On Sunday we paid a visit to a wonderful 92 year old whom I will refer to as The Indomitable Doreen. If I can live until I am 92 and be as full of beans as Doreen then I shall be happy indeed.
Doreen is actually Mr B’s first cousin, even though – at more than twenty years older – she is old enough to be his mother. This is because Mr B’s Dad was the youngest of eleven
children, so his older siblings were much, much older than he was. Mr B remembers, some years ago, being at a funeral and seeing a group of elderly men and women sitting round a table. Realisation slowly dawned that these were all his first cousins. You
might call it an Extended Generation.
Anyway, taking advantage of the fact that we were in Kent for Mr B’s Gillingham Football Club Birthday Treat (see previous
blog) we decided to take a trip to Doreen’s, feeling more than a little bit guilty because, although we had spoken to her on the phone, we hadn’t seen her for many a year. How would we find her? we wondered as we drove. Would she be frail and forgetful?
Presumably we shouldn’t stay too long, certainly we should not put her to any trouble. A cup of coffee at the most, we agreed.
The map which Mr B had printed
out from Google Maps seemed to indicate that Doreen’s house was situated in the middle of a field without any road leading to it. As Prime Navigator I was more than a little concerned that I would not be able to direct us to the exact spot as we would
run out of road before we got there. I put a brave face on it, remarking on our progress over the railway bridge, pointing out the church on the right hand side of the road – all designed to prove to Mr B that I knew exactly where we were
going. This show of Navigational Excellence would, I hoped, stand me in good stead when we ran out of road, as I was pretty sure we would, sooner or later. But, hey, what’s this? We had somehow arrived at our destination without realising it and certainly
without having to traverse a muddy field. I pretended I had known where we were heading all along.
Doreen was there to greet us, with hugs and kisses, drawing
us into her cosy front room where she fussed about over our comfort and introduced us to Charlie the budgerigar. She had just cleaned him out in expectation of our visit. She produced cups of coffee, set out on a tea tray with an embroidered cloth,
and insisted we take our pick from a tin of biscuits. Over our coffee, she showed us what she had been working on for us – a detailed list of all Mr B’s father’s brothers and sisters, complete with dates of birth, names of spouses and
details of any children. In carefully sorted plastic bags, she had saved an amazing collection of family photographs, each one clearly labelled in pencil on the reverse. Her memory as sharp as ever, she could even describe the clothes she and her sister,
Doff (short for Dorothy) were wearing in some of the photographs and was not shy of sharing the odd mildly scandalous story about who said what about whom.
did we want for lunch? She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. She always liked to keep a good store cupboard, she told us proudly, showing us the contents of fridge and cupboards to prove her point. Once a week she takes a taxi
(£6 each way which must make a bit of a hole in her pension, not that she was complaining) to the Coop to buy the week’s provisions. There’s no way the Indomitable Doreen will starve. She’s keeping fit too. She does her
exercises every single day – “I can’t get down on the floor anymore so I do them lying on the bed,” she admitted, as if it wasn’t a quite amazing thought that she was still doing sit-ups and leg cycling at an age when most people
think the use of the remote control is exercise enough.
After ham and salad sandwiches for lunch (“I could make you ham and eggs – and there’s
potatoes as well....Or how about some soup?) we decided to see if we could find her grandparents’ grave in the local cemetery. “I’ll show you!” proclaimed The Indomitable Doreen, “A trip out will do me good – and you
might not find it without me.” It’s a chilly, rainy day but Doreen is sure she will be OK. She crams a knitted hat on her head – she apparently has six hats, all the same, but in different colours. She wears them when she goes for her weekly
lunch at the Salvation Army. “They always know it’s me, because of my hat.” Doreen knows how to keep herself warm.
Doreen’s eye-sight isn’t
what it used to be – she shows me a letter from the Eye Hospital which refers to her as “this pleasant lady” but doesn’t indicate any treatment for her failing eyes. Doreen doesn’t complain but makes use of a magnifying glass
to study the photos of our family which we have brought to show her. When it comes to locating the grave of her grandparents – Arthur and Elizabeth Ball – she takes us straight to the spot without a moment’s hesitation. Here is where she
and Doff will rest at last she tells us – adding: “But hopefully not for many years yet!”
Both Doreen and Doff now live alone, their
husbands having “gone before”. Every evening they find a reason to phone each other. They don’t say they are checking that the other is alright, though they quite obviously are. It’s yet another of the ways The Indomitable Doreen copes
with her great age. When the weather gets warmer, we are going to drive Doreen over to see her sister and take them both out to lunch. I can’t wait to listen to the sisters nattering across the table. Just think of the stories they will tell,
our Doreen and her sister Doff, when they get together.
What an example of a life well-lived, right into a ripe and rich old age.
Indomitable Doreen – I salute you!