Wednesday, 14 December 2011
Window No. 14
This is my mum with her great friend, Sarah Brinkman. Sarah and her husband, Billy lived in the area where my mother was raised. They'd been farmers until Billy decided that enough was enough. They bought a plot of land in Kirkstall and Billy, almost by himself, built their house. When my grandmother Maud died and my grandfather Alfred fell into a deep depression, it was the Brinkmans who helped mum and her new fiance (my father) to pick up the pieces.
Sarah and Billy were as different as a ham joint and a loaf of bread but equally they went together wonderfully. Billy was a short, quiet man who spent much of his time in the garden. That's the place I always remember him, tending to his flowerbeds while my father and he exchanged tips on growing vegetables. Sarah was the joker of the pair, an entertainer with a constant smile, a laughing light in her eyes and a well stocked larder. She always had more than sufficient supplies in to feed an army. When I picture her in my mind, she is wearing a pinny over a floral dress, a cardigan over that, thick stockings cladding her legs and her white hair is pinned into curls.
Theirs wasn't a massive house, it sat squat between the older, taller buildings. The staircase was steep, the steps so shallow that it was a tremorous mountain climb to the toilet. It was a working house with a pantry to be kept, fireplaces to be cleaned and lit, and tiled floors to wash. There was something incredibly comforting about Sarah and Billy, and the home they had created though, and as a child, teenager and young adult, I always looked forward to my visits there.
When Billy died in his seventies, Sarah stayed on in the home they had shared together. She became incredibly deaf and I would have to knock on the window of her lounge for about ten minutes before she'd look up from the television and see me. The area changed. Landlords bought a lot of the multi storey period houses and rented them to students. Only a handful of residents, most of them elderly remained. Sarah's world grew smaller as she ventured out less. It probably became more frightening too. Watching the news can make the world seem a terrible, scary place. Opening her door though, Sarah would light up my day with her smile, beckon me in and offer me whatever sustenance she had.
When we think of Christmas, it's natural to think of families and groups of people. We sometimes forget that there are those who will spend the day alone. Many of them will be elderly. A great deal of them are too proud to ask for help and see themselves as a nuisance. What will make their day is a phone call, a quick visit, a present (it may be the only one they get this year), or even a Christmas card. I'll be checking in on the old birds I hold dear to my heart by giving them a call. I hope that if I'm ever in their situation, there'll be someone to do the same for me.