At church, there is an older woman (heck she's 85) who was born on a farm in Great Britten. She is very bright, well traveled, and has a good sense about her. She was the oldest child of the home when war time came to England. She loves to tell stories about her life. She talks without exaggeration but with a twinkle in her eye and smiles and laughs at her own memories, and I love listening.
She has many stories of old farm life, the cows and chickens, the milk seperating and the egg collecting. Recently she talked about her father being allowed to own one gun because he was a farmer. But when a fox killed all of the laying hens and was trapped in the hen house, he couldn't bring himself to shoot it and the mailman had to do it when he came by.
They lived in the country and when the cities were being bombed in WWII, extended family came to stay. They didn't have running water or electricity in the old farmhouse and they had many, many people to feed and bathe that exceptionally wet and cold winter. I get the feeling that this was a difficult time, though she never has a disparaging word to say, only occasionally pulling a face and saying that she was fortunate to be able to get outside and help with the chores. Everyone else was too old or too young to be of good use and there was no place for the frivolity of playing outside. Getting unnecessarily cold and wet was dangerous and the people were packed inside the house so tightly that there was little room to hang clothes to dry. Washing clothes was an unpleasent all day project and the drying items hung in every available space, draped over the furnerature, and were rotated in front of the fireplace so they'd get dry enough to put away. She didn't go into details about toileting but had a roll of the eyes.
She talked with excitement about when after the war they put in a flush toilet and running water and what a boon to their lives that was. Then she said something unsolicited that has really hung with me. She said that if one ever had to make the choice between running water and electricity, that running water was by far the more important thing. Somehow that seems like a pearl of wisdom from someone who lived during the time prior to the utilities we so take for granted and for whom many may go without this winter.
A couple of months ago I sat with this woman for several dark hours as she was having a heart attack. Her skin was grey and eyes glazed. I remember how sad I was to think of her not being around anymore. When the helicopter crew finally arrived to take her to hospital in the city we loaded her into the flying ambulance and said a prayer for the crew and their patient and they left with great gushing of wind and disappeared into the night sky. There was such silence for many weeks. I am happy that this strong, resilient woman is back to tell stories again. I'm not through learning from her.