Friday, August 08, 2008

Visiting again

I have just come back from another trip, visiting old friends and making some new ones. I went to the village of Bollington near Macclesfield in Cheshire, which is where my husband and I bought our first home after returning from India in 1959, and where two of our four sons were born. I had been there briefly last year and written about the experience here.

We lived then in half of what had once been a farm, but which had been divided into two cottages [ours was on the right of the picture]. The other half was occupied by a couple with three daughters, two of them still at home. We were 'commuters' and they were local people, working pretty much on whatever came to hand. We all became very close over the years: the mother cleaned for me and also babysat, and the middle daughter, who was in her teens, came to me as a mother's help at the times that my two middle children were born at home in the cottage. My husband used to help them out with jobs that needed doing and the youngest daughter and my sons used to play together. We were very much part of each others lives. After six years we moved to a larger house in the same village, and four years after that, in 1969, my husband was moved from Manchester to London and we came to live in Hertfordshire. [The cottages are decorated with bunting for the first Bollington Festival in 1964.]

After forty years, all the girls are now married and only their father is still living. He is almost 93 and unable to care for himself. His middle daughter, who has her home in Macclesfield, has virtually moved in with her father to look after him, but drives to her own home twice a day to cook meals for her husband and two middle-aged sons. She can only leave her father for about an hour at a time, and no longer has any life of her own. I wanted to visit the old man while I still could, and renew my acquaintance with his daughter, who had spent so much time caring for my children. [Seen in the next picture with my two eldest sons.]

I took with me two heavy photograph albums from the time that we lived there, and also a DVD player with a CD of pictures of my boys as they grew up and had children of their own. Over the three days (staying in a B&B) I had expected to visit them only on one day, but in the end I saw them on each of the three days, and we were still going through photo albums! It proved to be the best way of filling in all those years since we had lived next door to each other. It was an emotional experience. There was a time, after my husband and I were separated, when he used to call in on them once a year, on his way to Leeds on family business, and we all missed him as we talked over old times. Also I was very moved on my last evening when my friend told me that her mother had been deeply upset when we had to move away, as she felt that we had been the best neighbours they had ever had, before or since! I wished I had recognised her feelings at the time, and could have acknowledged them in some way.

Before I left I had a chance to look round the half of the cottage in which we used to live. Experience has taught me that doing this can be a more painful than rewarding experience, since one's old home will inevitably have been altered, so one doesn't find one's memories intact. Curiosity always wins, though, in my case, and I am glad to say that, although the kitchen had been entirely remodelled and extended, in the rest of the house I was able to pull my memories around me again.

[This is our part of the cottage from the garden.]

1 comment:

Helen said...

I really enjoyed reading about your visit to your old neighbours. What a wonderful lady to be so devoted to her father.

You taking the time and effort to visit them must have meant so much to them, especially seeing all your photos.

On my last visit to UK I met our old neighbours by chance and we stood chatting for only 20mins. Our hugs goodbye were warm and meaningful. We had "history" together. It was the highlight of my whole three weeks there.