Yesterday an old friend of many years standing died, aged 86. I thought she was indestructible and would probably outlast me. Her mother and grandmother both careered into their late ninetes in good health and granny lived to 102.
Her home has been a second home to me for over thirty years. I know where every teaspoon, tool and towel lives. I know which cloth is for wiping the draining board and which is for washing up. I know which pan to use for what – never the egg pan for vegetables or the onion frying pan for frying eggs. I know that she made the eggcups we used at breakfast and that the little pot with the Bonsai tree in it out by the barn is one of the first pots she ever made.
We always changed for dinner. We never left washing up for the morning. We put the vegetable peelings on the compost heap and the bones in the river. The gardener detested strawberries, so every year we put up and took down the strawberry cage ourselves.
She was picky and cranky, a woman with a fascinating past, a potter, a naturalist, a museum curator and a flute player. I inherited my museum mentality from her, which is why I have long silk gloves I shall never wear stored, wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, because no-one wants to wear them but I couldn’t throw them away.
On the plus side, she died suddenly, without losing the dignity which would have been compromised by her encroaching dementia.
But I’ll only stay in that house again in my memories, and I shall miss her dreadfully.