Monday, July 14, 2008

Lonely?

Have Kingdom, will hold Garden Party.

Thus it is that today I am delivering invitations to the joint Senior Citizens/WI Afternoon Tea that will be held here in the small mountain Kingdom of Trelystan in about 3 week's time. It's not an onerous task - my share of the invitations amounts to 15 envelopes. Nonetheless it's a time consuming one - minutes must be allotted for searching for gates, doors and letterboxes. Time must be built in for explanations and 'passing the time of day'. There are courtesies to be observed and cups of tea to be supped. I am reminded of Robert Frost's 'A Time to Talk'.
When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, 'What is it?'
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
....I am busy. I could do with being on my way. I have learned though that sometimes it's best just to stand and talk for a while.

My last envelope of the day is for an elderly - no, old - man (let's not mince our words) who has seen much better and more gracious days. He lives alone at the top of a lane in a substantial house - a shabby ill-preserved relic of his mother's days - which is slowly being subsumed into the land from which it came. Outside its grey stone walls ground elder, bramble and nettle gobble up garden. He is to tell me later that he has just planted 160 rhubarb plants amidst this chaos. I wonder why.

I find a door but no letterbox. The key is on the outside. I rap gently - my softest and most unthreatening knock.

Slippered feet can be heard slithering across the floor. The door is opened and I proffer my envelope. 'Will you come in for a moment?' he asks, adding the non sequitur 'I've had a busy day - washing and jam making.'

'Yes, for a moment, yes.' And in I go; over a floor of cream and black encaustic tiles, through a scullery with a single tap over a pot sink to the morning room where a steaming Rayburn hosts a line of pegged shirts and capacious underpants. A straight backed chair is pulled out for me at the table where, had I the time, I could read the newspapers which serve as table covering. A knife and fork are placed at one end of the table. A sweet piece of Chinese pottery, incongruous amongst the muddle, catches my eye. I wonder what is for tea.

We talk. The day's news - the once nimble and professional mind still has a good grasp of current affairs - and of his health and isolation. He politely but firmly declines the invitation to Afternoon Tea. 'I've always been asked but have never gone and I don't think I shall this time either. People, you know, such numbers, don't really want to be among them. Never been one for company. Thank you all the same.'

In this self-imposed isolation friends and family are aged and infirm but mostly dead. (He cannot keep up with the multitude of youngsters which have the family genes.) Few visitors or outings cross the horizon and these days the post man no longer brings the milk up from the gate such is his impatience to complete his round.

There is the question of how long he can stay here alone. He threatens himself with Going Into A Home but so far the question of The Cost has been a deterrent as have qualms about Other Residents. For how long he will be fit enough to stay here is unknown. He seems to manage.

All around him the known world crumbles, crime and violence, knives and frightening youths. 'His' day was 8 decades ago or more and they did things differently then. I can only agree.

'Perhaps I will be found dead in my garden one day'

'That would be rather a fine way to go' I volunteer. He nods.

As I leave he gestures rather elegantly and precisely for me to turn the car around then stands and watches as I head back down the lane. The grass growing between the narrow wheel ruts is so long that it brushes the undercarriage of the car.

When I reached the road I had a feeling that if I took a backwards glance I would see that the grass had already grown green and lush over the lane behind me and that the house had melted down into a mess of weeds and trees. If I stopped the engine and rolled my window down I would hear nothing but silence broken by birdsong. No one passes this way any more.

11 comments:

Lindsay said...

A sad little tale but one I can understand. My dad, nearing 90, who lived with us for 30 years slowly became a hermit preferring his own company than ours. He is now in residential care but still remains a hermit not wishing to see anyone. He has a perfect mind, reading books most of the day.

Blossomcottage said...

I loved that every bit of it, yes its sad in its way, but in someways not so sad how nice that really he does like his own company and is not fretful about being alone, probably more fretful about having to be in a home with other.
Your writing reminds me of the wonderful Bernard Miles and "Over the Gate" You might have heard of it, if not here is a link.
I love it and I hope you do too.
Blossom

"http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUE41UHXMM8

Elizabethd said...

Your gentleman sounds as though he is in charge of his life. Maybe lonely, maybe a bit sad, but at least he is doing it as he wants to for the moment.

elizabethm said...

This is the most perfect piece of writing. I will hold him in my mind in his crumbling house. Will you go back?

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

Mountaineer - that was lovely . . . he doesn't sound unhappy and also busy to plant that much rhubarb. . . and if he likes his own company then he isn't lonely. I would be quite happy with that in my old age and with the odd visitor as well perhaps and the company of a dog, or a cat.

Cait O'Connor said...

That was so beautiful.

ChrisH said...

That was very moving. I'm so glad you found time to talk to your gentleman .. and to tell us about him. He doesn't know it but he's in our thoughts.

Thank you for your fair weather wishes.

Anonymous said...

As always your writing evokes the atmosphere and people you have met.What a lovely old chap he sounds.

Frances said...

Absolutely exquisite bit of writing, bringing to our eyes what your eyes saw. That old gentleman is a gem, and many thanks for letting us meet him.

lampworkbeader said...

A lovely piece of writing. I could just imagine that man and his home. I think the way he is living is how I would like to end my days...

Anil P said...

I wonder sometimes if in declining company one might actually be craving for some, for, unless experiences where the rest of the company ignored the old among them, why would one not want the warmth of fellow beings.

But yes, some may genuinely wish to be left alone, and it makes me wonder why.

Is it out of hurt over being left alone when one desired company, gradually isolating oneself more to withdraw from an 'insensitive world' than wanting to do one's own thing.

You've narrated it beautifully, leaving a tender but perplexed impression on the mind.

I hope on another day the old man will agree to come down for the tea party you host.