Close to my heart
“Bloomin’ heck Nan, you’ve got enough in this place to keep Antiques Roadshow going for months!” Katie, Vera’s granddaughter gave a little laugh as she carefully wrapped yet another floral plate in bubble wrap that was in Vera and her late husband’s bedroom. Today was moving day for Vera. With Jack gone and the price of living rises whilst pensions meagre as they were, were cut even more and each day the stairs became a little more difficult to climb as Vera’s arthritis was getting worse, Vera had decided now was the time to move into sheltered accommodation which meant Vera had help with the basics but still clung on to her independence. Vera couldn’t help feeling a little misty eyed as she thought of all the wonderful memories.
Vera was just hoovering her once plush but now tattered hallway carpet when she heads a thud. ‘I hope that girl hasn’t broken one of my perfume bottles, as much as she loved Katie, she could be clumsy at times’. Vera thought to herself as she headed back to the almost bare bedroom. She was momentarily shocked like someone had doused her in ice as she stood in the doorway and watched Katie carefully arranging her precious costume jewellery back into the wooden mahogany box. That wasn’t the problem. Her eyes were fixed on the now grey booties and the small ring box that lay open on its side open, its contents lay on the rug. “Oh that’s so sweet Nan, you kept some of Dad’s baby things” Katie fingered the grey bootie. Vera was like a whirlwind and snatched up the booties and scooping the precious contents and its box into her arms before Katie could say a word, she looked confused whilst Vera’s eyes flashed with anger.
“Please, you must never ever touch these things again!” Vera’s voice was usually scolding. It shocked Katie.
“Sorry nan I didn’t realise -”
“No, you never do. Somethings I like to keep private, my personal treasures just for me and no one else!” Vera sat on her bed cradling her treasures now sombre. Katie knelt in front of her nan and took her hands. “But it’s only just dad’s baby things,” She sighed softly.
“That’s just it though their not his.” She couldn’t keep this from Katie as she knew she’d keep prodding or worse tell her father then Pandora’s box will definitely be opened. The seconds ticked by before Vera spoke again, the air thick with tension, the clouds now casting a dark shadow across the room. “Katie, if I tell you this, you mustn’t tell anyone else till I’m ready okay? Not even pop or your Dad knew. Katie felt torn, privileged that she was being trusted so much and then keeping secrets. Katie nodded. Vera smiled as she tucked a stray hair behind Katie’s hair, the luscious blonde locks so familiar.
“Your father, he had a brother.” Katie was confused, her dad was an only child. She began to object but Vera ploughed on. “It’s just as clear as yesterday…”
Vera crossed the street towards the forbidding hospital with its grey brick and windows with iron bars. She didn’t want to do this, she had no choice. She looked down at the sleeping bundle in her arms before hesitantly crossing the road and knocking on the heavy oak door. The sky was black, the rain poured down as the sky split in two like Vera’s heart.
They were greeted by a rather formidable looking nurse with a sharp face, dark eyes and a stern demeanour. She peered at the bundle in her arms before speaking, “Mrs Tanner, I presume? Welcome to Oakmont Hospital. Vera muttered a small thank you as the nurse stepped aside and let her in.
“I can assure you, you’re making the right choice, this way,” said the nurse as she took the jerking and whimpering bundle from Vera’s arms and lead them down a passageway. The doors and windows were all padlocked, vacant-looking souls slumped in wheelchairs sitting listlessly. This was a hospital for the spastics and retarded.
The nurse led her into what was presumably her office before sitting down and unwrapping the bundle revealing a small puny body with stiff jerking limbs and big doleful eyes. As if the poor thing knew what was happening he let out a groan.
“What’s his name?”
“Michael Tanner Matron”
She noted this down on a file.
“It says here he’s aged two and cannot speak apart from groaning, unable to walk, feed himself and has no bowel control, is that right?”
Vera merely nodded, the urge to ran with her baby was strong. To hell what everyone thinks! To hell with her husband who couldn’t bring himself to call their son by his name, never mind say goodbye! Vera wished things to be different.
“Right, well that all seems to be in order. Follow me please” The nurse asked whisking her darling Michael down the corridor.
She came to award and stopped. She opened the door where the stench of urine was overpowering. The hall was sparse with thirty cots made of iron with thin mattresses and one nurse between them all. Now the the the girl was rocking back and forth, another eating the contents of his own mess, a large teenage boy in a wheelchair was screaming and banging his head with his hand.
“The children here, receive the best therapy in the country, fed three times a day, bathed once a week and have plenty of recreational activities.” The Nurse said briskly.
Vera went to stroke Michaels head but the nurse stopped her. “We don’t encourage pandering her Mrs Tanner.” Before she knew what was happening she was propelled out of the ward and back down towards the door. “You’ll receive a letter once a year on his progress. “I promise you, Mrs Tanner, Michael will be alright. Try and forget this incident and live a happy life.” With that she the front door was shut in her face, The cries and images from the ward burned in her memory. Vera didn’t stop crying for a whole month and after that, her first husband left as he couldn’t cope with her ‘hysterics’.
“He died last year of pneumonia and they didn’t let me attend the funeral. If I’d have known the cruelty he would endure I would never have let him stay. But, in those days it was the husband who wore the trousers and Harry couldn’t bear to raise a.. cripple.. ‘it was for the best.'” Vera sobbed.
Katie was crying too and whilst she wanted to comfort her nan she didn’t know what to say, so they sat in silence and Katie swore she heard her nan’s heartbreaking a bit more.
Later that night when Katie left she asked her Gran if she could borrow the photo of her uncle. She handed it over with glistening eyes and her lip quivered, “be careful”.
A week later when her Gran had moved into her apartment Katie presented her with the tiny photo and a wrapped present. She smiles as her Gran grappled with the ornate bow. Her grandmother gasped as the paper fell away. It was a large canvas of her beautiful boy. “Now he doesn’t have to be hidden away again.” She said as she hung it above the fireplace. For once in her life, her grandmother was left speechless. But the surprises weren’t over yet.
Katie‘s grandmother was puzzled as to why they were at the allotment. She looked at Katie prompted to explain cupboard Katie just gestured food for me. They came to his pitching she was confused as to why there was a snowdrop plant to be buried in the ground and her son, his wife and the vicar were standing around it.
“Its time for my uncle to be honoured properly.” Her gran’s eyes welled with tears, Katie knew she had to explain things to her dad but, now it was time to acknowledge her first born’s existence. The family gathered around as the vicar began saying prayers whilst Katie shovelled the snowdrop into the ground. These flowers were survivors and it suited her uncle to a T. The December wind was bitter and the clouds grey but, it’s as if her uncle was watching as the winter sun broke through the clouds and bathed her family in a halo of light.