My orchids carry fond memories of a dear cousin who has died in California. But I have also had the pleasure of re- reading some of the emails we have exchanged in recent years!
He always started them with ‘My Dear Octopus’ a reference to Dodie Smith’s play of the same name. She was the author of ‘I Capture the Castle’ which was her first novel, written during the Second World War when she and her husband Alec Beesley were living in California.
Cousin John lived in California and had been there for many years, with the woman he once described ‘as the love of my life’ an American called Louise.
John had been close to my mother when they were young and to her delight sent her an orchid for her 70th birthday. It was after my mother died that he started to write to me, he wrote about anything that came to mind and I like to think we gradually became friends.
This is an extract from one of his emails 13/7/07.
‘When limes are really ripe they turn yellow like lemons – full of juice which Louise freezes into lime cubes – which are delicious in cold tea. The limes in the stores here have to be picked green – before they are fully ripe – so you generally can’t buy them when they’re at their best. Our neighbours grow more fruit and vegetables than they can eat – so a lot of it comes our way – peaches plums nectarines peppers tomatoes strawberries – and lots of other stuff.’
He once said
‘Old age isn’t for the faint hearted – Louise has just turned eighty and I have just turned eighty-six.’
On the 30 /10/ 07 an extract from the email following fires in California…
‘Hundreds of homes were lost and thousands of people were evacuated. However – terrible as the Californian fires were – they didn’t even start to compare with the blitz. We lived about five miles from the centre of London and when the whole city was ablaze – the sky was so bright – red and orange – that it was like day and you could have read a newspaper outside of the house. On top of that bombs were falling.’
He sent me copies of extracts from his war time logs. Much later details of how proud he was to receive an award in America seldom given to an Englishman!
Dec 14 Joined HMS Victorious
“ ” Sailed from Greenock Scotland
Jan 1 Arrived Norfolk Virginia USA Via Bermuda
In 2016 he wrote to tell me he had lost Louise and that same year ‘the French have honoured me for my service in helping to liberate France. I now have Chevalier (Knight) de la Legion D’Honneur.’
I knew that he had lived near us in London when I was a child and had visited us as a young man but I don’t remember him. He and his brothers were also strong singers who sung in a church choir. But he took great delight in telling me in old age that he could still remember all the street cries/songs of London, including the rude ones!
He often lectured me, but also informed me, sharing his knowledge of literature and his love of music and of poetry.
He sent me a large hardback volume of poetry for my 70th birthday. He said it was the one that all American children were familiar with.
I am so glad I have kept his emails, I guess we were also a bit like pen pals.
Do you remember thr pen pal era? That will have to be another blog!