I’ve mentioned before that my father died suddenly when I was 16 years old. This left my mother as a young widow of 46, with daughters aged 21 and 16. It was awful, as you might imagine, but we pulled together and coped.
Six years later, my mother remarried. We very much liked our stepfather. He had parted from his first wife many years before and, in addition to their happiness together, he was thrilled to be welcomed into our family. When they married, I had one child and was expecting my second, and my sister married not long afterwards too.
My mother and Wilf were married for 10 years before he, like my father, died suddenly from a heart attack. This was the year after we moved here; he’d had heart trouble and had been advised to move to a bungalow to avoid stairs. We offered them our granny annex, which had been empty since my mother-in-law’s death. My mother wanted some alterations made – her four-poster bed, for example, would not fit in either of the bedrooms – and it was while we were waiting for planning permission to be granted, that Wilf died.
The alterations were done, she spent vast sums on decorating the bungalow, she sold her house and, eventually, was ready to move in. I’ll not forget moving day. Her two dogs came over to spend the day with me. Bruce, a nervous big black labrador (obtained via the RSPCA, he had not had a good start in life and it took years for him to recover his confidence fully), and Isobel, a smaller labrador cross, who had been blind since birth. I went upstairs and Izzy followed, without my knowledge. When I went down again, I called her and she blundered out of the bathroom, across the narrow landing and straight through the banisters, which were wider apart than was safe. I heard a thump in the hall and rushed in, to find an inert body. It was not that big a drop, not much over 7 feet, but straight on to a brick floor. I gazed at her, horrified, wondering if she was dead, I spoke her name – and she raised her head and wagged her tail.
I took her straight to the vet, who examined her and said that, amazingly, she was just winded and completely uninjured. We supposed that, as she had not known what was happening, she relaxed and didn’t try to save herself, and that had saved her. When I told the vet (who was a good friend, my little boy was friends with his children) what had happened, I said I’d rung my mum to tell her. She had been very nice about it. “Was she,” he said dryly, “too nice?”
I was able to assure him that she had been genuinely sympathetic to me and not over-polite.
Funnily enough, when Izzy died, several years later, my mother wasn’t there either. She had gone to visit my sister and I had to phone, say the old dog was very ill and, if the vet said there was nothing to be done, should I agree to have her put down. The poor old lass, I left her in the back of the car and T, the same vet, came out to examine her there, and did the deed straight away. I brought her home so she could be buried in the garden.