Two old friends of mine died in 2016. One I had known for 15 years but saw rarely as he lived near New York, the other I saw at least once a week on a Monday - for the last half hour of The Chase, at least 3 games of Scrabble and some Cadburys milk chocolate.
I was very fond of both of them, and they could not have been more different. Makes me wonder whether we default to who we really are as we grow old…or never really change. One of these friends died at the ripe old age of 101, the other at 90. Both were ready to go, and left memories and lessons that will take a long time to fade.
Donald - I wrote about him in a much earlier blog - died aged 90. He was a true gentleman. A historian in later life, he documented the history of the small village where he had lived for at least 40 years. I never heard him say a bad word about anyone. A very politically contentious and unpopular newspaper owner was active in the village. Almost nobody liked him. Donald would not hear a word said against him. "He has done or said nothing to upset me, so I can not dislike him….other people feel as they do and it is up to them." The diplomat - maybe blinkered but for sure everyone loved him!
For years we exchanged letters. His were written in increasingly spidery handwriting, often on notepaper with the Stars and Stripes on - he was a true patriot and a Republican, but somehow he could be forgiven for his political stance because he still tried to respect everyones' view - always open to differing opinions.
This photo was taken a couple of months before he died. He was in a nursing home kind of fading away, ready to go … sweet memories, Don.
In complete contrast is Vi. I first saw her at the Friday country market. She was sitting beside a table covered in her own hand-made knitted goods of every description. Some looked as though they had been made 50 years ago (I think they were) I asked if I could photograph her. "Next week dear" she told me firmly. I would find out why. The following week there she was, in her original blue WI overall (she didn't approve of the new, green ones) and a truly magnificent hat she had made herself. She was a qualified milliner and had an impressive collection of hats.
There was another side to this feisty old girl that endeared me to her. She was opinionated, critical, racist - "we didn't grow up with foreigners being doctors or sportsmen" she informed me unapologetically when I challenged her vehement disapproval of a Chinese snooker player and the new GP who she refused to see on the grounds that he was Indian. I always pulled her up on these offensive comments but she would smile and sip her sherry. She would not change!
There is a lot more to them both than I am writing here - this is just a small tribute to two very different souls from whom I learned a lot - how to grow old with a vengeance from one, humility and tolerance from the other.
Here are a few more recent photos of the indomitable Violet:
In purple on her 99th birthday; with her 2 sisters (also in their 90's) on her 100th birthday - she boasted that she was the oldest and looked the youngest; in the green and white home-made outfit and hat that she always wore with her favourite white feathery scarf, and shoes with little heels that she insisted on wearing - "I won't wear old lady shoes" - despite protestations about safety from the care home where she lived ; and a glorious photo with her son taken only a moment before the heart attack that landed her in hospital and where she died soon after. These wonderful slippers were a present from her son. Apparently she kept them on in her hospital bed right until the end. You couldn't have made her up…