This post isn’t about the island or travel or politics or the environment, or anything that might be of general interest, so feel free to move on if you want. I’ve been sitting back and contemplating my navel a bit this week, but I did want to post this two days ago, but seemed like WordPress was having some sort of picture-uploading issue, and I wanted you to see how pretty Aunty Dot is.
This post is about my Aunty Dot. It’s her birthday today. She is 87 years young (ok I know that’s a corny phrase, but it happens to be true for her).
When I was little, times weren’t exactly easy. I didn’t know that at the time, but, of course, I do now. Aunty Dot, Uncle Jim and my cousin, Glenn lived next door to us. The rambling, old house in which we lived had been a farmhouse at one time, but by the late 40s, when my memories begin, boasted only 3 acres, and I suppose about a third of that was covered by glasshouses.
My parents and I lived in the big house with my nana and grandad, and Dot, Jim and Glenn in what must have been a worker’s cottage attached to the main house, next to that was a big, old barn, and then what had been stables, but which grandad used for storage, mostly sacks of coal and bales of peat. It was not long after the end of the devastating World War ll, my dad and my uncle had returned to find that my grandad had sold the profitable B & B which his family had owned for years, and bought his dream, this market garden. My mom, by the time my first memories begin, had already gone back to work. It wasn’t usual in those days, but for a time she was the only real breadwinner in the family, as everyone else,including Aunty Dot, struggled to make the market garden turn a profit.
Glenn was born about two and half years after me, so Aunty Dot was still at home, and hence my early memories include many of her which, maybe, would have been memories of my mom, had life been different. I remember that she always had time for me when my mom wasn’t there and everyone else was so busy with what seemed really important stuff. She did wonderful drawings for me, and always admired mine, always wove stories about the princesses and fairies I drew, and the extravagant castles in which they lived, and more than that, encouraged me to make my own stories, to think and invent. It was Aunty Dot who gave me an “official” birthday, as well as a real one. That was because I was born three days after Christmas, and she realized what a long wait it was – a whole year, without presents! Glenn’s birthday was in June, so she let me share it :=), and produced presents for me.
Life changed, came the time for my parents and aunt and uncle to move on with their own lives, because grandad’s ways were making life impossible for everyone. We moved across town, Aunty Dot, Uncle Jim and Glenn moved to the Lake District.
The next batch of memories are of Summer holidays, wonderful baking, late nights (a real treat!), an idyllic Swallows and Amazons time, swimming in Windermere, climbing rocks and crags. Then, as I grew into a sulky teenager, the laughter and the sense of worth which Aunty Dot could give me. She read the silly stories I wrote, and encouraged me to try to write. She was the only person, ever, who did that. She let me stay up to watch “That Was the Week That Was”, she gave me pamphlets about aparteid and South Africa, she stirred in me the first feelings and beliefs in equality for all. We used to stay up late talking about the world and how it could or should be or about “Jane Eyre” or poetry. She was the first person to treat me like an intelligent human being and not a worrisome child, and she made me think, use my brain.
Life changed again. I got my first job, my first long-term relationship, and, to my shame, saw less of Jim and Dot and Glenn. Glenn moved on too, to university, to work, to marriage, and then – he died. He was 25. My grandad had died by then, but then, he was my grandad. This was the first time in my own life that I’d realized that good, healthy, young, clean-living people die too, and it was quite a blow, which I had to come to terms with on my own. Now that I am a parent, though, I can’t imagine how the parents of an only child can ever come to terms with the loss of that child. My aunt and uncle, being the remarkable people they were, found ways to deal with it and carry on, so much so, that when my mom died a year later they were able to support my dad in his grief. Aunty Dot was still working and she also threw herself into volunteer work, as well as accompanying Jim on his fishing excursions, and, as time went on ballroom dancing.
This ballroom dancing, sequence dancing, had been a dormant passion from youth, and now it flowered and grew, so much so that Uncle Jim, calling to collect her one day, was drawn into the atmosphere, and at long last took it up himself!
Came the time my first was born at 4.20 am, the first person I wanted to ring was Aunty Dot. I knew she was an early riser, and I lay in bed counting the minutes until I could decently make the call. In the years which followed, busy with babies and work and a demanding homelife I know now that I didn’t see enough of them, but when we did call we had the warmest welcome in the world, and the same stimulating exchange of news and information, and lively discussion which I remembered from my teen years.
We lost Uncle Jim at the end of 1995. Far away as I was by then, I didn’t fully understand the difficulties of the months before his death, of how desperately ill he had been, or how heroically Aunty Dot coped with it all. Together they planned his funeral, knowing it was coming sooner rather than later. That his funeral was a seminal event in my life and not, necessarily, on the day, a sad one, speak volumes for both of them.
Aunty Dot, as always, learned to deal with it. She moved to a new area, she made new friends, she continues to attract suitors, all of whom she, of course, turns down. 3 or 4 times a week she goes sequence dancing, she designs and makes the invitations and promotional materials for the dances. She learned to use a computer. She emails. She writes poetry and designs and makes all her own cards, for birthdays, anniversaries and so on. She reads. She does yoga every morning. She makes herself yummy but healthy meals every day, no frozen gunk for her, the chicken has mushroom sauce, made from scratch.
In short, she lives a rewarding, interesting and very active life. When we speak on the phone it’s just like speaking to anyone in my own age group, or younger, she follows world events, she knows about the latest movies – she rented “Avatar” for my last visit in April, she has opinions about just about everything. She is very aware of the things she should and shouldn’t do for her health, but allows herself the odd treat.
And this is just the stuff of which I know – she was married to my mom’s brother, so she has a whole other family out there I barely know, she’s dealt with the loss of her mom and her brothers over the years, just off the top of my head – me, I’m 2,000 miles away, but my god is she my hero!
In a way, it’s a shame I single her out for being so remarkable, because I feel that most of us have the capacity to be much younger, and enjoy life and health much more than that the majority do. I think we, in the “West” allow ourselves to age well before our time. It seem ironic to me that the more we learn, the more research is done into health or mental activity, the more we seem to be taking the opposite course. Aunty Dot hasn’t been an athlete nor a member of mensa, but simply a person who has always made the most of what she’s had at the time, and always, always maintained a positive outlook on life, and I think it’s within the reach of almost everyone.