Friday, August 26, 2011

Remembering belatedly

Dear Facebook: And this is why I *HATE* you.

When I lived in London, my Papa Billy came to visit me and took me to meet some of his cousins - Persis, her husband George and Cousin Bob. Persis and George lived on the way from London to Heathrow and became my special British relatives. I visited them as often as I could - probably once a month - and usually spent the night with them. I was the only person who was not a member of the immediate family invited to Persis' 80th birthday. That's right. They were elderly. I often referred to them as my pretend British grandparents.

They lived in a typical British home - a duplex by our standards - with a front and back room and kitchen downstairs and three bedrooms, an airing closet and a bathroom upstairs. I was given the front bedroom when I visited alone (their daughter's bedroom growing up) or the back bedroom (their sons' bedroom) if I came with a friend.

They had a gorgeous back garden - it was a maze of paths and plants with small statues hiding among the greenery, begging to be discovered. Persis would often make me fish sticks because while I didn't eat meat (back then) I definitely ate fish and she wanted to make sure that I could have dinner with them even when she was cooking something like a joint of lamb. I loved going to their place for a day or two of relaxation when life in London became too crazy. Persis called me on the phone regularly just to talk, asking if that was "my Shannon" when I answered and always saying "See you soon, my love" when we said goodbye. Persis was a smoker, but I don't think I ever saw her actually smoke a cigarette. She walked around with a lit one between her fingers almost all day, sometimes with a good inch and a half of ash hanging off the end of the cigarette, leaving a trail of ash in her wake.

George was the quieter of the two, a very intelligent man with lots of interests and interesting things to say. We had many memorable conversations and shared many quiet afternoons just sitting in the back room or on the patio sipping tea, reading or George possibly doing a crossword puzzle, while snooker played on the tv in the background. I remember visiting them with my friend Kristine and she and George had an interesting conversation about the history of Latvia. He was thrilled to have someone to talk to about Latvia and I think Kristine was surprised and happy to meet someone who knew so much about her country.

When my parents came to see me in 2001, they stayed with Persis and George for the first few days of their trip. We used their home as a starting point for a day trip to Windsor and Eton and to do some quiet, local exploring while the jet lag wore off. We went out for dinner at one of Persis' favourite restaurants, an old manor house near their home, and our waiter was called Alan. After that, she called my dad Alan. Even in Christmas cards and letters.

That year, I spent my birthday at their house. They gave me some lovely gifts, some chocolate and even a special, tiny birthday cake.

Whenever I went away, I made sure to send them a postcard - Persis had a wall dedicated to postcards. She also had a gallery of family photos in her front room - last time we were in England, she proudly showed us our wedding picture and some baby pictures of J that she had added to the gallery.

After I left London and came home, I wrote to Persis and George at least once every couple of months. We often received phone calls from her at Easter and at Christmas. I often talk about how wonderful and large my family is and how no one really concerns themselves with whether or not we're first cousins or second cousins three times removed or whatever, we're all just cousins and therefore, we're all just family. It shouldn't really surprise me, but it still does, that Persis and George took that same approach to family. By the time I visited them for a second time, I felt like I belonged. I met their children and grandchildren. I visited (and stayed with) their two grandsons and their daughter-in-law over Easter when I was in Australia. Their son, who was the head of Capel Manor College, invited me to attend the Chelsea Flower Show with a friend and gave us a guided tour. They were all so lovely to me.

Every time I went back to London, I made sure to stop in and visit. On our last visit in 2009, they got to meet J. They were certainly getting older - George had had a stroke some years before and Persis was his caregiver. He was frustrated. His stroke seems to have left him with a perfectly functioning brain, but very little in the way of communication abilities - he had much difficulty with his speech and he couldn't write, but he still read and watched the news and sports. My mom sent them a subscription to Beautiful British Columbia every year for Christmas and he got excited every time one arrived in the mail.

On January 4, 2011, George took his last breaths. Persis followed him on March 30. I don't know more than that today, but I'm sure that Persis died of a broken heart.

I've spent the morning staring out my window, tears running down my face and not really getting anything done...George was 94 and Persis was 89. It is going to be terribly strange not to get off the underground at Hatton Cross and pop in for a cup of tea the next time I go to London. I'm so thankful that my Papa Billy introduced me to Persis and George. I'm so thankful that they had the chance to meet my husband and baby girl.

Persis and George, I'm going to miss you.

Pictures to come when I get home later today.

[And as for why I hate Facebook - that's how I found out...and then I Googled it. And Facebook is not a good way to find out that someone you care for has died.]

1 comment:

  1. Oh no! My condolences.. they sounded like a lovely couple that took very good care of the people they loved.