Note: This story was created in 40 minutes in one of our writing sessions. The story is based on the following writing prompt – Tell the story of the men represented as statues in this photo:
All Good Things by Luke Ryan
My grandchildren were staring at the photograph. Their first question wasn’t asking who the men in the picture were but why the picture was black and white. They were most amused to find out that photos weren’t always colour and lo and behold not always digital. They were equally amused when I told them that televisions used to be black and white and one had to get up and manually change the channel on the television before the advent of remote controls.
They had settled down after a sumptuous Sunday dinner prepared by my wife who despite now being into her eighty-first year, still navigated the kitchen like a prima ballerina, concocting the most glorious of recipes which were positively sinful for the family’s waistlines but nobody minded!
My wife was slowly nodding off after her morning efforts in the kitchen, helped by the crackling fire burning in the living room. The children’s parents had taken the opportunity to get some Christmas shopping done and I got to spend a few wonderful hours with two of my favourite people in the world, Michael aged nine and Elizabeth aged seven, though they were always known as Mikey and Betty in this household.
Once the novelty of the photograph being in black and white had worn off, their attention turned to the five gentlemen in the picture and who they were. And that has always been one of my favourite stories to tell. The picture itself was taken in 1959 by my mother when the most recent statue was added to the line, that being the statue at the back, my father Thomas Senior, I being Thomas Junior, though commonly called Tom in the family.
My father had died a few months before the photo was taken and befitting a man who had the position that he had, his statue was added to the line. He died quite young, in his early sixties though he looked older but years of working in coal-powered factories put many extra years on a man’s face.
The door in the photo, I told them, was one of the few doors on the main street of our small town without a name above it yet it was one of the most well-known doors in the town. It was the working men’s club and it had been open since the industrial revolution, providing a social outlet for the men of the town. Of course we have always had a great community spirit and women had long been allowed in the club, with the exception of the public bar which was strictly men only, though by the time I took over from my father, there were only a handful of the fossils which still solely frequented the public bar.
There were a couple of other bars in the town when I was younger, often favoured by the younger folk and the small number of more upwardly mobile, affluent people who chose to live in our quieter town and commute to the city every day. But the working men’s club was always where the life of the town was on any given evening.
The man, second left in the photo, was my grandfather, your great-grandfather, I told them. He was also Thomas and was the second Thomas Senior, my father being the third Thomas Senior when he was promoted upon my birth. My grandfather Thomas Senior died in 1938, not long before I was born. In fact my mother was pregnant with me at the time of his death. You know what pregnant means you two? They both nodded.
The man in the middle was the original Thomas Senior, the first of a line of Thomases in our family. Therefore he was my great-grandfather. Your grandmother and I, we had two daughters so unfortunately that’s where the line of Thomases ended I’m afraid. You wouldn’t want a mother called Thomas would you and they both chuckled.
The original Thomas Senior died sometime we think in 1916. He fought in World War 1 and his body was never found. When they made the statue, they had to get descriptions of him from his family. That’s why he appears taller than the rest of them. From what I’ve heard, he wasn’t particularly tall but he had a loud, booming voice that would easily fill a room, probably fill the town from what some people say. Everybody said the voice made him about five inches taller. Maybe that’s why the sculptor did it, or maybe after he had been away, fighting in the war for almost eighteen months, people couldn’t quite remember what he looked like. There were very few photos back then, far more important things to spend money on at that time.
The man on the second right is my great-great grandfather, William, I’m not sure when he died but I think it was in the late nineteenth century. It’s hard to try and remember all the dates. I’ve got it written down somewhere but it doesn’t matter for now. And finally the man on the right was my great-great uncle, Edward. He was William’s older brother and the founder of the working men’s club. He had no children so it was decided that William would take over when Edward died.
The children were still curious why these five men were lined up in the picture. Those five men have all been the president of the working men’s club at some stage I told them, one after another from the start of the line to the end of the line. No matter what was happening in the town, in the country, in the world, you always knew that whoever was the president would make sure it opened its doors every evening at five and always make sure there was some beer and maybe a nip of something a bit stronger for the men and women who worked hard to keep this town going, raise their kids, put food on the table come rain or shine.
These were working men themselves but it was with great pride that they ran the club day after day, year after year. Even if it was something as simple as making sure there was a pack of cards or a set of dominoes available, they kept the place ticking over. And when they died, their contribution was acknowledged with a statue.
Of course the club closed down many years ago now. The mines closed, the factories closed and the town, well it felt as if it closed too. Of course it has picked up in recent years but people want coffee shops and internet cafes now, fancy wine bars and the like. Things change I guess and they have certainly changed a lot in my life time.
It’s shame now, those statues used to be cleaned and polished every week, now people use them to stick their chewing gum on or worse things which young ears don’t need to hear.
I was the last president of the working men’s club, I took over after my father died although I was still a young man back then, it had just always been part of my family. And it was with great regret that I had to close it some time ago. By then we couldn’t afford the rent to the council.
It’s a shame, as a boy I always looked upon the four men standing there with such pride as my father told me about them. I used to imagine that one day I would have my statue there and when my father’s statue was added in ’59, it gave me great comfort in my time of grieving that one day I would be standing behind him, upholding the tradition not just of our family, but of the town.
But I guess when I go, there won’t be many left around who will remember what those men stood for. So I’m telling you two in the hope that wherever you end up in life, that maybe one day you will bring your kids back to the town and you can tell them a little bit of your family history. But as the fire crackled away, Mikey and Betty had drifted off during the story and I decided that I too could do with a nap.