SHE’S 92, as fit as a fiddle and as smart as a whip snake. She’s funny, sassy, and on the ball. Except for one thing. She’s blind from macular degeneration and she sports a broken heart. Not much she can do about either. Except carry on.
I met Mrs D this week during the course of my job. Sometimes as journalist, when you wade through the quagmire of crap that’s delivered to your lap, and peer beyond the press releases and pitches, you find a gem. Mrs D was pure gold.
We weren’t meant to meet. Or maybe we were. It was a simple phone interview to talk about her school reunion, draping herself in the old school tie, or ties as they may be, after 75 years. But once it became apparent she could not see, was not internet savvy, and had no way of sending me photos of herself, I was given the privilege of visiting her at her home.
She greeted me with a python-like hug. “I’m so glad to meet you,” she said, not quite looking at me, as she couldn’t see me, just perhaps maybe my form. She looked 62, not 92. And she sported a wicked wit. She spoke with great pride of her grandchildren, one in Paris, another in Antarctica. The one in Antarctica has a girlfriend, Jessica, working as surveyor on a mine in Queensland’s Cloncurry. Mrs D wasn’t quite sure what to make of Jessica at first. “I wondered what kind of girl she would be, but then she turned up and she was tinier than me. I fell in love with her.” So much so, that Mrs D declined to comment on the fact her grandson and Jessica were “living in sin” in case “they didn’t talk to me anymore”. I couldn’t imagine that ever happening with this pocket rocket. Mrs D so loves Jessica, she ensures that each time she’s in Brisbane, even without the grandson who is still in Antarctica, she plans a family dinner. “She’s such a lovely girl, we want to keep her in our family,” Mrs D said.
I told Mrs D that she looked superb for 92. “That’s the good thing about not being able to see,” she said, “you can’t see all your wrinkles,” she smiled, nimble fingers stroking her face.
But among the bunches of lavender on her table and the crocheted doilies, this wasn’t what struck me the most. It was the love she still held for her husband, Nick, who died in 1994. “I never imagined I could live this long without him,” she had told me earlier in the day. It was the first time during the interview I detected a change in her voice. On the other end of the line, salty, pesky tears stung my eyes.
You see, Mrs D once worked in a bank. That’s where she met Nick. They became engaged and married during World War II and went on to live in Townsville where she worked with Qantas, as a clerk, until “peace was declared and the boys came home from the war.”
She still lunches a few times a year, at Brisbane’s Sofitel Hotel, with three of the surviving staff members from her bank days. “There were eight of us, but most of them are gone,” she said.
Her older sister and younger brother have also died. “It’s a terrible thing. You miss that link with your family,” she said.
But most of all, she misses Nick.
“Every night I have a glass of champagne, and I raise that glass to the empty seat beside me to keep his memory alive,” she said.
Love. It’s a many splendoured thing. Mrs D knows it. And I think we all do, too.