Path in the woods

I went to England last year and this year – not for the holidays, but to see where I belonged. I haven’t been sure about it for a very long time.

I am having lunch with my friend Ruthie today. She is a diner chick like me. I have written about her before. She is a bereaved mother without a filter which I love, and she knew my late husband, John, before I did.

So, it’s lovely to be with someone who not only is comfortable with me talking about John, but who talks about him more than I do. I know she will want to know all about my recent trip back home, about me and when am I going to start writing again, so I thought I had better begin. I can’t pretend about anything with Ruthie. Just thinking about her today, I realised that some of my very close friends are bereaved mothers.

I went to England last year and this year – not for the holidays, but to see where I belonged. I haven’t been sure about it for a very long time.

There were situations that I felt I hadn’t faced and this was the time to do it. This blog post is from the heart and a stream of consciousness. My usual grasshopper brain! Some might not like it, possibly making them uncomfortable. The people in my life will accept it totally as they have room in their hearts for me. I asked my cousin Karen to read a blog post I had written called What’s It All About Angels.  She asked me if I always wrote about me and my life. Not really. I write in the hope that someone will get some comfort in their ‘new normal’.

I stayed in a hotel close to where Karen lives – less than five minutes by car. You know all about stinking fish (Editor’s note…” Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,” Benjamin Franklin.) I am sure. I was with her all the time and she drove miles and miles so that I could possibly put to rest the hauntings from my past. We drove to Highbridge in Somerset in the West of England. It is a very small village and where I was evacuated during the War. Some of it had remained the same – others modernized.

Flashback…We drove past the town hall where we had been taken from a bus that had brought us from London to a safe area. Having been evacuated once already for a short time, I was numb. A white haired very dignified gentleman pointed to me and said ‘I’ll take that one’. Without a thought, I took his hand and walked to the home I was to live in for several months.

Each time I think about this time of my life, I hear my son Daniel’s voice – “You have to write a book Mum”. I know I do and I am sure it would be very therapeutic. I did write something about it in my first book. Not enough. We met with two women who were distant relatives of the family who fostered me. Their lives hadn’t been easy. They were happy to see me.

We stayed in a lovely B&B owned by two men, one of whom was hilarious. The first morning we had the full breakfast and could hardly move we were so full. The following morning we just asked for poached eggs. I thought he had a smile on his face when he came through the kitchen door. He had to two eggs on the plate with a little bit of greenery on the top. Karen and I just lost it as they looked liked two boobs. He laughed his head off and I knew it was because he knew how we would react. We didn’t let him down.

We returned to Enfield where Karen lives and the next trip was to Reigate where my late brother in law and sister in law had lived. Their neighbours were so very helpful and I wanted to take them out to lunch just to show my appreciation. When we arrived at the house we were greeted warmly. We had a cup of tea, as of course the kettle is always on in the U.K. It is the first thing I do when I come home – yes, the very first thing and it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. We sat and chatted for a while – nothing special. They are so lovely. I told them I would like to go into Peter and Joan’s house on my own and they gave me the key.

I opened the door quietly and entered that cold and empty house. I could hardly breathe. I went into the living room and sat on every chair that was there. Then the kitchen where Joan had concocted meals and produced food in snack form practically all day. I went upstairs into the two bedrooms and sat on the beds for quite a time. I felt such anguish, so I went downstairs again and sat on a chair and talked to them. “How is it that this house so filled with warmth, laughter and love could be so cold?” I wondered. I felt ice cold knowing there would be no response, so I stayed longer, just in case.

That house had been a haven to me. I stayed here every time I went to London. I used to fly to Gatwick as it is only about twenty minutes to their home. Joan had been one of my closest friends since I was eighteen. I knew Peter when I was fifteen. In 1989 I introduced John to them and that is where The Quartet was formed.

I went upstairs again into their bedroom where one of their cats would sleep under the quilt so there would be a large lump in the middle of their bed. Sweet memories. When I went into the spare room my heart started to race. This was our room, John and mine. I sat on the bed and remembered all the love that was in that house. At that point, I couldn’t stand up, so I remained almost comatose.

My beloved friend Marion stayed in that room too and it was when I remembered her and that particular trip, I laughed and stood up. There was so much fun in that house – absolute hilarity when The Quartet was there; their names, Peter, Joan, John and Yvonne. It was at that moment I froze realizing what I had been writing about, being the last of The Quartet, was indeed a reality. I felt my mortality there and anger that I was the last one left to live my life without them. I shouted at them – it wasn’t fair that I had to stay behind when the three of you are wherever you are having a great time – IT JUST ISN’T FRIGGIN’ FAIR.

Yvonne and JohnI don’t know how long I sat remembering so much of my life that was spent there. For some reason my brain went to just how many people in my life I had lost to death. During the War, several of my friends were killed, and my cousin who was my protector. The list grew and I realised I had never grieved for any of them. So, I did it then and there, with my heart crashing against my ribs. I talked with all of them, children, family in the military, family friends. About twenty in all. Oh, that War. Yet Winston Churchill saved my life.

Before I left, I wanted to see their garden. They were avid and very creative gardeners. Not a very big one – just beautiful, colourful, serene – even energetic. How many times had we sat in that garden with Joan coming out with the tea trolley (don’t know what a tea trolley is called over here), with cups and saucers, milk jug, large teapot, assorted sandwiches and cake. It was as though we hadn’t eaten at all, although we all had breakfast and lunch. It was glorious. I looked at the garden, their pride and joy. Overgrown, plants all dead, grim and dark. I truly believe that hit harder than anything else. John was a gardener too. I went back, inspected the house again and wish I could have done something to leave my mark. I found the bathroom, checked the water was running and used it. That was something! They would have enjoyed that one.

I locked up the house and it felt as though I had locked up my heart too. The greatest love I had, and two more wonderful friendships had lived there. I hadn’t been with John that long when he was invited to join The Quartet.

Peter and Joan fell in love in later years, just like John and I did. Their connections were very similar to ours – very deeply in love. I still am of course and always will be. They travelled and had a lot of fun, the best being when they came to the USA. My children adored them too. When they died my older daughter and older son flew over there to take care of their paperwork that always occurs when people die. They brought back a lot of photos and there were some I never saw before of the four of us. My sister in law was an avid photographer and I thought she had about ten albums – it was closer to forty I believe.

When I was finished, I went back to Janet and Graham’s house. They were lovely and asked if I were all right. I was shaky so of course more tea was brought. Joan and Peter were very private people. Well Peter was, I don’t remember Joan being wordless! They told me about the three years before they died. I was shocked and wondered why I didn’t know. I told them I was a flight away. Everything was ‘fine’. I am so happy I saw them last year although I could see something was very wrong. They didn’t want to talk about it so I respected their dignity. How they died is something I could have changed had I been there. They just didn’t tell me. I was able to shrug that pain off while being in that house, feeling, then not feeling. I knew there was some healing happening.

As sad as it was, I don’t regret making that journey. It had to be as I was still going to the phone to call them if there was something of interest I wanted to share with them. All three of them live in my heart – they will never leave. I suggest you read the poem by Mary Oliver called The Journey. I can’t include it as I don’t have permission from her to do so. Very touching and talks about these kinds of decisions. Of course, I was accompanied by the words of Dr. Viktor Frankl.

I did have a good time when I visited Jane Austen’s home. It was the highlight of the trip as like me, Joan was an avid reader. It’s a beautiful museum and well worth the trip. Followed with an English high tea, I began to relax. On the night before I left, Ben, Karen’s wonderful son, asked if he could spend some time with me and arrived at my hotel room at 8.p.m. He left at midnight! As he was about to leave, he said, “You came here last year to see all those places where you were nearly killed. This year you came to deal with the horrors you experienced with evacuation, so next year you have to come and have fun!” Sounds good to me.

Before I leave, I have a question to ask you and I hope I’ll get some thoughts. Three weeks before I left last year, I broke my left foot so I wore a special shoe and used a walking stick. This year, I was home just over a week and sprained my right foot, breaking my big toe. Anything to do with my UK connection? In the past I never knew quite where I belong – both countries may be the right answer.

Be well and prosper.
Editor’s Notes:

“The Journey is a poem that focuses on the need to leave behind what is bad and wrong and harmful and start out on a new path. It has become a popular poem for those seeking guidance and strength in their lives.”

Mary Oliver and The Journey

Photo of the A Path in Milford credit, Kim Krause Berg.

Author, Victor Emil Frankl (1905 – 1997), Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. His famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is one of Yvonne’s favorites.

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