When The Last Tree Falls…

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

― Clare Boothe Luce

Today, our family is saying goodbye to the last surviving soul of a great generation – the backbone of our family: My aunt Hettie, who lived until the age of 94.

Over the past few days, since her passing on Thursday morning, I have been lost in the most comforting and beautiful memories of her in my childhood.

As an English teacher, she instilled in me a love for books, learning and languages. Visiting her meant no television, but rather picking up a book, drawing, building puzzles and figuring out crosswords and riddles… Knowledge is power. Use your mind. Think.

As a young woman, Hettie travelled a fair bit (an exotic luxury only a few enjoyed at the time). Her stories of foreign countries and strange cultures planted the seeds in me of wanting to discover and explore our wonderful planet. I still carry with me (and cherish) a pair of leather gloves she brought back from somewhere (I’d like to believe it was Paris) as a gift for me when I was 5 years old.

My bookshelves are bursting at the seams because of you Hettie and the travel bug inside me remains restless and thirsty for more places to see, foods to taste and people to meet… there is always more to experience, right?

Hettie was a dedicated homemaker with an impeccable sense of style – Africa with a hint of Scandinavia. The eclectic spaces she created, wherever she lived, told the story of who she was, where she had been and the beauty of how she viewed the world. She dressed simply – almost minimally. A wardrobe cut, sewn and knitted mostly with her own two hands. Linen. Cotton. Wool. Soft, pale and natural colours. Comfortable, practical and elegant.

When I look around my home, I can see your creative influence. I know a part of you has always been with me. Sadly, it’s only now that I recognise where that gift came from. 

She spent hours grooming her garden and flower pots, no matter what the season. We’d often arrive at her home and hear her talking to the tadpoles in her fish pond and gently (albeit it a bit impatient) encouraging her willow tree to grow. She had an astonishing talent to nurture plants on the brink of death back to life. Love. Care. Attention. Dedication.

Her dogs, Dandle and Jean, two Spaniels, were not just her companions and friends but four-legged soul mates who followed her everywhere. Spiders came to no harm in her home – they were regarded as friendly spirits who briefly visit. She adored all animals and was connected to nature in an admirable and almost Holy way — like we all should strive to be.

Hettie, your wicked and teasing sense of humour annoyed many of us. Your sharp and observational wit called a thing by its name and often caught us off guard. No nonsense. Just honesty. You made us laugh with your random quips and straightforward punch lines.

You always said to me: “You should find yourself a lovely English girl with rosy cheeks and blue eyes”, but you knew full-well that it was never going to happen. Accepting. Kind. Graceful.

As a single parent, she raised her children in an exemplary way. She loved her husband dearly. But once he passed away after just a short few years of being married, she never remarried and dedicated her life to living – not seeking, not wanting, not pondering. She knew who she was. She made her own rules and created a beautiful life.

There are so many things, Hettie, which I want to say. But ‘Thank you’ comes to mind first: Thank you for the impression you made on my life. Thank you for being a friend. I am so bitterly sorry that I let our relationship slip in the last decade, and that I carelessly neglected you. I did not forget you but I was selfish. I regret this. I am sorry.

May you rest in peace in a beautiful heavenly garden, among flowers and animals. I hope your reunion with all the others are joyful: Granddad Frankie (he did not like you calling him that… but you insisted), Grandma Tilly, Aunt Bella, Uncle Billy-Boy, Hector, Dandle, Jean, Dada and every single beautiful one that is no longer with us.

I know they’ve waited for your arrival with great anticipation – the same way we did when our family gathered for lunch on Sundays under the big old tree in Grandma’s front garden. You’d arrive a little late with sugar cookies, fruity fudge squares and Roly Poly – your signature dessert… and then the laughter started.

The last majestic tree has fallen in the forest. And now, all that remains for the saplings to look upon is the empty space it leaves behind.

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