What We Remember

I remember when my friends and I were having sixtieth birthdays. Now many of us are having, or have had, a seventieth. One of the things we talk about is the decay of bodies and minds, in almost universal agreement that the diminishing of our mind is what we fear most.

I see this happening, this diminishing, in my friend E., who I visit regularly. When I re-engage with her in a conversation we had ten minutes ago, or show her photographs she has seen before and has no memory of, or realise she has no memory of seeing her family a few days ago, I feel a great sadness. It must be so much worse for her family. I often come away from visiting and go to a film; something about taking my mind to a different place.

But E. and I also have fun together. We can be in the middle of a conversation – and she retains a sharp sense of humour – when she will quote a line of poetry that the conversation has reminded her of. When this happens, I whip out my iPhone, google the line of poetry and almost always find the poet and the poem. We both enjoy this immensely, and read the poem together, and she tells me about her older sister who wrote poetry and read it to her a lot when she was a child.

Frances Darwin Cornford

Frances Darwin Cornford

During a recent visit, the line that came up was, “O why do you walk through the fields in gloves.” I found it on my phone, it’s by Frances Darwin Cornford, grand-daughter of the famous Charles and married to a Francis Cornford. (We enjoy these snippets.)

We read the poem together and later, at home, I typed it  and posted it to her, along with the photo of Frances I found on the internet, reminding her of finding it. It’s a poem previously unknown to me, but when I mentioned it to my partner, Prue, she straight away came out with a couple more lines. Prue had no idea she knew that poem, but assumed she had met it at school in London. This is a story that E. will enjoy.

E. also likes family photographs, which is prompting me to scan some more of my parents and other family members so I can put them on my phone to show her. People tell me I am kind to visit E. regularly. That’s as maybe; to me it’s an exchange, of what I am not sure, but I get from my visits something I don’t get in any other way. When E. says she is tired of life and would like to go to sleep and not wake up in the morning, I tell her I would miss her. And I will.

Here’s the rather strange Frances Darwin Cornford poem:

To a Lady Seen From the Train

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves.
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?



6 thoughts on “What We Remember

  1. Lovely to read all those comments on Pat’s penultimate blog entry – especially the one about Pat’s visits to Elizabeth Scott – thanks Sarah for those touching comments. I knew most of it because she always talked about her visits when she got home – but lovely to hear how much it meant to your mother. I am so sorry that those visits will happen no more – one of the many people in addition to me who will Pat so much. Love Prue

  2. Hi Prue
    Sorry that Mum and I had to leave Pat’s funeral before we got a chance to say the words we’d prepared. Mum gets very tired these days – she doesn’t have the concentration she used to. Thought you might like to see it anyway.

    My mother, E first met Pat back in the 80s when both were editors. Pat, of the esteemed Broadsheet magazine, and Mum of a much smaller publication – the Women’s Electoral Lobby newsletter. Their mutual friend Judi Patterson took Pat to visit my parents, at their home in Riwaka, near Nelson. I still remember my mother’s delight at being able to meet ‘Pat Rosier’ and discuss feminism, women’s studies and writing. I don’t think they met more than a handful of times after that.
    Twenty years later, my parents moved out of their beloved home to a rest home in Wellington. Out of the blue, Pat wrote to Mum, reintroduced herself and asked if she could visit.
    For the the next four and half years, Pat travelled from Paekakariki to visit Mum nearly every fortnight. When she went on holiday she sent postcards and letters and when she found things of interest she printed them out and posted them to E.
    Those fortnightly visits developed into an extraordinary exchange where Pat and Mum shared details of their lives – talking about everything from childhood memories to the women’s movement to obscure poems.
    I know about those visits because every time Pat wrote in Mum’s visitors book, recording what they’d done. And every now and then Pat wrote about E in her blog, reflecting poignantly on what that relationship meant to her.
    The Saturday before last I went to visit Mum and to tell her that Pat had died. We talked about Pat on and off all afternoon – about what a dear and faithful friend she had been and how honoured Mum felt to have had Pat visit her. And about her beautiful kind eyes.
    Before I left I read Pat’s latest entry in Mum’s visitors’ book.
    Then I went to Mum’s diary. On the page for Tuesday 24th June, in the now familiar hand, it said, ‘Pat 1.30 ish’.

    As Mum said to me the other day, it’s not often you get to make new friends when you’re old.
    Sarah x

    • Thanks Kymm. She’s a quirky poet. Here’s another one called “Recollection”

      MY father’s friend came once to tea.
      He laughed and talked. He spoke to me.
      But in another week they said
      That friendly pink-faced man was dead.

      ‘ How sad . .’ they said, ‘the best of men . .’
      So I said too, ‘How sad ‘; but then
      Deep in my heart I thought with pride,
      ‘I know a person who has died.’

      More on the wonderful site poemhunter.com

  3. This is a wonderful post and I treasure seeing your visits to Elizabeth through it.. The poem is timely too.. I didn’t know it but it recalls one of the events on our Madeira trip.

    It was a dolphin watching boat trip ( after two days of cloud)on a sparkling fresh morning with a perfect aquamarine glass sea.. I have never done any of those sorts of boat trips before so you can imagine how excited I was. There was an Austrian couple across from us with all sorts of fancy matching travellers gear.. pants that zip into shorts etc. but they were grumbling and miserable all the way (says my girlfriend who if course can identify local accents and follow a variety of background German conversations that I miss and she wishes she could miss) All I knew is that I got glared at if I got close to them for a moment on a crowded boat of (similarly excited as me) people moving about in a small space to see pods of Atlantic spotted dolphins skimming close to the boat. Both of us surprised by how incongruous their reactions were to the beauty around them..And the clash with the clothes that stated their intention to see the world by travelling.

    Walking through fields in gloves.. It’s a line I will keep as well as the story of Elizabeth refinding it and re enjoying it with you… May she have the best of health and you two the best of visits for a good long time to come..

    Xxx jicca

    Sent from my iPad


    • What a lovely comment, Jicca. Thank you. Yes, there’s something about “Why do you walk through the fields in gloves?” line that brings out the incongruity. Like your fellow travellers as you say. Glad to hear about the Madeira trip and your excitement. The dolphins sound lovely.

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