This story is one of those stories where you’re going to get to the end before I do, its one of those stories that everyone has heard in one form or another and to which no-one believes in any more, its just too obvious.
But my father swore that it actually happened this way and given the times and the rest of the apocryphal tales that he told of his own father, I believe him, in fact I’d be very disappointed if there wasn’t at least one tale like this to tell of my Grandfather Percy.
When my dad was still a young boy the family uprooted from Meanwood and went to live in “the country”, why I do not know for later they moved back to Meanwood again, maybe my Grandfather had dreams of living a smallholders life, raising a pig for the winter, some chickens, and growing all of the family’s vegetable needs until the end of time.
Or maybe he was on the run from creditors, I don’t really know.
Either way he bought a wooden bungalow in a village in the country called Colton and now all of the people who know Leeds are laughing and shouting at their computer screens that Colton is nowhere near “the country”, its a part of the conurbation of Leeds now – yes now its is, but in the early 1930s it was very definitely in “the country” and my fathers family became country people, I have a photograph of my father from somewhere around his 10th birthday leaning on a farm gate at the bottom of their garden, he looks for all the world a country bumpkin.
They had chickens for eggs, they had a pig which gave birth to one litter a year and the neighbours bought all but one piglet, for each family in the village raised their own pig through the year and had it slaughtered by a travelling butcher in the winter of the year, just in time for xmas, just in time to hang cured hams in cold dark cellars that would last right through to the spring if you weren’t too fussed about cutting the mould off to get to the good stuff underneath.
My dad had two sisters who were several years older than he, there should have been three but one of them died after some form of goitre suffocated her one night, according to him his elder sisters picked on him relentlessly and he had little do do with them throughout his childhood, well for most of his life actually unless a free meal was going, he always thought they were both a bit too stuck up for him – “stuck up” a phrase that could never be used to describe my father.
The three children were given a small gosling one spring, Peter they called it, a white goose, and they fed it daily, tried to play cricket with it, maybe dressed it in the sisters clothes, I’m making this bit up, you can tell can’t you, I’m padding this story out because you’ve already guessed whats going to happen to the goose haven’t you ?
What I don’t really understand is why Percy gave his kids a baby goose and told them they could keep it as a pet when all along he had it in mind for the christmas table, maybe he had a dislike of alive gooses, maybe he just couldn’t be arsed to feed it constantly and so got the kids to do it for him.
Get your hankies out now.
A few days before Christmas Peter went missing, the kids came home from school one day, went out to feed him, dress him, play cricket with him, etc – but he was nowhere to be found even though they searched everywhere, it was tears at bedtime every night in the lead up to Christmas day, where could their goose have gone, how could he run away from home at Christmas time, maybe he had been goose-napped ?
Still, in the excitement of Christmas morning the mislaid Peter was forgotten all about, presents to unwrap and play with and suchlike, until the bountiful Christmas dinner was ready, a table with the best once-a-year silver cutlery laid out, a decorated Yule Log, Christmas crackers and a table groaning under the weight of a hundredweight of garden vegetables.
And pride of place at the head of the table waiting for Percy to carve – a roast turkey.
And yet, it didn’t quite look like a turkey this year, but it was carved nonetheless and everyone got stuck in and afterwards all agreed that by far, that was the best Christmas turkey that anyone had ever tasted.
And all would have been fine if my Grandfather Percy had let it lie just there.
But he didn’t, either out of remorse or just sheer bloody evil-ness he blurted out the hard truth – they’d all just eaten Peter the Goose, he’d had him necked a few days ago and hung him in the shed out of the way of prying childrens eyes.
My dad said his sisters cried until the New Year.
And then years later, Arlo Guthrie wrote a song about it (You’ll need the excellent Spotify)…