At the request of the group, today’s topic for our online meeting was “Red Letter” days and holidays. Reflecting on special moments that were physically warmer or emotionally bright for us, turned out to be the perfect choice to lift all our spirits during this transition into darker nights and chillier mornings.
I started by reading the beginning of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
"The holiest of all holidays are those kept by ourselves in silence and apart; the secret anniversaries of the heart."
and then guided the group to think about the moments that have most stood out for them and why.
The conversation afterwards was incredibly rich and moving, with lots of laughter and memories shared. As always, it was so lovely to notice how others’ memories had a contagious effect on mine like yawning or laughter do!
I was reminded of train, plane and automobile journeys, as well as times spent reflecting inwards by Tony’s share. I thought of times when I too have felt awed and overwhelmed when Pauline talked about her first trip to Jamaica. Times, when I have felt a deep appreciation of my family came back in response to Margaret’s memories of a teddy bears’ picnic with her two great-nephews. Cherished times and delicious food with my beloved grandparents returned to me when Philip shared about seeing his own grandparents and eating Saffron cake after the long separation of the war. Something that also really resonated with me was Nury’s incredible attitude to life, with its combination of philosophy, practicality, honesty and humour. I will finish by sharing what I wrote down of his words:
"Life is many things. It is bitter, sweet, hard. You choose every day which one. Life is not a ready meal."
Red Letter Days
Again, how I expected the session to progress proved to be erroneous as the introductory talk led my thoughts on a totally different path to the one I had envisaged. I had thought that I would be recalling some great sporting occasion or possibly my graduation from Cardiff University. Not so, as it was not any of these dramatic days which came to my mind but rather a number of times when I became acutely aware of the place and time I was in and realising that that moment was precious.
I recalled two particular instances. The first was during a holiday, in Spain, with a friend and work colleague. His mother was Spanish and we had visited some of his relations in Madrid and eaten a traditional family meal with them. Not long after, we were on a mountainside just outside the Spanish capital when I became conscious that I was experiencing something special. I remember saying to my friend at the time “Life is about moments —-”
The second occasion brought to my mind was when I was sitting outside a café in Amsterdam and I felt a similar feeling of being focused in the moment. I even remember what I was eating, an “Uitsmijter”, a popular breakfast/ lunch meal in Holland (especially in Amsterdam).
As this picture clearly shows it consists of ham, eggs and cheese on toast; although my memory of it has a top covering of another slice of toast with the centre cut out to expose the eggs beneath.
This meal certainly set me up for the day of visiting Anne Frank’s house and the Van Gogh and other museums but that as they say is another story.
My red letter day
I remember the excitement. I was so giddy now that the day had finally arrived. It was the Easter holidays and we were going out as a family. Even dad had taken the day off work which was normally unheard of.
I stood in front of the dressing table gazing at my reflection in the ornate mirror. Well-turned out that was me, ready for the day ahead. I looked like a ballerina in my candyfloss pink dress with layers of netting for the underskirt. My dress showed off as it billowed when I spun around. This was another of mum’s creations. The outer layer emblazoned with red rosebuds and my waist adorned with a red ribbon neatly tied at the back in a bow. Mum made all my dresses. They fitted like a glove.
I had the best mum ever, she always made sure I was the best dressed girl around.
I needed the loo again. I’d already been twice but I couldn’t contain my excitement.
I watched my brothers as they ran around the house pretending to be aeroplanes.
Whoosh they chorused, dodging in and around the furniture and diving onto the settee.
I tried my best to ignore them and although they irritated me nothing was going to spoil my day.
We were going to Belle Vue, to the circus and the funfair. Easter holidays were made for this.
I was so excited I nearly cried. Dad came, picked me up and spun me around.
“Come on little one, let’s paint the town red”.
This Red Letter Day is neatly etched in my mind forever.
A teddy bears’ picnic
The original idea was to entertain my two-year-old great nephew, but it was such fun for the adults as well at our very special family gathering. We’d all hunted out teddies to bring; my niece brought the much-loved but almost bald teddy she took everywhere with her when she was a toddler herself. My sister must have repaired him so many times: new eyes, a leg sewn back on, a replacement ear! At the party, her grandson loved playing “hunt the teddy” and spotting teddies in the trees.
It was a sunny but chilly day in early May 2021 and I was thrilled to hold the new baby, born in December 2020, at long last. Although we don’t live far from each other, it had been so very hard to be unable to meet up for such a long time, and not even have anyone visit our garden since the previous August. On the day, we kept to the rule of six, stayed outdoors for our picnic (which of course included teddy bear shaped cakes) and danced to keep warm to my Spotify playlist of bear-related children’s songs (who knew there were so many!).
Although we had to keep it short because of the cold, and have enjoyed many good times indoors since, I’m sure we’ll all treasure happy memories of that first in-person reunion. My great nephew wants to play “hunt the teddy” every time he visits, even on rainy days, and his younger brother isn’t far off joining in now!
because of high Covid-19 numbers, extra restrictions were in place in Greater Manchester between the first and subsequent lockdowns