I had a phone call this morning. Very sad news. My mother called to tell me that a favourite aunt had passed away.
That’s never a good call to have to make or to receive. And there’s a lot of sadness in coming to terms with the news. However, in spending time thinking about Grace, a huge number of wonderful memories have come to mind.
Aunty Grace lived in Dover, which meant that her house was an obvious destination for many summer trips during my childhood. This being pre-M25, we used to pootle along A-roads in Dad’s old Ford Anglia, the three kids sliding around on the vinyl cover of the rear seat, completely unrestrained in more ways than one. There was a roadside eaterie that we passed, which would always let us kids know we were getting close, as we’d just passed ‘Smellie’s Cafe’.
Grace lived at the top of her road, literally as well as metaphorically. The street wound up the hill in a series of sharp corners, and her house was at the very summit, looking down upon the other houses – in which, at different times and numbers – all of her three children lived. A call to Number 10 held as much excitement and trepidation in Dover as it did in Downing Street…
As kids we loved visiting, as the house had a huge rear garden and a front garden that sloped very sharply to the road, ideal for rolling down. There were cousins and friends we didn’t see that often, and places to go and play that were very different from our usual home life. There were games we didn’t have at home – a communal game of Mousetrap in the front parlour was a treat, not just because the game was fun, but because it allowed we children entry into a room we didn’t get to see that often. Life in Number 10 revolved around the kitchen and the back room, filled with Rayburn stove and lots of laughter. And in command and control of it all, was Aunty Grace.
She wasn’t a very big woman in her stature, but it’s amazing to think how someone so relatively small could fill everybody’s lives so completely. She was the centre, the gravity for the family there and here, and loved her family, her friends, and her life to the full. It was very possible to get in her bad books, but rarely would anybody stay there for very long. She had a twinkle in her eye and a busy, bustling walk that made you very aware that whilst she may take her time getting somewhere, by God she was going to get there.
As I grew older, she became much more of a friend, but no less of an Aunt – and an Aunt in the very best tradition of P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster. She was our Aunt Dahlia, friendly, loving, laughing, helpful, but never – be sure of this – never any less than in charge. And we wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The passing of her husband, my Uncle Bill, some years ago, was a big blow to her, but seemed to make her even more determined that this life was one of fun, family, and smiles. And although the latter years saw her less aware as illness took it’s toll, she will always be, to me, the lady bustling around the kitchen, making sure everyone has a cup of tea. She will always be the one sat in the Village Hall at the bottom of the hill, her family all around her. She’ll always be a Cheshire Cat, twinkling of eye and with a huge smile that is going to remain with us all, long after today’s sadness has softened.
Rest in peace, Aunty Grace. With all our love xxx
Edit: The picture above shows Aunty as a girl, abd the ‘babe in arms’ is my dad. It’s the only picture Dad has of himself as a child, and as such it’s very special to him. More so now after today’s sad event. Their mum died whilst both were still very young, and Grace took on the role of mother, helping raise my dad. She was more than just a sister to him. Look after yourself Dad, you’re part of a very special family xx