Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Spirit & Mister

She’s called Spirit because that is how I saw her in the parlance of the day, a truly free spirit. Mister was her rock. Their ‘real’ names I will keep to myself … 

We met, Spirit and I, before Mister, at work. We were teenagers; she had come to the city from a small town north of us and was living in a ‘young ladies’ residence – I was still at home with my parents. She jumped whole-heartedly into life in the big city as she saw it and within what seemed like days was announcing her impending marriage to a flyboy, a marriage that kind of faded away. Undaunted, we became a part of a little ‘gang’ – gang bearing no resemblance to today’s connotation – of unattached girls who worked together & played together. If ever a period of time in one’s life is deserving of the caption “those were the days” this is it. We even had our very own Cheers where everybody knew our names. 

Spirit met a man and married him (not Mister). 

They lived in a teeny basement apartment along with two spaniels (one called Gumper), a guinea pig called Alice, a bunch of mice both black and white (her contribution to ending segregation) and a canary that flew free and did its business over the bathtub. Oh, and a rabbit, also roaming free, who wore rubber panties ~ as well as a slightly miffed cat who was denied access to all those delicious mice. One afternoon there was a knock at the door – a gentleman presented himself as being from the Board of Health to whom the superintendent of the building had reported the presence of multiple animals. {I must interject here to say that Spirit’s home was scrupulously clean – no ‘animal’ smell – and all those residents that were not caged were trained, with the exception of the rabbit :>)} G’bless our Spirit, she simply led the inspector to the building’s garbage room which he found to be infinitely more objectionable than her home and issued a warning to the super! 

The marriage ended ~ I think he tried to cage her spirit to no avail… 

The years passed and then she met Mister. It is difficult to explain how friends know instantly when one of them has met “the one”, but we all did. Spirit glowed, she confessed amazement that Mister wanted to be with her, Mister was understated, always by her side. 

They moved away, several thousand miles and we kept in touch, mostly by phone. Mister had a successful business & they were enjoying life. Then Spirit was diagnosed with breast cancer – the treatments were debilitating, but she beat it, according to her mostly because Mister was there with her and for her. 

One more time they moved, back across the continent, not to our city but not as far away. I travelled to visit and took my son along. We used the phone and chatted for hours. Spirit and mister set up home near the ocean. They had two cats and all the wildlife she loved right outside the door – which she fed religiously all winter long. 

They kept the birdseed in the attic. 

Mister hauled the ladder down, stepped up to grab a bag of birdseed and was greeted by wee cascades of seed husks and two tiny eyes peering over the edge of the ceiling. “We have squatters” he told Spirit. Field mouse. She knew that the mouse who had set up home in her attic would have to go, there was already a mess with the birdseed that might attract other, less desirable tenants. She began to call hardware stores and the like looking for humane mouse traps – bear in mind that this was quite a few years ago and humane mouse traps were not de rigueur yet ;>) Mostly the stores thought Spirit was unhinged, but she eventually found some a short drive away. 

Mister set up the traps in the attic. 

A while later, in the middle of the night, Spirit woke Mister when she heard the trap go off. He suggested that they look into it in the morning but Spirit was adamant, what if the mouse were hurt? Unsure of what exactly he could do if the mouse was hurt, up into the attic went Mister, flashlight in hand, to find the mouse in one piece, albeit in the trap – and outside the trap, her babies. This instantly complicated things because neither he nor Spirit had been aware of babies. The plan had been to trap the mouse and then set it outside in a sheltered area with a supply of food, but now babies too? Spirit insisted they had to be moved, the mother could not be let out of the trap obviously but neither could she be left in, after all she had to feed the babies, didn’t she? 

This was the winter of 1993. The winter of the perfect storm. 

I really don’t recall the details but I DO know that in the wee hours of a very stormy night Mister got dressed in his warmest clothes and transported the mouse family, complete with food, out through the wind and snow, and deposited them in a cozy place. Once more back in bed and dozing off, Spirit wondered out loud if they should perhaps have kept them in a cage until morning. She told me it was the one and only time that Mister ever yelled at her. 

Spirit had joined a group of cancer survivors who were giving support to those still fighting the disease ~ she had now been cancer free for seven years, then the magic number for breast cancer survivors, it supposedly indicated that their battle was truly over – you know, well if it hasn’t come back in seven years …………. chances are, etc. She called me regularly, our Mum was in the final stages of colon cancer & Spirit wanted to know how Liam and I were coping; she knew and understood the effect a loved one’s illness had on those around them. “I know how your Mum is doing – how are YOU doing” I can still hear her saying.

Chance however, was not kind to Spirit and Mister – a few years later the cancer that had attacked Spirit all that time before came back with a vengeance. More debilitating treatments taking such a toll on her and Mister – they did not help and the cancer spread. In the month of August in what was to be the last year of Spirit’s life I stopped off to visit her during a trip elsewhere. We had such hope – except for the kerchief covering the loss of hair and bouts of extreme fatigue she looked and sounded like Spirit always had. We talked and we talked – I managed to get her out for a walk along the shore, stopping at every bench along the way. She knew she was going, she was content that her cats would be looked after but she was terrified for Mister, there had been just the two of them for so long. I left knowing in my heart it was the last time I would see her. 

Mister worked in Manhattan. 

In September of that year the Towers were destroyed and I panicked – Spirit depended upon him so much. The phone of course was useless – I emailed with no results and then I remembered that Spirit’s brother, whom I had met only once, lived in our city. I found him & he was able to tell me that Mister was ok – that on the day before Spirit had had such a terrible reaction to her treatment that he was late leaving home – he watched the Towers fall from his bus. 

 In October Spirit slipped away. I think of her still ……

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

our John

As babies in our Gran’s house we were put to sleep every night under the dining room table John & I ~ bombs you see ~ this was early 1940's England. His Dad and mine were often away on duty but in that tiny council house lived Gran & Grandad, Mum’s little sister Peggy, John & his Mum (known as ‘big’ Peggy), our Mum and me. I have never managed to figure out who slept where, with the exception of John & myself.

From the under-the-table days until I was about ten we spent time together as cousins do ~ he visited us in Surrey and we travelled to Evesham to visit them. I was even sent up there alone a couple of times to spend a week or so. We swam in the local river with his younger brothers and sisters ~ we pinched (green, much to our dismay) apples from orchards and suffered the consequences ~ we went to get eggs from the nearby farm for his Mum ~ but mostly we just wandered in the daylight as little groups of children are wont to do & I looked up to my older cousin..

We never really knew each other as adults on a day-to-day basis ~ thousands of miles separated us ~ yet sometimes two people simply have a connection ~ he was always the one in touch when it meant something. I am sure he had his faults and foibles but I was not witness to them, all I see is the child, and even what I see may be romanticized just a wee bit. Our John was not a good ‘letter-writer’ nor was he ‘internet-inclined’ ~ no matter though, we saw each other over the years when I visited our grandparents, aunts and uncles. He called on my wedding day ♥ There were other not so happy transatlantic calls when we lost Mum, then his Dad, his beloved sister Kath and our Aunt Peggy, who left us much too soon.

The last time we saw each other was rather a special occasion ~ Dan, Maggie & I made a trip to Wales, it was fifty years since we had left & Dan had not been back. John drove down to meet the cousins he had never seen and to (I am sure) give me a hug. I can still hear him say “There she is!” with open arms. There was a wonderful family dinner, Auntie Peggy & her family, the three of us & John. We walked for hours round a car boot and then said goodbye in the parking lot because he was driving back home from there. We cried.

Recently I wrote John a letter, telling him of family news including the impending birth of my first grandchild – I never mailed it. A few days ago I mentioned the letter to Maggie saying that I would update it and mail it ~ well, now I cannot.

We lost John this morning, on the first day of the new year.

John was a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather and my heart breaks for those he leaves behind. To me, he was the childhood companion I will always cherish.

G’bless John ~ and maybe we will ‘gather’ more apples when I get there ..