Last week my Mum celebrated her 89th birthday. As a surprise I booked a few days away for the two of us in Hay-On-Wye.
Hay-on-Wye, famous for it’s bookshops and the annual ‘Hay Festival’ – when 80,000 visitors descend on the sleepy little Welsh town to hear readings from some of the worlds Literary Giants – lies on the Welsh side of the Welsh/English Border in Powys. I grew up a heartbeat away on the other side of that border, in Herefordshire. So for both of us this was a proper trip back down Memory Lane.
I booked us both in to The Seven Stars, a 16th Century Inn right in the centre of the town, with it’s very own swimming pool; perfect for Mum who struggles to walk too far nowadays but happily swims 40 lengths a couple of times a week. A quick chat with Di – the owner – and Mum had THE perfect room allocated to her. All on one level….with said swimming pool En-Suite!
And – as a bit of a bonus – being in this room meant we had the pool exclusively to ourselves for parts of the day! And we are BOTH swimmers….. so that was just wonderful!
Now anyone who knows my Mum will know she knows EVERYONE – even if she does now live 70 miles away from them. When I told her that we were staying at The Seven Stars she simply said “Oh yes. Tommy Henderson’s daughter owns that”. And – sure enough – she still did! The Di who I had been booking rooms with was actually the Diana that Mum remembered from almost 30 years earlier when she worked for her father!
And – much to her delight – Diana quietly mentioned to her Dad that we were staying and that very same Tommy Henderson, now well into his 80’s himself, arrived at breakfast the next morning to say Hello.
For me – it was an absolute joy. I had never met this lovely man before and I sat, quietly listening, as they reminisced for over an hour about the old days. And not just 30 years ago when they had worked together – but way, way back.
They had both been children in war torn Britain, but had memories of completely different wars. Mum’s was a ‘City Childs’ war. Tommy’s was a war spent in the rural wilds of the Welsh border counties.
I listened to Mum and her tales of being evacuated. And of being shot at in the high street. Tommy meanwhile told of the seamstress in the village making him a Home Guard uniform out of a pair of brown curtains. And how he used be the ‘runner’ with messages from one post to the other – negotiating the woods that he knew like the back of his hand as fast has his little four-year-old legs would allow – to pass on vital war time secrets. Like what time Mr Evans was going for a beer and instructions for his fellow Home Guards to meet him.
And although they had never known each other back then they both had vivid memories of one particular night – and that was the night that Coventry got bombed.
Mum told Tommy of being down in the shelter in Birmingham – the memory still real and vivid.
And whilst the little girl that was my Mum was listening to Coventry being bombed, down in the shelter with her Mum, little Tommy (five years younger and 75 miles away in Wales) was standing outside with his Dad looking at the glow on the horizon. Just as my Mum remembers “everything shattering above her” Tommy remembers his Dad sighing and being told, “Coventry’s copping it tonight Son”.
Shared memories. Shared threads binding two people – 75 miles and 75 years apart.
And that is the beauty that is age. And we need to be SO careful that we aren’t just looking at well-worn bodies – my Mum, a stroke survivor of nearly 90, walking slowly with a stick; Tommy, 84, a survivor of a terrible tractor accident just 12 months earlier – and judging people by what we see.
These two people – twinkling eyes: and wicked sense’s of humors: and souls encasing a veritable treasure trove of memories, with creases showing where every smile had ever landed; they were not frail. Their bodies may not have been as strong as they once were – but that is not where beauty sits.
Beauty sits way, way, WAY below the surface.
And age brings a beauty all of it’s own. A beauty rooted in history, and memories, and friendships and invisible golden threads that bind us into the very stories of life itself. It is beauty far deeper that our eyes alone can see.
And those who have it are blessed.
For more of Mums wartime recollections you might enjoy VE Day – 75 Years On
For more about The Seven Stars and Holidays in Hay go to THE SEVEN STARS, HAY-ON-WYE and ask for Diana