This week my thoughts turned to a wonderful lady I knew as a child. Until I was 10, we lived in a small, quiet, backwater village in Kent, in the middle of the hop-gardens and apple orchards of The Garden of England. One of the village characters, although one of the quietest people you could ever chance to meet, was Eva. She was a spinster lady in her sixties, I should think, and she lived alone in a very small terraced cottage with a long garden in which she grew her own veg and fruit. She kept herself through playing the organ in church, and accompanying the village dancing lessons, and accompanying anyone who was taking music exams or dance exams or performing in the village shows.
Eva was very special to me. I had quite a lot to do with her as I was a musical child and did lots of competitions on the recorder, and danced (or tried to – as well as one can with flat feet!!) as well as singing in the church choir and taking part in the shows. She was a constant presence in my life and such a gentle influence. She had very little money – in fact she lived on so little that she would never eat with me whenever I went round to her for tea, which was inevitably a boiled egg with a slice of bread and a piece of home-made fruit cake. She would always say that she had already eaten, or wasn’t hungry yet, and I never once thought deeper about it. It was only years later that I found out that that was all she had, and when I turned up for tea, she went without. She never once said anything, and was always so glad to see me.
The reason Eva invariably comes into my thoughts at this time of year is because of her wonderful love of Christmas. She would always so look forward to taking out her treasured box of Christmas decorations and tinsel. The tinsel would nestle around her nativity scene which just fitted on top of her mantelpiece, and the piano candle sconces would be decorated with tiny bits of coloured tinsel. Her cards would be ranged along the top of the piano.
Her living room was tiny – in fact her cottage was too – two up and two down with an outside privy up the garden. She would wash in her bedroom in a basin and ewer. She had only a little crockery and cutlery, and one of her plates had been mended so many times that you couldn’t see the pattern for the glued cracks. But she never complained. In fact, she was the epitomy of thankfulness and gratitude. She never saw the bad in anyone, not even her neighbour who acted like an absolute witch to her! She was always so happy with her life, wondering how she was so lucky to be paid to do the thing she loved the most in her life – playing the piano, and she always thanked her God that she could feed herself through her garden.
When we moved away when I was ten, we were all heart-broken, and we continued to visit Eva on a regular basis whenever I went to a nearby town for my singing lessons as a teenager. Only this time, we always brought the tea with us! She came to visit us on holiday – we had moved to Hastings, a town on the south coast with a very historic past – and she came to see the sea. She was so in awe at everything she saw. She would stop in the middle of a busy road, totally oblivious to the fast-moving traffic, and gaze up at the seagulls, with her hands in the air and total wonder on her face. She would always ask to visit the sea so she could paddle as the first thing she did, and she would remove her shoes and stockings and raise her skirt to her knees, and just paddle up and down the edge of the water until she could no longer feel her toes! This child-like innocence never left her and still brings tears to my eyes when I remember her.
She wasn’t simple – far from it! She had very little education, but loved to read. She had a strong religious faith but never spoke of it. She just loved life and people and nature. When she was visiting us once, we took her to a local pottery, and she bought a mug with her savings and treasured that mug, drinking her one cup of coffee a day out of it, and sitting remembering her visits to us and the sea every time. When she died, the little that she had was given with love to her friends, and she had saved her special mug for me. It is my soup mug, so in the winter, I always sit and remember those wonderful days of my childhood with her, her wonderful innocence, and her calm acceptance of her life’s lot.
I was so fortunate to have known Eva. I hope there are still Eva’s around for our youngsters to know today.