Leonora - I shall call her that, as she is not one for being in the spotlight - is a constant wonder and inspiration. She is a woman of quiet creativity with a simple but beautiful home, a humble spirit, a childlike enthusiasm for the world. Though she is now in her mid eighties - she taught my father when he was in kindergarten (he is now in his late 60s!) - she is not old in any way. She digs her own garden, cares for her home, grows the best sweetcorn I have eaten, cooks wonderful dinner parties, the list goes on...
Visiting her immerses me in a different set of values. There is a different rhythm to her life and days which I drink like water and wish I could bottle. For sure it is partly from the fact that she is an old woman and I am young, partly that she lives alone and I have a house full of tumbling children. But she is like the spirit of an age which is almost gone. Her generation and their gifts are in very short supply, never to come again. This makes me feel sad. Our generation seem more flimsy, superficial, wasteful.
Every time I see her I note how well she looks, and pray she will be here and healthy for ever, and yet know that she cannot, will not be. And that makes me feel sad. She is link to the past in general, and to my own family's past in particular. She has been a wonderful sounding board for me over the years: honest, abrupt, gushing with praise and jubilation over my own small achievements. She is a cipher for my own grandmother and namesake who I feel the loss of never having met.
She would have been a wonderful mother, but never had the opportunity. Secretly, selfishly, I am glad that I do not need to share her with real blood grandchildren. That she can pour her complete concentation and praise onto my dear children who adore her: she encourages them to clamber over the sofa, slide down the banisters and root through her cellar with a torch. They beg to visit her!
And so I visit, not that she needs my company and she robustly refuses any offers of help, to sup from the cup of her humble wisdom, her life-knowing.
Some of the lessons she has unconsciously taught me are...
Ask questions, lots of questions
Count your blessings rather than complain about what you don't have
There is a difference between speaking honestly and being judgemental
Make do and mend
Get something beautiful and hardy...look after it and keep it, regardless of fashion
Give away what you don't need
Dig your own garden
Grow only what you love
Buy good food and cook it simply but well
Elizabeth David is a supreme cookery writer
Cherish your children and every new stage of their development
Don't feel sorry for yourself
Don't talk too much about yourself (still not much good at that!)
Keep special cards and pictures on display
Keep reading and learning new things
Enjoy your friends to the full
Be humble, remember your role in the world, the universe
Embrace the moment and love it for what it is
Accept what is, do not regret what has passed
Don't worry too much about the cobwebs
You're never to old, or young, to enjoy gingerbread cookies
She has taught me so much about living. And perhaps, one day, she will teach me first hand about dying and surrender too.
Cherish your elders. Love them and learn from them, about living and dying. And help them where and when you can, not out of pity, but love, honour, respect and gratitude.