Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Keeping promises...

Chris and I take a taxi down to the Harbour Master’s House in Dysart several times a week.  A small café there has proved one of the only spots in Dysart where we can pick up the internet.  Sometimes the café is bustling and sometimes we find ourselves the only customers.  It’s a lovely place, with windows that overlook the harbor, little colourful fishing boats bobbing on the surface of the water.  We enjoy our time there…a welcome break from the one room we currently occupy.

As constant as the day is the couple who arrives every afternoon around 2. I sense their love is likewise constant.  They are quite elderly and it appears that she has suffered a stroke.  He pushes her wheelchair into the café and goes to “their” table – a small round table in the middle of the café.  It is only after he has her settled that his own frailty becomes apparent.  His gait is somewhere between a shuffle and a limp.  They are dressed immaculately.  He is always dressed in trousers, shirt and sweater. She is always in woolen skirt and blouse with a cardigan in a soft pastel. Her hair is perfectly styled – and I suspect it is styled by his loving hands. He always orders the same thing – two lattés, served in elegant tall glasses.  He tastes them both, to see which one is cooler.  He adds her sugars (two packets), stirs the coffee and places a napkin on her chest.  And so they sit, sipping their coffee, but it is he who lifts the glass to her lips. The conversation is chatty and casual, albeit one-sided.  Her stroke has left her without a voice, but I have no doubt he hears her still as he converses with her, smiling and looking at her with  love. She looks at him too, but it is with a great sadness. I sense that she wishes so deeply that she could speak to him. I would imagine she would like to tell him that she is so grateful to him for staying with her “in sickness and in health.”

He looks like a Harry; she looks like a Margaret. I imagine them as young people, both actively involved in the war effort as Britain courageously stood up to the German Luftwaffe.  Perhaps he was in the Royal Navy; perhaps she was in the WRNs – the women’s Royal Navy.  Or maybe they were married by the time the war came. Perhaps as he served, she raised their children in a small Scottish village, waiting for her husband to come home. Like my darling in-laws, they are of that generation of admirable British strength and reserve. Their obvious love touches me so much when they come to the café. He takes good care of her and loves her dearly.

Chris and I sometimes find ourselves in rehearsal for that stage in life. My arthritis now requires an electric sitting trolley in the grocery store and, when the pain is overwhelming, Chris must often run errands for me or bring me a drink or a sandwich.  And just as “Margaret””looks lovingly and gratefully at “Harry”, I hope Chris can see the love and gratitude in my eyes. Until my voice is stilled, I tell him as often as I can.  Til death us do part.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

It's all relative...

During one of the few moments we are able to access the internet at this particular point in time (hence the lateness of this blog), Chris scans his “gadgets.”  “Look,” he says, “it’s over 90 degrees back in Staunton.”  (We lived in Staunton, Virginia for a year before returning to the UK.)  He says it with great longing.  I can only sigh and feel relief that I’m not there.  I don’t like heat.  More than that, I don’t like humid heat, which is what the mid-Atlantic of the United States is known for.  Summers back home were exhausting.  The heat and humidity would drain one of energy and a long-term heat wave would bring on feelings of impending madness.  I remember, years ago, when my daughter and I were living in a lovely little arts and crafts house in Staunton, having to share my bedroom during the summer.  There was no central air, so we became roommates for three months.  Despite her tiny frame, I was always amazed at how much room she could take up in my queen-sized bed (this is equivalent to a UK king-sized bed).  We would barricade ourselves against the heat, huddled next to the tiny window unit that cooled that tiny fraction of the large house.

When I first moved to the UK, I enquired as to summer highs.  When I was told that 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit was about the limit, I was thrilled.  I would enjoy the warmth without the humidity – and I did.  The third summer after my move, we went to the Greek island of Zakynthos for a two-week holiday.  It was the midst of July and I was convinced that I would wilt away in the Greek sunshine.  I had never experienced dry heat before, but was surprised and relieved to discover that the dry heat of Zakynthos was lovely after a damp and cold British winter.  Heat was not a bad thing, after all.  At least not that sort of heat.

Fast forward to our return to the States, and I found myself once again bemoaning the oppressive heat of the Virginia summers.  Even Chris, who was thrilled with the heat, would find it a bit overwhelming when the hot days seemed to feed into each other.  His moments on the little outside area of our apartment, which we had set up with a little bistro set, diminished as the summer sun beat down and heated the bricks and cement.  But he has forgotten that now and misses the summer heat.  Not me…I will never miss that kind of heat.

What we know and what we are used to regarding heat, weather-wise, is interesting.  I remember, years ago when I was still living in Virginia, working for a woman whose English fiancé came to visit in early spring.  While we “natives” were still in heavy cardigans or light-weight coats, I remember him walking about in shorts and t-shirts. To him, the spring “heat” was welcome and warm.  For this rest of us, used to summers of sweltering heat, it was still cool, sometimes even cold.  But for him, used to British springs of cold and rain, it was a tropical paradise.

It is now June in Scotland.  I am in long sleeves and a wrap.  But I stand alone. Around me, folks are walking around in short sleeves and sandals.  By American standards, it is cool.  By Scottish standards, it is warm.  It’s all relative to what we have known, what we have grown up with.  Summers that see the temperatures rarely top 85 degrees Fahrenheit are so welcome to me.  I love summers of blue skies and white fluffy clouds, as opposed to white cloudless skies with the sun beating down mercilessly.  Given my choice, I will choose British summers every time.

Chris misses the heat.  I suppose he could always go to a sauna.  After all, it’s the closest he’s going to get to a Virginia summer over here.