Letters from the past

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Yesterday morning started a bit too early – as it normally does.  Mr.5 is up with the birds at the moment, but to his credit, does entertain himself in his bedroom for a while before waking everyone else up.  (Although I’m usually just dozing in between 5.50am and 6.30am as I listen to him pottering about: building train tracks, rummaging around in his treasure box, tipping Lego on the floor..)

This time while granting us a little lie in, Mr.5 decided to explore the contents of the two big drawers underneath his bed.  Mostly they contain puzzles, toys and his artwork.  But as we’re light on storage space in our house, there is a box, right up the back of one of the drawers, that contains lots of old cards & letters belonging to all of us.  Some of them date back a fair bit – I think meaningful correspondence, especially of the old pen-to-paper kind, is important to hang onto.

I’d forgotten that in the box was stashed a few of the last letters I’d received from my Nanna.  She passed away at 90, when I was 29 and pregnant with Mr.5.  It was sad that she never got to see him aside from a blurry ultrasound image.

Anyhow, I went to the bathroom and Mr.5 comes rushing in.  “Mum!”  I found all these beaaauuutiful cards!  Who’s this one from?  What about this one?”…and we’d covered most of them when he told me he’d given Mr.2 not a card..but a letter.

My instinct told me I’d better just check what letter Mr.5 had given Mr.2 to read over while he was in his cot.  Turns out it was the very last letter I received from my Nanna.  Mr.2 had happily ripped the envelope, but fortunately I saved the letter from being torn to shreds & read.

“Dear Alison,

It was lovely to receive your two lovely letters and cards you sent me.  I do appreciate your care of me.  It is nice of you to remember me, when I don’t have a “home” any longer.  This is not another home – it’s a place to sleep and eat!!

I paint, and then do a fair amount of knitting and crochet work.  It keeps me busy.  Most of the folk here play Bingo – that really makes me shudder!”

She then outlines some general news, says I hope I can understand what she’s written, and ends with “My love to you, From your Nanna xxx”.

That first part of her letter always reminds me of how she felt in the last years of her life – not always, but sometimes – how she didn’t feel she belonged where she lived, how limited she was in what she could do there, and in company she didn’t really want to keep.

It’s not the only time she’d told me about how she felt – there were letters, and in the last few times I saw her, she’d take me aside and explain things.

She wasn’t a bitter lady by any means.  She was a chirpy lady with a pleasant smile, courteous, considerate, gentle, kind to others.

Just that after such a full life, she found herself in a place that felt nothing like home, needing care and living alongside others who mostly felt like strangers.

She was frail, but she didn’t feel elderly inside.  She was stubborn, and wished she could be independent again.  Got upset about not being able to do as she wanted, cook her own meals, be self-sufficient.  Wept when she had to leave her own place.  Didn’t want to go.

I haven’t a shred of doubt that if it were me, and I suppose it will be one day, I’d feel exactly the same.

But perhaps it was even more frustrating for someone like her.  A young woman who left school early to help manage a large farm.  Very capable, very practical – a country girl.  Who grew up in a remote part of NSW, tending to animals, killing the chicken for the Sunday roast, looking after herself and her younger siblings – three of whom died young, and her father passing away when she was 3.  Very capable, very strong-willed.  A wife, mother, an artist, beautiful paintings…and who made the best-ever Christmas plum pudding.

I’m glad she was honest with me about how she felt, because it taught me, and reminds me to live my life to the full.

Make the most of it.

Alison x


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