Tuesday, 15 September 2009

I own a handwritten, illustrated copy of

TS Eliot's "Four Quartets". It was made for me way, way back when I turned 21 - and was by far the best present I received on an occasion which went otherwise almost entirely unnoticed. It was made for me by a lecturer in art at the teacher training college I attended.
The book is small and slim. It has a plain, dark green cover. There are four illustrations and the poems. The poems are written in Bob's normal handwriting. It is not a fancy book, rather it is restrained - a bit like our relationship. He was married and old enough to be my father.
We were friends. We enjoyed one another's company. When Bob's wife went off to another country for almost eight weeks to help her daughter-in-law cope with a new, sickly baby she rang me and said, "Cat, while I am away I give you permission, indeed I am begging you, to keep Bob company occasionally."
It is not the sort of request you usually get from a wife. I was still living at home so we invited Bob over for a couple of meals. He wanted to see a film about Isadora Duncan. We went together. It was all done very properly. Bob was an 'open doors and walk on the outside of the footpath' sort of gentleman. I wrote to his wife and sent a small present for the baby now that he seemed certain to survive. She returned home and hugged me.
I went off half way around the world to study and we wrote letters. Bob came to visit once and we went out to lunch. I knew London better than he, an Englishman, knew it.
Not long after I reluctantly returned to Australia Bob had a heart attack and took early retirement. I knitted him a brown pullover as a retirement present and his wife took him off to the seaside in another state. He fished and painted and built a simple house. His wife gave up smoking. Eventually they returned because their daughter was here and she needed help. We saw one another at regular intervals.
Then there was the inevitable 'phone call from his wife. "Cat, he's in hospital...another heart attack. They don't think he will make it."
He did not make it.
Some days later I went to see his wife. She was sorting through some things. There was a brown pullover on the chair in the kitchen. It was darned and patched and fit only for the rag bag. I barely recognised it. His wife smiled and said, "He loved it."
I love the book.


Rachel Fenton said...

And now my eyes are prickling and something is tickling my cheek, and i seem to be coming down with a cold.

What a beautiful keepsake.

Donna Hosie said...

That was a really beautiful post, cat.

catdownunder said...