Saturday, February 04, 2006


I thought of Anna as I was compiling my list of x365 and realized I needed more words to recall her properly.

Anna was seventy years young, as she liked to say. She lived in a tiny one-bedroom bungalow - a cottage, really - in the middle of a quiet urban neighbourhood. The houses on either side of her were two-story family homes with immaculately manicured lawns and nice flower borders. Anna's garden was weedy and overgrown - to such an extent that you could barely see the walkway to her front door. The windows were dark and grimy and the draperies were perpetually drawn. If you didn't know better, you'd think the house was abandoned.

Anna was also what people called a "character" - Yes, with the quotation marks.

She'd been a British war bride and had come to Canada with her handsome soldier husband to begin a new adventurous life. Somewhere along the way, he died - she would never say how or when - and she ended up alone in this house.

I met her when she was referred to me by concerned neighbours. They thought she wasn't eating properly and might have other health problems. On my first assessment visit, she answered my knock by peering warily at me through the partially open door with chain lock still in place. She examined me up and down as I explained why I was there and that I wanted to come in and talk to her. I guess, by whatever standard she used, I passed the test and she let me in.

It turns out that she was quite eager to have a visitor. She insisted on making me tea and serving me some tinned biscuits. This may sound very sweet, but she had a problem with her eyesight. - It wasn't very good. - She was blind in one eye and the vision in the other was bad and getting worse. This resulted in her being unable to see well enough to keep things clean, or at least notice the dirt. Let's just say we had tea with some unexpected crusty floating things and biscuits with a bit of fuzz.

Anna's neighbours were rightly concerned about her. She was a tiny slip of a thing, probably no more than eighty pounds (36 kilos) and a chain smoker. The latter addiction evidenced by a hacking cough, ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts, and nicotine-stained nails and fingers.

She claimed to have three meals a day plus tea, consisting of buttered toast and tea for breakfast; jelly on toast for lunch; afternoon tea with biscuits; and bread with some canned tuna or meat and canned peas for dinner. Occasionally she had canned peaches or a potato in place of the bread. She ordered her groceries from a nearby corner store and had them delivered. She never left the house.

She also had a nasty, oozing sore on the front of her leg.She insisted she was fine.

I said that she should have, at least, the sore on her leg looked after, and that if she didn't mind, I'd like to drop by and see her from time to time. She happily agreed to the visits, and only grudgingly agreed to the treatment. I decided to broach her diet on another visit.

Over the next couple of years, I visited regularly and she regaled me with stories of her youth in England. She insisted on saying "England" not Britain and that she was English NOT British. She was very specific about these details of Englishness and would correct me if I ever got it wrong. Once we were talking about the church and I used the term "Anglican". She scolded me, saying it was the "Church of England", NOT Anglican. Come to think of it, she did a lot of scolding and criticising. Nothing was ever done correctly in Canada; the neighbours were busybodies; there wasn't decent food to be found anywhere; and doctors didn't know what they were doing.

But most of all, England was the centre of her universe. She missed England with every breath she spoke. She dismissed the beautiful countryside and farmlands around Vancouver, stating categorically that the patchwork farmlands in England were much prettier. She didn't care for our mountains - the rolling hills of England were more soothing.

I think she felt cheated coming to Canada.When she first arrived there seemed to be parties and a house full of friends and laughter. She showed me her old photos of a pretty smiling young woman surrounded by other happy people in a room I recognized as the very living room we were sitting in.Whatever happened to her husband, left her lonely and bitter.Yet she never returned to England. Maybe she didn't have family to return to. She certainly didn't have family in Canada and the friends in the photos no longer visited - whether driven away by Anna or desserted on their own, I don't know.

She was stubborn and aggravating to deal with but charming in her own way. We eventually got her to accept 'Meals On Wheels' delivered three times a week, a homemaker to help tidy and clean her house, as well as home nursing to help with personal care. But what she really looked forward to were the social visits of tea, biscuits and conversation.

I eventually moved away and someone else took over my district and Anna's visits. When I moved back to Vancouver, I went to look her up in the phone book. She was no longer listed. Did she move into a nursing care facility? Did she remain in that house to her last breath? It's been more than twenty years since I last saw her, but I wonder what became of her.


ell said...

Blogger seems to be having problems.

My original post vanished, along with at least one comment (sorry Coll).

So this is a re-post.

jane said...

hi ell, i have been having this challenge as well, some people just need more than 32 words. laurie, for example, i couldn't condense so i told a little story about her leaving japan and how wrecked i was.
this post about anna brought me to tears.

Wenda said...

I feel so moved by this story and by your compassion for this woman. I love your writing. I hope this isn't the first time I've told you this. I'm sure it won't be the last.