I hadn't liked her at all. Not many people did. She was loud and rude and critical and demanding. But now that she is dead, I guess I shouldn't be saying these things. One shouldn't speak ill of the dead.
Lots of people went to her funeral. More than I'd expected. I didn't think she had so many friends - but some of them no doubt came because they liked her husband, who's charming and quite a flirt, even now when he's in his 80's. I didn't see anybody cry at the funeral, except for one of her grandsons who brushed away a tear. I guess it's good to know somebody cared for her enough to do that. I sure didn't.
But now I have been asked to clear her room of her things, and decide what to give to Oxfam, what to save as potentially valuable, and what to chuck out. I was quite pleased to be asked, because I'm very interested in antiques, and you can never tell what might turn up.
Her clothes were no problem - they were all rubbish. I didn't put them in the dustbin, but into bags to put into the clothes recycling bin at the supermarket car park. The charity shops would turn up their noses at her clothes which were faded and stretched and very well worn. Mostly she had worn dark tweed skirts and pale blue polyester crew neck sweaters and navy wool cardigans. Not a pretty blouse or dress in sight. And she had long legged underwear and very substantial vests. I can't see anybody wanting those, although I suppose they might make good dust rags.
But next I tackled her chest of drawers thinking maybe something would turn up that's more interesting. Way at the back of her middle drawer, behind her practical underwear, I saw a box - probably for jewellery. It's made of wood and carved quite intricately, but it's not in good condition. Antiques Roadshow would not be impressed. I opened it, and as expected, there was jewellery inside.
It looked mostly junk from first glance. The earrings are all screw-type. They must be pretty old because I don't think in the 40 plus years I'd known her I'd ever seen her wearing earrings. But they aren't particularly pretty and don't look all that valuable.
But then I noticed a necklace - quite a chunky one - made of russet stones - six of them strung across the front. I held it up to my neck and looked in the mirror. But I could see that the clasp is broken, so I couldn't try it on properly. I vaguely remember seeing a picture of her - her wedding picture I presume - on the mantel piece in the front room where I used to have tea with them sometimes. She looked young and energetic in the picture, but not really what you would call pretty. More interesting and healthy looking than pretty. Her husband on the other hand was very handsome, and in the picture he looks besotted with her. She must have been in her early 20's and he quite a bit older.
I put the necklace back. I had sort of thought they might ask me if I would like any of her stuff for doing the job of cleaning her room out, but I don't think the necklace would really suit me. It's too showy-off and heavy looking. Anyway, I would feel rather guilty wearing her jewellery as if I'd been a friend of hers and wanted to remember her in happier times, when really I didn't like her at all.
I dug through the rest of the broken watches and beads. Nothing really that I would call valuable, but I suppose her granddaughters might fight over some of the things.
But at the very bottom of the box I was intrigued to see a letter. She kept letters, and I have already sorted out lots of them that she got from her sons and grandchildren over the years. But this one must have been special if she kept it hidden away and sort of preserved. I suppose I shouldn't really have opened it, but who would know? And I was curious to see if it was a love letter from that handsome husband of hers when they were first dating.
The envelope is a bit faded, but I could just make out the date - and when I saw that it was June 11, 1958, I knew that it wasn't what I was hoping for. She would have been in her mid 40's by then. And it was addressed to a hotel (I presume) in a town about 25 miles away from here. But the postmark was from here in our little village.
As I gingerly opened the envelope (I don't want anyone to know that I snooped at it, so must make sure I put it back just as it was) I saw that the letter was torn in four ragged pieces. So she prized it, and yet was upset enough by it to tear it up. I was really becoming interested now. It was quick to piece it together, and the writing although small was very neat and easy to read. It was from her husband, after all - I checked the end first to see whose signature was on it. I started to read it.
I hope you are well and are enjoying this very fine weather we are having. Have you been able to get out and play any golf? I know how much you enjoy that.
I do hope you will think about coming home soon. And something else that I hesitate to mention but feel I must. I do hope you will be coming back to sleep in my bed when you are home again. I don't feel it is fair on me to have you reject me now. I am prepared to come and sit with you for an hour or so in the afternoons and have a drink - as you say you are lonely much of the time - but I cannot really spend much of my time with you, as you know how important it is that I do my job well, and you know how busy my job keeps me. I hope you will give this your consideration. I know we both will have to make adjustments in our lives, but I am willing to do that and hope you are too.
Wow. My face grew red as I read the letter and realised how personal it was. How would I feel if somebody read something about my sex life after I was dead? But it raised all sorts of questions in my head too. Had she left him - was that why she was living at that hotel? I thought her children would have all been away from home by that time - probably at University as they are a bright bunch. If she had left him, was it because he had had an affair? He always appeared such a saintly man - so well-liked, so much involved with the Church. But I could think it possible of him. He did flirt with lots of women, including, I must admit, me, and I had enjoyed having him do it. If his wife didn't want to sleep with him anymore, was it because he was having an affair, or perhaps, he had an affair after she refused him?
But maybe I am on the wrong track here. Maybe she wasn't in a hotel at all, but some sort of rest home. Maybe she was depressed or had had a nervous breakdown, or maybe she had been drinking too much and he put her in the hotel to dry her out. He does sort of imply that he will have one drink with her, as if that was all she would be allowed. I don't remember ever seeing her with having had too much to drink. She liked wine but only ever had one glass. But in the letter, he is asking her to come home - as if it were her choice - and if she had been committed to a place for therapy presumably he would have been responsible for that, and she couldn't leave until she was better.
So, I think the chances are she left by choice, and because she was unhappy with him.
It seemed like he felt he was making a huge concession to her by offering to spend more time with her - but only when he had time and on his terms. No wonder she was upset if that was all she had to look forward to from her marriage.
She obviously had gone back to him - because they were living together all the time I knew them. But not happily. She carped and nagged at him all the time, and many others as well as me, felt sorry for him being married to such a harridan.
I wondered if I should throw the letter away and not tell anybody about it. I don't think his family would like to know that I read it - and if I left it in the jewellery box, they would probably read it too, and guess that I would have done so. I wonder why she tore it up - and then kept it so carefully afterwards. She must have been angered by his suggestions - and probably upset that he should mention their sex life in a letter. But she must have valued it all the same. I wish I could ask her what she would want me to do with it. If I were in her place, I think I would want it thrown out. But, I can also hear her in my mind saying that it certainly is not my place to make that sort of decision. She would hate me having control over how people regarded her in the future. And would this letter make any difference to what people thought of her?
I think so. Because I think that having read it, I now don't like her any better - but perhaps I understand her reasons for being as she was. I perhaps can see why she was rude and bossy and unpleasant - especially to her husband, who everyone regarded so highly. She was probably jealous that people should think so well of him, when she really knew that he was far from perfect. If he had really had an affair - she perhaps never forgave him, but even so, she stuck with him for the rest of his life. Maybe her grandchildren in years to come, will read this letter, and feel that they too know her better for realising that her life had its problems.
I put the letter back under the jewellery, my decision made, and got back to my task of sorting out the rest of her things.