Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Requiem for a friend

Let me tell you about Pat MacDonald, what little I knew of her over a few years as a customer Bunjaree Cottages.

She was frail when we first met. Physically, not mentally frail – although her voice quavered, her mind didn't. She could drive a bargain like some people drive a train: a thousand tonnes of metal on rails. She also insisted that she bring her small dog with her (in spite of the official rules about pets), couldn't work a television newer than when AWA still built them in Australia, and was quite demanding as a customer at Bunjaree Cottages, where she would holiday a couple of times a year, always with a friend as her carer and the small dog as her companion.

In holiday cottages notionally described as “self care”, she never visited without calling on my attendance in some way or other. And her conversation and, dare I say it of a woman who had kissed eighty goodbye when I first met her, flirtatious nature, meant that chores weren't chores.

I knew I had to be on hand if she was a guest, because the phone would ring. I knew that the calls would be relatively minor things, like getting the TV working or helping her carer light the fire. And I knew I'd be rewarded with the conversation of a woman who must have really lit up the room, fifty or sixty years ago.

I never met dear Pat in, say, my forties. I was already fifty when my wife and I bought Bunjaree Cottages. Even at fifty, I was “this nice young man,” and so I stayed throughout our brief and occasional association.

Oh, and her reaction to my elder son, who met her when we once lugged wood from outdoors to indoors for her, made me proud.

He is quite tall, solid about the shoulders, thin everywhere else. And because his grandmother lived with us, he could talk to old ladies.

After he left and I stayed to socialise, she simply pronounced: “Now, that's what a young man should be.” And I grinned, because most of the time I try to balance fatherly harshness with being proud of my sons, and I like to hear them praised by others.

Pat never met my wife, Ms T: by a quirk of fate, her visits always coincided with a hospital visit or an illness. Which meant that many of our conversations included her solicitations after a woman thirty years – at least! – her junior, who was unwell. And I received compliments for caring for Ms T, which perhaps I deserved and which I certainly enjoyed.

Oh yes, I mentioned a flirtatious nature. Once, because I love little flamboyances of courtesy, I kissed the back of her hand, and she giggled as if transported across decades, and if nobody was watching, she'd hold her hand up for a repeat performance. I was happy to oblige.

Pat, your passing has quite upset me.

Most of all, I am touched beyond telling that your friends decided to call me to tell me, and relate the circumstances of your passing, to be  assured that you didn't suffer a long, slow, horrible death, but faded in a few days. 

I thought I was only your host. Post-mortem, I learn that I was your friend. I'm honoured. 

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