This is a season of change, falling leaves, and the loosening of memory.
And this autumn, amongst leaves of another kind, I discovered a gift. I was sorting the last of my mother-in-law’s papers. She died in November, aged 95.
It was tempting to throw out the whole bundle. But I kept it to sort, and how glad I am. Because I found two letters, on blue paper and in an even, rounded handwriting that was familiar to me.
Beena (whom I called ‘Granny’) was like a guardian angel to me, when as a young married woman I travelled across the world with my husband to visit his home country of England, and to explore Europe. Several years later we left New Zealand again to live in Paris for two years, where my husband went to theatre school. In the summer holidays we rented a thatched cottage in Dorset, England. I’d written my PhD on Thomas Hardy, and there amidst the rolling hills of the ‘Hardy country’, I prepared to give birth to our baby.
My mother was across the world, my mother-in-law was in America, and I was bereft of female relatives – except for Beena, who set herself up in the village inn, ‘just to keep an eye’.
It was from this inn that she wrote to her daughter in America. For the first time I read her loving description of how we were with our new baby boy.
Her tender words unfurled from the page and wrapped themselves around me like a silky shawl. Our baby is ‘thriving’, she writes. I am ‘a good little mother’, and my husband ‘marvellous’ as he does every kind of chore ‘so well and happily’. She loves to see and hear me ‘playing sweet melodies’ on my guitar after his early evening feed, which makes him ‘quiet at once.’
Such a picture of happiness. Beena would invite us to meals at the inn so that I didn’t have to cook, and she watched over our little one while we rambled along the hedgerows picking blackberries.
A year later, things fell apart tragically, but for now I have this beautiful memory revived, through the blue pages that Beena wrote over 40 years ago. Treasure amidst the falling leaves of autumn .