I first visited this house in 1970, but it was not until three years later that the son of the family and I became closer than simple friendship. After we married in May 1973, we visited his home regularly; we were both close to our families and lived half an hour’s drive away from here. Once we had children we fell into the habit of usually visiting my mother (and in due course my stepfather too) for Sunday lunch (unless they came to us) and the Sage’s parents for tea.
The house was warm and friendly and unpretentious, but it was very different to any other I knew. It was older, for a start, with large rooms made dark by windows enclosed by dark curtains with pelmets, and with low ceilings – the drawing room ceiling was particularly low, being only 6 foot 6 inches (2 metres) high with a beam across the middle that my husband and his father ducked under without noticing. The kitchen was a bit startling, all stainless steel and orange melamine – very 1960s, which didn’t seem to suit the house. I liked the house but could never imagine myself living here.
Years went by. The children visited frequently and loved spending weekends with Granny and Grandpa but in 1983, after a short illness, my father-in-law died. We had booked a family holiday in Jersey only a few weeks later and felt bad about leaving Ma, but she was insistent that we should go. On our return we visited her of course and a few days later my husband went over again for a long talk.
We were members (and still are) of the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk yacht Club in Lowestoft and used to meet a couple of times a week there for lunch. On this day, and I remember exactly where we were sitting and what we ate (we shared a round of cheese and a round of ham sandwiches and a salad), the Sage told me that his mother had decided that the house was too large and impractical for her to manage on her own and that she would sell it and move.
Several thoughts whipped through my mind. The Sage still had loads of stuff in the outbuildings, from his early engineering days. What on earth would we do with it? He loved the house and so did our children as, I realised, did I. He would hate to see it go. I opened my mouth to speak.
You know when you are as surprised with what you say as is the person you speak to?
“Would you like us to move there?
The Sage was astonished. He knew how much I loved our home. He was also thrilled and tried hard not to sound too keen, so we talked about the possibilities for a little while and we decided that it would be best for him to talk to Ma alone – she might not be keen on the idea and frankness would be easier just between mother and son.
In the event, she was thrilled too. She told me that she and Pa always wished that one of their three children would eventually come and take over the house, but never suggested it as they didn’t want to put anyone under undue pressure. She never, she said, thought that I would consider living there.
This story will come in several episodes – I feel it is something of an imposition on you, but you tell me that you enjoy my reminiscences, so you’re going to get ’em. It seems odd to consider writing some of it down, memories are so personal – but I’ll see how it goes.