It was a strange day, the day you called me over to your door. You stood in a baby blue cardigan, a grey skirt (the same grey as your curly beard) and off-white thick tights that looked out of place on a July afternoon. You’d seen me squinting, trying to read my book on the porch. When you offered me your dead husbands sun-visor I didn’t quite know how to react. Firstly I thought I’d look ridiculous in an oversized man’s golf visor. And secondly, why would you give the last remaining item of your husbands clothing to me, the young woman that just moved in over the road? All I did was prune roses badly and smoke and read. But you thrust it into my grip and curled your hand around mine, squeezing tight as though to seal the deal.
An hour later I was still in your house, surrounded by old photographs of strangers, and dolls in glass domes. I watched your eyes glaze sightly and your arms dance as you brought back to life days gone by. Animated and whimsical, you had me hooked! What happened to Mary? What music did your husband play? What songs did your dad sing? Why did you leave? I had many unanswered questions. Your stories were always unfinished. Another would rush up behind the first and catch it’s tail, and another after that, words jumping over words and excited exclamations bursting out at the next wonderful thought that just popped into your head!
Your urgency to relive the memories took me on a whirlwind tour of factories in Bradford and holidays in Devon and gave me a seat at the dinner table with you and your 9 squabbling siblings. It’s as though you sensed your time was drawing to a close and you wanted to pass on the 93 years of memories, so people and places and times and songs and feelings wouldn’t be forgotten forever. Well, Mrs Drummond, or Bea, if I may, they won’t. I can see your dad dancing with your sister in the kitchen. I’ve watched your brothers grow into men. I’ve witnessed the way your heart sank when you were told you’d never go to university. I’ve stood with you on the station platform, leather suitcase in hand, and waved goodbye to your mother as you headed off to the factory. And I won’t forget.
The last three weeks of your life were spent in hospital, after the stroke. They said that wonderful brain of yours was still ticking away, only the pathways wouldn’t quite connect to allow your thoughts to escape your head. I can only imagine the frustration. And I can only imagine the wonderful memories we missed out on in those last three weeks. I like to think that you thought of me fondly. Maybe you relived the time we laughed in your kitchen when you told me the reason you had such tall flowers at your window was to stop your over-amorous neighbour seeing if you were in. Or the time I brought you some homemade peach and white chocolate tray bake, but it all got stuck to the kitchen paper I wrapped it in. Or the time you folded your hand around mine, squeezing it tight, making sure I accepted the gift of your husbands visor, and making sure I’d never forget you.
Thank you for calling me over that day, Mrs Drummond. Goodnight.