Monday, 29 December 2014

A rather extraordinary woman

has died. Her death notice appears in the paper this morning.
It will go unnoticed by most people. Her funeral will be small.
She was ninety-eight. Her brother died long ago. Her sister some years ago.
She never married. Her sister did not marry. Her brother did and, if he is still alive, she has a nephew.
She was once our neighbour, when we lived in our previous house. Her "family" is the family that lived on the other side. They have cared for her all these years.
I did not see her once she moved into a nursing home on the other side of the city. Her "family" had moved to that side of the city and they wanted her close.
But, why was she extraordinary? She came from another era. She was private-school educated. I have seen photographs of her in her old-fashioned school tunic, hat and gloves. On leaving school she trained as a "secretary", an acceptable job for someone of her social status. But she was no ordinary secretary of course. She spoke fluent French and she was soon employed at the highest levels.
She wanted to travel - and she did. She earned good money, lived at home with her sister and her father after her mother died, and used her annual leave to travel.
When her employer died she went off to Uganda and worked for Idi Amin for two years. She detested the man but found Africa fascinating. It gave her the chance to travel in Africa. She came home with some wild tales - and just in time.
She and her sister went to China and Mongolia long before they became tourist destinations. They travelled the length of the Andes and the Rockies, crossed Canada, did the trans-Siberian trip, took themselves along the Silk Route, explored eastern Europe, north Africa and all the more usual European destinations.
Their travel was not about well-known monuments, museums, palaces or places to eat. It was about finding the unusual and different, about meeting local people - even if they had no common language - and coming home with stories to tell.
Her last "big trip" was eleven years ago. She went to New Zealand - a country she had not explored "properly". For her that meant trekking in the South Island and, while she was there, taking a flight to the Antarctic "because they say the scenery is spectacular".
After that she settled down - a bit. She did some leisurely travel across Australia by train and a short trip to Tasmania.
And then, for the last few years of her life she lived in a nursing home. She rarely travelled beyond her room and the dining room. She was surrounded by her travels, her photograph albums and her memories.
I often wonder what she thought of in those last few years. It is hard  to  know. Conversation was difficult as she was profoundly deaf but she read - often about other people's travels.

No comments: