Time It Was, And What A Time It Was

I had dinner with an old friend on Wednesday night, and when I say old, I mean very, very old: Beth and I met on our first day of boarding school when we were both 11 and our beds were opposite each other in our ten-person dormitory. She had posters of horses on the wall; I had a poster of Chesney Hawkes. After lights out, we'd both flop down to the bottom of our beds, prop ourselves up on our elbows and talk. When you're eleven and you're away from home for the first time, you cannot underestimate the importance of a pint-sized confidante.

She was always the bolder one, the naughtier one, the one who took more risks. On Wednesday and Friday nights, when we were allowed access to our tuck boxes---old biscuit tins in which we kept the ration of sweets our parents would send us, or which we bought on our chaperoned excursions to the nearby village---Beth would always make sure to change into her large pastel-colored bathrobe. The pockets of this bathrobe were large and deep enough that she could always be sure of filling them with ten or twelve pieces of candy when the housemistress' back was turned, before placing a token piece of candy in her palm and asking sweetly "is this alright, Mrs. Wales?" (Yes, we had to ask before we ate OUR OWN CANDY. If we'd taken too much, we'd be told to put some back. When asked why I have such a sweet tooth, why I make excursions to Canada just for the wine gums, this is always my defense.)

Beth is a doctor now, a proper doctor in a proper hospital, and yet she looks exactly the same as when I saw her last, aged sixteen. In the intervening eleven years between then and now, our contact has been sporadic, but she's made very frequent appearances in my dreams. I'm fairly curious to find out if now that I've seen her---made sure she's alright, updated my mental image of her---the dreams will stop. I sort of think they will.

Back when I knew her, Beth didn't often go by Beth, she went by Bethan, the much Welsher extension of her name, which she seems since to have dropped. Many weekends, her grandparents would make the five-hour roundtrip from Wales to pick the two of us up and take us back to their house in Cardiff for the weekend, where we'd buy sweets in town and watch movies on the couch, and, later, try to meet boys at the ice rink and sneak a drop of sherry into our evening hot chocolate. A few times during the school holidays, it was my dad who drove us down to Cardiff, where Beth's grandma would make him sit down to a full roast Sunday lunch before allowing him to drive back again. She did the whole shebang, yorkshire puddings and everything. My dad never minded making the drive.

Beth's grandma died a few years ago, I found out, a quick and unexpected death of pancreatic cancer. "Even when she got the diagnosis," said Beth, "she didn't cry. We were all bawling---I had to be picked up off the floor---and she didn't cry at all." But this piece of information made sense to me: as teenagers, I remember Beth's grandma telling us not to cry---or at least to try not to cry---because crying made you look ugly, and how could you feel any better about anything when you looked ugly? Though I haven't seen her for a good eleven years, it's a wisdom I've called upon often when the tears have threatened to fall.

And here's another piece, a line I have unwittingly carried with me for the last few days since leaving Beth at Waterloo station, with promises to be better about staying in touch. Leaving the hospital after her diagnosis, only five shorts weeks from the end of it all, Beth's grandma had taken a deep breath as the double doors opened onto the outside world. "Shoulders back, Iris," she'd said out loud to herself. "And let's face what's ahead." May we all be so gracefully brave all of the time.

1
Lissa
Nov 30, 2007

That was a great post and I love her quote.

2
Twice Five Miles
Nov 30, 2007

Wow, what a great lady.

3
jive turkey
Nov 30, 2007

I want to be just like Iris.

4
Miriam D
Nov 30, 2007

Beautiful post. Makes me smile because I just saw three friends I met when we were all 12 years old.

5
geeky
Nov 30, 2007

When Mr. Geeky's grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year, it amazed me how brave she was in the face of it. I can't remember the exact words now, but at one point she recited a favorite poem of hers that said there are some times in life where we can't go back and we can't go around, we just have to forge ahead and see what's on the other side. The words may not have stuck with me, but the sentiment will.

6
Daily Tragedies
Nov 30, 2007

What kind of person would write this and simultaneously admonish us not to cry? Jeez, girl, talk about asking the impossible!

7
Megan
Nov 30, 2007

I have regular dreams like that, too, of old friends that I haven't seen in a while. I call them 'ghost dreams,' which sounds kind of creepy now that I've written it out. The dreams do stop after I finally call or see them.

8
DM
Nov 30, 2007

Wow. She does sound like an amazing woman. And her granddaughter does as well. I love the sneakiness of "stealing" your own candy!

9
GHD
Nov 30, 2007

I recently talked to a friend that I've known since I was 12. Like you and Beth, we've fallen out of regular contact but picked up right where we left off.

Iris sounds like am awesome lady! If only we could all be this strong in adversity.

10
chellebird
Nov 30, 2007

Holly, you don't know me from a rock on the ground, but I had to comment just to say that I am profoundly sad that I never got to meet Iris. She sounds like a truly inspirational lady.

11
Skeezix
Nov 30, 2007

Yes, I'm sitting here at my desk telling myself not to cry. I'm sort of losing it over "Shoulder's back, Iris"

12
Aicha
Nov 30, 2007

I'm from Cardiff! Which area in Cardiff did they live in?

13
katie
Nov 30, 2007

Reason #6,784,239 why I love old people.

14
Kari
Nov 30, 2007

Chaperoned excursions to a nearby village? Did you go to Hogwarts?

15
Atul
Nov 30, 2007

What memories this brings back!

Studying in a British-style residential public school ('private' in the US) is a different experience! I, too, was in boarding school dorms at age 11-12. Your description of tuck boxes (tuck shop for us) made me smile. Yes, asking for permission to eat your own candy. Hmm, must be a British thing. :-) But then Indian public schools _were_ founded by old colonials, and meant for the princes and the sons of army officers, complete with British principals and their strict manners. Good ol' days, and fondly remembered.

Beth's grandma also struck a heart-felt note. She sounds like a v. lively person! Just a few months ago, I lost my favorite uncle, also to pancreatic cancer. (Since then, I've been noticing it everywhere.. Curious, isn't it??). He was cheerful till the end. RIP.

I'm staying at his daughters' (my very close cousins') house in the Bay Area, so am reminded of him nearly everyday.
Thanks for the post.

16
Kristin
Nov 30, 2007

I haven't seen the words "tuck box"together in twenty years, since I used to devour Enid Blyton books with reckless abandon and I totally forgot about them until I read your post this very second.

Brilliant use of words, as always.

17
Wacky Mommy
Nov 30, 2007

Ah, so nice. Sounds like my dad's mom, she was "old school" like that.

(Not crying.)

18
Gretchen
Nov 30, 2007

Good Lord, I have to echo the thought about Hogwort's -- it all sounds so British and so boarding school-y! Tuck box, indeed. And of COURSE the housemistress was named Mrs. Wales.

Hats off to Iris. Every time I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself, I'm going to think about what she said.

19
Tracy27
Nov 30, 2007

That quote from Grandma Iris was pretty much exactly what I needed to hear today. Thanks for telling us about her!

20
Kristie
Nov 30, 2007

What a brave soul. Crying does bring out the ugly for sure.

21
Scottsdale Girl
Dec 01, 2007

Ok does the fact that my dear departed momma's favorite flower was the IRIS count for the tears that are making me ugly at ALL right now?

22
Diane
Dec 01, 2007

Beautiful story. I truly love the wisdom of the elderly.

My husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer in July of this year. It was advanced when they found it (which is frequently the case) and no chemo/radiation was advised.

I love inspirational quotes also. They are something I hold onto during times of sadness in my life.

Hats off to Iris!!!

Diane

23
Mary Dawn
Dec 01, 2007

so touching...always, you've such a way with words...and i often cry when i read your posts, and oh boy am i ugly when i cry :)

24
Chelle
Dec 02, 2007

Iris sounds like a great woman. I'm very sorry for your loss (belated as it is).

25
metalia
Dec 04, 2007

You know you made my day with the Chesney Hawkes reference, right? ;)