Jo was happy in her job and very much enjoyed sharing her brother and sister-in-law’s house. She particularly felt privileged to have played a role in young Simon’s early years. Now that Charles and Penny were expecting their second child and she had almost completed her second year at Houghton Conquest she felt ready to move on. She had been travelling home to Lincoln ever more frequently over the past year as her relationship with Julius had intensified. Their first date had been on the evening before Charles and Penny’s nuptials. Jo had remained secretive about her growing commitment. She wasn’t sure how her family and friends would receive Julius. Not that she thought that any of them were racist in their beliefs, more that they all lived in predominantly white middle class communities.
Julius’s parents had travelled from Jamaica to England seeking work in the early 1960’s. Julius and his brother and two sisters had been born in North London at two-year intervals, Julius the youngest in 1950. The Johnson family had moved out of London seeking a better life when Julius was four years old. They had settled in Nottingham where the children all attended school and with their parent’s encouragement did well, particularly Julius who had passed all his exams with high marks and gone on to train as a teacher.
Jo had first encountered him when he was a first year student at Lincoln College and she had been in her last year at high school. She had spent a day at the college attending lectures to see if she liked the idea of teacher training. Julius had been detailed to look after her for the day. They had both liked each other immediately, she because he was so intent on making her day interesting and informative; nothing was too much trouble. He was drawn to her because she was naturally curious and interested in everything and wasn’t at all awkward around him. She asked him about his family and how he came to be in Lincoln. He liked this about her and found it refreshing, most people pretended not to notice he was black which seemed to him like ignoring the elephant in the room, though he understood it was mostly through ignorance or embarrassment.
Jo had written a letter to Julius thanking him for his kindness to her during her visit. He had replied which had led them to correspond quite frequently. Jo sent him long letters about her experiences at Bedford College during her first year; it was these letters that had given him the confidence to ask her to go out with him for a drink when next she was at home. Thrilled Jo had responded affirmatively and they had been seeing each other ever since. At first she had seen him during weekends with her parents. They never thought to question their daughter going out with friends every Saturday night that she was home.
As she and Julius grew more serious about each other she had found it easy in practice to deceive her family. When she went to Lincoln Charles automatically thought she was staying with their parents, when she wasn’t at home her parent’s thought she was with Charles and Penny. Unfortunately for Jo her conscience wasn’t so easily manipulated. If their relationship was to blossom it was time that they let their respective families know. The longer they left it the harder it would become.
Julius had just received a promotion. He had been asked to become head of the fifth year at the secondary school where he had taught since graduating. He had suggested to Jo that they may live together, or if she preferred they could marry. He couldn’t imagine life without her he had added seriously.
‘If you could get a job back here it would help us to get started’ he said ‘but we could manage now on my income.’ He would love to take care of Jo and for them to have lots of babies together. They would make beautiful babies with the mixture of their colouring, her blonde with his black he thought fondly.
Jo and Julius planned the family introductions to take place on the same weekend. Charles and Penny were spending a rare weekend with Jo’s parents in Lincoln so she contrived to arrange to bring her ‘boyfriend’ home to meet them all on the Saturday evening. She was to go with Julius to meet his family the following day at lunchtime. They were both very apprehensive about the introductions though keeping up pretence with each other that the introductions would be merely a routine.
Jane was surprised and rather hurt that she knew nothing of this boy that Jo was seeing. Her daughter was normally very open with her mother. The evening arrived and Jo steeled herself for the meeting. She knew that she had been deceitful and she was ashamed of it. What she was not ashamed of was her lovely Julius she would be really hurt if her family didn’t take to him. She needn’t have worried. In fact retrospectively she felt rather ashamed of doubting her family.
Jo and Julius walked from his flat up the hill to the Cathedral Close, arriving at the house in plenty of time for the evening meal. Jo took Julius straight to the kitchen, where she knew that most of the family would be congregated around the huge kitchen table. All of them made Julius feel welcome and the natural curiosity that they felt about Jo’s mysterious ‘boyfriend’ was measured; sensitively dispersed within a melee of other conversations as they caught up with each other’s news and discussed future plans.
Penny easily broached the subject of Julius’s culture as she had travelled quite widely visiting several of her father’s postings. She was quite disappointed to learn that Julius had never been to Jamaica, as she had loved the Latin American countries that she had visited. The conversation once started elicited all the information needed about Julius’s roots, his family and their immigration to England with hopes and aspirations for family’s betterment. Julius told of his education and his career in teaching, interrupted several times by a proud and supportive Jo.
Julius, keen to remove the spotlight from him, asked Penny and Charles about the new arrival, its imminence being obvious to all. Everyone fussed over Simon when he appeared bathed and in his pyjamas for a bedtime story and a goodnight kiss before being carted off to bed, protesting mildly. Jane had cleverly decided to serve dinner in the kitchen as she thought it would be less intimidating for a stranger in the midst of such a large clan. Jo appreciated her mother’s sensitivity and busied around to help get the table laid and the food served. Observing Julius chatting animatedly with Penny and then also with Charles, as he returned from tucking Simon into bed, Jo was able to relax and enjoy herself.
The couple left the close at the end of a very successful evening and walked hand in hand back through the darkened streets of Lincoln. The tall black man and the petite blonde woman attracted occasional hostile glances, as they had experienced occasionally in the past, from some late night revellers. Jo shrugged her shoulders inwardly knowing that other’s prejudices were a fact of her life from now on. Julius flinched from the hurt that such ignorance inflicted on both of them. As they walked they discussed the evening that they had spent with Jo’s family. Julius had liked them all and had felt welcome he said. Inwardly he was hoping that Jo would get such a good welcome from his own family.
The following morning Jo drove them both over to Nottingham to meet the Johnson clan. Julius was deep in thought about his family and their possible reactions to Jo. His parents he thought would be polite and kind but would have reservations about a white girl in the family. His brother Arnie and sister Jamie would probably be fine. It was his sister Angelique that he had doubts about. She had had an unfortunate racially motivated incident with some white boys in her teens. Though unhurt, the experience had left her with a bitter attitude towards whites and she avoided making friends with any that she came into contact with, sometimes causing hurt feelings. He wondered now if he should warn Jo or if he could give Angelique the benefit of the doubt. He, different from Jo, had taken the precaution of pre-warning his family.
Unlike Jo’s mother, Lydia, Julius’s mother, had laid the table in the virtually unused, at least for dining, dining room of their Victorian semi. She had also mistakenly chosen to cook a Sunday roast when she would have been much more comfortable with the traditional Caribbean dishes she normally cooked. Consequently she was hot and harassed when her son arrived with his new white girlfriend. Julius’s father, Winston, was more prepared and with the easy charm that his son had inherited he greeted Jo with friendliness as he shook hands with his son and patted him on the back.
They sat in the front room trying not to listen to raised voices from the kitchen where Lydia was scolding Jamie and Angel to help her or go and talk to their brother. Winston made small talk with his son and Jo, wishing that they were in the kitchen enjoying a beer. Arnie eventually made an appearance and nodded at Jo, in a friendly manner as he greeted his brother.
‘Anyone for a beer?’ he asked, wandering toward the kitchen,
‘Yeah, great thanks Arnie’ smiled Julius, thankful for the idea, ‘Jo? Dad, a beer for you?’ he asked, getting up to help fetch the drinks. As they drank their lagers tongues loosened a bit and the conversation began to flow more freely. Called through to eat, they all filed into the dining room and resumed talking though with a more stilted flow. Lydia was worried about the dinner and consequently fretted despite reassurance from Winston and Julius. Jo found herself unusually tongue tied and looked to Julius for help. He responded by telling the story of how they had met at Lincoln finishing by saying,
‘So Jo went to College in Bedford and trained to be a teacher too.’
‘Except that I chose to teach younger children; I like reading stories and making things with them.’ She elaborated, picking up from Julius’s lead.
‘That’s good’ smiled Jamie, ‘you’ll have a load of mine and Arnie’s here in a minute, ‘they’ve been dragged off to the park to let off some steam.
The afternoon improved greatly for Jo when Jamie’s three girls and Arnie’s two boys returned with Arnie’s wife and Jamie’s partner. All awkwardness was suspended, as the kids appeared clamouring for Granny’s trifle, ice cream, banana fritters and chocolate gateaux all of which were a great success with children and adults alike. After lunch the boys wanted to play football and badgered Uncle Julius to play with them in the back garden. The girls inveigled Aunt Angelique and Jo to play with them, the age range between four and seven throwing up a multitude of proposals. The two adults thrown together made a reasonable start to a difficult relationship by together referring adroitly the girl’s differing demands.
It had been agreed between Jo and Julius that she would leave him alone with his family that evening. She hugged him goodbye on the doorstep having made her thanks and farewells to Lydia and Winston. She then drove over to Lincoln for the long overdue conversation with her parents.