Today I’m remembering, and shedding a tear, for my wonderful neighbour Pam who was laid to rest the other day after dying at the age of 89.
Pam was easy company, constantly chuckling to herself as she spoke. Relentlessly good natured, and an eternal optimist, she was always of a sunny disposition and all our worries and troubles would vanish in her company.
We would enjoy many a time just sitting together in the garden in the sun, sharing each other’s company and a pot of tea.
Pam sometimes seemed like she belonged to a bygone era. An era of Scott of the Antarctic or Sir Edmund Hillary scaling Mount Everest. She was very well spoken and exuded an open minded Britishness of the sort that includes a natural inquisitiveness – an explorer mentality – rather than the insular, closed off little Englander. In fact, the only time I remember her getting angry was at David Cameron after the EU referendum. Pam was truly a woman of the world… A woman without borders.
And she would tell us stories of her globetrotting youth – her time living on Pacific islands or exploring the Australian outback. A lover of opera, she would often tell us of the time she cajoled and harangued her sister into joining her for a once-in-a-lifetime night at Sydney Opera House. Conversation and good humour, always flowed, along with a brimming teapot or the bottle of wine we were sharing.
A conversation with Pam often led to some interesting and mysterious places. It seemed that every other sentence was a question that made you think, and think deeply… but not too seriously.
If you ventured into the back garden while Pam was around, you could always rely on her to give you a much needed boost from over the fence:
“Don’t you look wonderful?”;
“I love your daffodils!”;
“Isn’t your garden beautiful?”
…often followed by a string of gardening questions I had no hope of being able to answer.
We were never quite sure of her profession. Not knowing whether it was as a care assistant or a nurse, but Pam was thrilled when our children were born as if they were her own flesh and blood. She was like a surrogate mother and grandmother to our family, and when the children were small, she could be relied on to offer gentle advice or to pop round and babysit, or lend a hand so we could have a rest.
When the children grew older, she would invite them round and they would keep her company and help her in her house or her well loved garden. She’d pay them in juice and biscuits, or she would give them a little money for sweets as a thank you, writing out a little payslip for “work undertaken”.
Living alone, she never seemed short of company, but she could also be fiercely independent. She also had a gently rebellious sense of humour and delighted in anything quirky, or anything that subverted what was expected of her as a woman ‘of a certain age’.
The people who sold us our house, nearly 20 years ago, told us that part of the reason they’d chosen us as buyers was how well they thought we’d get along with Pam…
I miss Pam. I’d often hear her through the wall late at night. We both seemed to be night-owls and I miss the sound of her listening to Wagner in the early hours, or the sound as she stoked her fire, or filled her kettle.
Every now and then I would hear her rattling the coat hangars in her fitted wardrobe in the dead of night and smile – a warm sound in the dark. Slightly alarmingly, I also heard her rattling them when she was visiting her family on the other side of the world.
I let her know on her return and after pausing wide-eyed she started chuckling again about the ghost she must be sharing her house with.
She was like an extra member of the family. She would bake us cakes. She would bring us presents. She would snooze on our sofa.
She would tell us that she loved us.
Pam is still part of the universe. The wind plays in the long grass of the field next to where she is buried. And while her physical remains are lying in the graveyard of the church she attended every Sunday, part of her will also live on in our memories and in our hearts.
We love you too, Pam. Rest in peace