad would spoil me rotten. They were so much more at peace as a lot of the problems, although still there, were eased because they didn’t have the burden of caring for my brothers full time anymore - now they were mainly concerned for my well-being.
They learned from my teacher at the school open evening that I was struggling with sums, reading and spelling. My mum encouraged me to do errands for her and dad also enrolled me into the library. I was 10 years old and well behind the other kids in my year and with only one year to go before senior school - I needed help. I had to have special reading lessons, which made me embarrassed and had to start from the beginning with ‘Janet and John’ books which other kids had read in the infants school whilst the others were all reading the ‘Wide Range Reader’ books.
My brother James had to leave St.Elizabeth’s school when he reached the age of 11. All the boys left at that age as the Nuns were not able to cope so well with the changes which boys went through at that age. The girls could stay until they were 16.
So mum and dad made provision for James to attend another school for problem kids, just up the road, that had not long been open - it was called Dycorts.
My teenage years were hard for me, and I caused my parents problems too - like any teenager does. I started going out and about with a boy called Bill, from London. One time he came down to see me and Mum and Dad didn’t like him from the moment they saw him. He was a ‘skinhead’ and they were really shocked when they saw him. Needless to say, my parents were not very keen and after about five months, and with their advice it all came to an end.
But my parents were going to be in for a further shock, when at the age of eighteen I brought Malc home for the first time. Here was a young fellow who looked more like twenty one then eighteen. Malc had long, black hair to down below his shoulders and was very good looking. He used to wear a long black raincoat (which was all the fashion then.) Standing in my mum’s kitchen my dad and mum were so surprised to think I had brought home what they probably thought was a ‘hippy’ home.
But I had fallen in love with this fellow and mum and dad would have to accept the one I chosen. They did notice however, that Malc had brought me ‘out of my shell.’ I was shy in front of most people (although when I did speak I was usually a bit abrupt with people. Well, it came as no surprise to my parents when one Saturday afternoon, Malc got my dad alone in the front room and asked him for my hand in marriage. My dad was immensely pleased that Malc had asked him in the old fashioned way.
Malc showed my mum and dad that he would make a good husband for me, by helping them with many things that needed doing indoors. My mum hated the old fire surround that had been there since the house (an old council property) had been built back in the 1950s. She said she would like a nice pine fire surround like the one she had seen in Malc’s older brother’s house when she had visited my future sister in law, Penny. So Malc said he would build her one!
So one day he started knocking down the fireplace. If you could have seen the look on my dad’s face. Absolute shock and horror as black dust started to fall down on to the carpet and surround my dad sitting in his favourite armchair - the expression on his face that said “I do hope you know what you are doing.” Malc assured my dad that he did and after a couple of weeks the knotty pine panelling went up and it looked lovely. My mum was over the moon and my dad was very relieved.
Wedding plans were made and in may 1975 I walked down the aisle with my happy dad beside me. Mum and Dad said that they couldn’t have wished for a better son-in-law then they had in Malc. I do believe our marriage was made in heaven as the Lord had plans for us in later years.
Our wedding day wasn’t perfect - in fact, the photographer turned up late, it was a cloudy and overcast day and then later it rained just missing us as we went to the reception. Then our car, which was to take us on our honeymoon wouldn’t start, so two of my cousins - George and Stephen (dressed in there nice new suits), helped out by getting under the car and fiddling about with it and got it started.
We quickly settled down in our little old house and made it comfortable. We had our first child there - our daughter, Emma. We moved house in preparation for our next child which was a boy, Matthew. But by the age of two we realised he wasn’t doing the things most two-year-olds were doing. He wasn’t developing like normal children with his speech and so on. At first we just thought he was a slow developer until he was diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis and we realised that he also had learning difficulties.
By the time the situation with Matthew became clear it was 1981 and we had another son, Darryl who was 6 months old. My mum and dad were so upset to think that we now were facing the same problems that they had to face when my brothers and I were growing up. The doctors advised us that it would be wise not to have any more children because of the risk of others being affected by the same thing and we reluctantly took their advice. This was another shock for us and for my parents, but after the initial shock my mum and dad realised that maybe it was the best thing. Beside I did have three children and that now seemed enough.
My parents doted on our children. For them they would be their only grandchildren. Malc’s mum and dad were already grandparents to 14 so it was not quite the same for them although they also loved our children to bits.
In 1982 my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had been a heavy smoker. He went into hospital for surgery and only afterwards did my mum confide in me of the experience that my dad had. And what an experience!
Whilst lying on the operating, table he saw the what he could only describe as the pearly gates of heaven (these are spoken about in the Bible – in the book of Revelation) and he was told that his time was not yet, and that he had to go back.
For a while it seemed that my dad had made a full recovery but typical of cancer, it was to show up again two years later, this time in his stomach. The minister from the local Baptist church came round to see my dad as he knew my mum very well as she attended his church regularly. He befriended my dad and my mum would say that my dad and the minister got on so well they were like old friends. My mum wasn’t always in on their conversations so she did not know all that they talked about, but realised most likely they were spiritual conversations. The minister was preparing my dad for the inevitable. For six months he regularly visited my dad and in the August of 1984 my dad died.
On the day of my dad’s funeral I remember thinking about death - wondering if my dad was in heaven and then believing he was. I remembered what had happened to my dad two years before, whilst he was on the operating table and with this comforting thought I took encouragement - that he was in heaven. Although today I don’t know if he made a confession of faith during those six months leading up to his death, my mum said that he died peacefully.
I remember that it was such a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky. Malc was out in my mum’s back garden. He told me that he was reflecting on my dad and how it was him that had got Malc interested in Cricket. And alone in the garden Malc shed some silent tears. From my mum’s front room window there seemed to be other colours that reflected in the sunshine, like a rainbow. But there couldn’t be a rainbow as the sky was blue with no sign of rain. Years later after coming to know the Lord myself, I have never forgotten that day. I believe that the Lord was showing me “Don’t worry - your dad is here with me.”
The children missed their grandad terribly although Darryl was too young to really remember him. So, now one gone but still had their Nan.
My mum coped reasonably well but she still had concerns with regard to the welfare of my brothers and she would often wonder what would happen to them without her. She now had to make the trip alone to visit my brother John although by then he had been moved to a little bungalow in Harold Wood a little closer to my mum.
Then the Lord intervened in her situation and a young Christian man by the name of Mark was sent along to help my mum. Mark was happy to take my mum to visit John whenever she liked. The Lord looks after those who are His in every way. Mark was a blessing from God.
Malc and I became Christians in 1985 and were baptised in the November of that year. Mark became a friend of ours too and he brought Malc’s mum and my mum along to our baptism service. Malc’s mum was truly touched by the service. Several years later, in 1993 and on her death-bed she gave her heart and life to Jesus.
In the previous year, 1992, my mum was diagnosed with cancer of the colon and went into hospital for surgery. She recovered although not completely. But being the type of woman she was, she was not going to give in easily - she had a lot to live for.
It came as a complete shock, when in 1994, we were told that my mum had a tumour on the brain and her chances of surviving surgery were only 50/50. I was really ‘put on the spot’ but agreed that they should go ahead with the operation and signed the papers. Afterwards, seeing my mum all wired up with drips etc it didn’t seem very hopeful but I kept praying and asking the Lord to heal her and not to take her home.
I suppose I was being selfish - not wanting to take on the extra responsibility with regard to my two brothers. But I had no need to worry, as the Lord would take charge of the situation. He provided a woman who lived around the corner from my mum’s house to take care of James’ cooking, cleaning and his washing. As far as I am aware she still does. Sadly I haven’t heard from my brother for many years, (despite my attempts to contact him) but I know that he is OK.
As I said, I didn’t want my mum to die. I couldn’t bear seeing her like that but the Lord spoke to me and said "Your mum has been through enough - let her go." He wanted to take her home.
Although Malc and I have troubles to face with regard to our family we know that the Lord will not fail us. Malc and I have very fond memories of our parents. Malc’s mum died in 1993, his dad in 1995 so we had three successive years of losing one of our parents. We have many trials and tribulations ahead of us but it is so much easier to cope with troubles when we have Jesus then coping without Him.
At my mum’s funeral we quoted the following scripture:
I pray that if after reading my story you may feel that you would like to come to know Jesus as your Saviour. Here is a prayer you could use to do just that: