Yesterday was full and happy. I left first thing to drive down to Sussex by the sea, where my honorary mum, the wonderful E was celebrating her 90th birthday together with her 3 children, J, T & S,- all of whom have been part of my life forever.
Though the actual birthday was on Thursday, there was still a hugely festive air to the holiday cottage where we gathered - J and her husband coming from Denmark, and earlier in the week D had visited from Dubai, as well as those of us who'd come from assorted corners of the UK. For me E has been a warm and constant presence, a source of love and encouragement at every stage. just after the 2nd world war, when my father contracted tuberculosis and found himself in a sanitorium next to E's husband T, an RAF pilot who had been one of the "few" in the Battle of Britain. When both men were discharged, they lost touch for a few years, bumping into each other by chance when Daddy needed a ladder to arrange a fundraising display, popped in to a nearby pub (in a small town a good 50 miles away from the sanitorium) to borrow one and found T working behind the bar. The friendship resumed instantly and when T2 was born, Daddy became his godfather, while we returned the compliment when J became my godmother in turn. Sadly tuberculosis claimed T's life before I was even born, but the families remained close, E caring for me and including me among her children during my own mother's frequent spells in hospital. Bringing up 3 children on a war widow's pension must have been so hard, but there was never a feeling of scarcity, of eking out resources - rather a joyous creativity as E showed us what could be done to create beauty from things that others would have discarded. I like to think that HG's penchant for "Charity Shop Chic" was learned from watching E, always quirkily elegant on less than a shoe string. I love that whole family so much. They've always been there...always welcomed me...always made me feel totally at home....and the loving connections continue for the next generation, as T2 is Hattie Gandhi's godfather.
Yesterday was,I think, the first time we've all been together since HG was very tiny.There were lots of "do you remember?" conversations, lots of comfortable silences, lots of sheer delight in each other's company. Since my generation had all grown up by the seaside, where else could be the right backdrop for our rejoicings? It was all very British - cold and windswept and wonderful...and after a few bracing moments (the only concession to E's age was that we didn't actually stride for a couple of miles along the beach) we took refuge in a nearby pub (where William Blake had a run in with the army once long before).
300 miles round trip and worth every second.
Thank you, E...Your birthday, like your birth, was a gift to all of us.