I got the news when I woke up; an email to say my father’s elder sister, the last of his siblings, had died in the early hours.
It wasn’t altogether a surprise. My cousin Helen contacted me on Sunday to say her mother was very unwell and receiving palliative care. I don’t yet know the details. At Christmas the news was that she was in great shape and the family was confident she would reach her hundredth birthday in March next year. I was thinking of going to see her. She lived these last dozen years or in Gozo where both her daughters had moved with their husbands.
So it’s a while since I saw her, and she hasn’t been able to write for some time. I am not sure she would have known who I was, but I am sure the connection would still have been there. She was the dearest and loveliest of aunts. I spent many hours in her company. We watched Diana Rigg in the Avengers on Friday evenings, walked her dogs across the common and down by the river.
She had a foray into dog breeding – wire haired Dachshunds, great little dogs with big personalities. Her Saluki, Penny, aka The Duchess, disapproved of their rough and tumble ways and how they would commandeer her bed.
In a family of animal lovers, she stood out as the one who always put animals first. A phrase you would hear her say often was “for the animals’. And they loved her. Mother used to say animals would gravitate to Aunt Kath. She had a pet swan, nursing it back to health one winter. It repaid her by guarding her home from visitors. The postman learned to lift it by the neck to achieve the front door. Her husband came home after a day’s shooting with a baby rabbit in his pocket. Robert lived with her until he grew up and was returned to the wild. A pedigree cat, a ginger Cornish Rex, turned up in her garden. No amount of advertising found his owners. She took in the waifs and strays, the pets people had acquired without thought and no longer wanted. Her last two cats in England were semi ferals, first fostered then adopted from the CPL. She was a hunt saboteur, learning to throw herself into ditches to avoid riding crops wielded by angry people in red coats. In Gozo she naturally supported the local SPCA and feral kittens, needing to be socialised, would have a temporary home in her bedroom to prepare them for their new lives.
I’ll miss her. I know I haven’t seen her for a while, but she was one of the tall trees of my childhood, and as I grew up the bond between us stayed strong. Her desire to investigate our family history fostered my interest in local history, and we had several exciting days of intensive detective work.
This picture shows her aged about ten. She’s the one on the left with the admirably straight fringe and stylish bob. Beside her is Madeleine, the baby of the family who died about four years ago; then her twin brother Sid, who died twelve years ago, and finally my father Alex, who was the first of the siblings to die in 1991. I have written about her before, and included other photos. Some of you may remember these.
I think I’ll probably be digging out her letters, finding other photos, cradling the memories. Today her name will have been read aloud in Westminster Abbey where I filled in a prayer card this morning.
I think she would have been pleased to hear this news which Friends of the Earth published today:
“When the Government threatened to put Devon’s beavers in captivity, thousands of us sent messages to the Beaver Minister and Friends of the Earth began legal proceedings to stop them. Thanks to huge national and local support, the Government has backed down and just announced that Devon’s beavers will be re-released into the wild.”