Today I got the rather sad news that my Aunty Joan had passed away. It is sad that I received this in the unceremonious manner of tex message. But perhaps apt that I did. Apt because I had not spoken to her for so many years. I think I still remember the last phone conversation the last time I visited her and apt that my failure to go visit to pick-up the phone had resulted in her passing being less than a tweet. In the past three years I have spoken more words to complete strangers than I had to her. And this is the worse thing I think I could of done.
But who was my Aunty Joan and why does it matter? Well she was my mum’s old work colleague in fact I don’t remember a time when just like my parents she hadn’t existed. With two working parents and her being retired she use to collect me from primary school and walk with her Labrador dog Mandy back up the steep hill by Crow wood park back to her little bungalow sat on the top of an even steeper set of steps.
There she would cook my tea and I would eat it. I remember a time sat at her dinner table in the little kitchen, the table was pale yellow and could be folded out to make room for more people with the dog’s bed sat underneath it, she had cooked me a fried egg. At the age I didn’t like egg whites and refused to eat them for my parents but she was having none of it being on a limited budget she put the egg white in a tea cake (this is called a bap out side of the Halifax region) of which there was always buttered bread of some description on that table and I ate it all. When my mum came to collect me I remember her telling my mum that I would now eat egg whites.
I remember the cabbage chopping device and the boiled cabbage, butter and black pepper she would cook, something I really loved especially with the fired potato and tomato purée.
I remember how she once spilled coffee granules into my school shoes as you left your shoe in the kitchen beneath the counter that was home to the kettle. How my socks stuck to the shoes for weeks. How her new dog Zara use to chase my feet and pull off my socks for a game.
Then when I had grown up I stopped visiting after school I had gone to high school and one chance visit one evening or perhaps lunch time she broken-down in tears as I left and told me how lonely she was and I said don’t worry and nearly every lunch and every night I would visit straight from school and go out with her to take Zara for her evening walk. Having to run full kilter when I noticed her kitchen was full of black acrid smoke from her leaving the stewing stake on and burning it to a char. A few years later the same thing again burning out her entire kitchen and Aunty Joan or Scotty as my mum called her not being insured. I remember that night I had got the phone call from her neighbour and I was to go and pick up Zara. My Aunty Joan was ok but there had been a fire. I could drive but I was concerned about the dog so I ran from my parents house and being a winters night around and not through the park to her little bungalow at the top of the steep hill on the steep slope. I then took Zara back home and she stayed with us until Aunty Joan was better and her house liveable again.
During the evenings she would again cook me my tea and we would would play scrabble and watch countdown both with notepads both trying to get the highest scores. She always won, I could never compete with her grasp of English and use of words. We did this because of her concern by how poor my standard of English had become.
She had a little ZX-spectrum which she would play video games on and a white Casio keyboard. She loved spiritualism and it was a large part of her life and whilst I was a kid mine too.
Of course I would help out doing the gardens, the lawns, painting even helping relaying the flag stones in her backyard. Although she had lived in the little bungalow for most of my active memory of her towards her latter years it was not very convenient or safe with those steep steps.
She moved from there, from renting out her garage at the bottom of the steps, from the steep hill down into a little sleepy village next to a river. Down to Mytholmroyd and into sheltered accommodation. It was at this point in time when I stopped visiting so much. I was leaving for University and living my own life. I had the good fortune to introduce my fiancée to her and for my fiancée to meet Zara before Zara passed away.
But I never visited her much after that. My parents did of course and my dad helped her get a new TV and we had spoken about getting a PC for her to use.
I’m not certain how to explain how I feel. Shock, sadness and of course guilt and self-pity. I always thought I would ring her one day, but not today. Go visit one time when I was over at my parents but not this time. And now I can’t.
I remember the UFOs and the ESPs, the way Zara sat on the windowsill and watched for you coming home. The leaded crystals you hung in the windows to make the rainbows and how when I was a kid you gave me a fold-able ruler which was a space gun (and I broke), my first snowball (advocate and lemonade) and how you use to have an alarm clock radio next to you chair so that you could listen to it and how much you loved the test bird song sound track played whilst the new radio stations started up.
I wish I could say thank you for all those meals, all those games of scrabble and countdown and I am sorry for not calling more. Hopefully you knew.
As I sit here in my empty flat with no shoulder to cry on I can only feel self-pity and sadness but I will not remember you like that. I will remember the good times and try to forget my failings as a friend.
Sleep peacefully and when you want please visit say hello - I’m no medium like you but I know you will be with Zara and Mandy, perhaps with Harry without pain and back to the fearsome scrabble player I remember.