This week signaled the end to what had been a long and fascinating life for a close family friend, Evelyn. Having lost all my Grandparents by the time I was seventeen, Lyn became the closest thing I had to a Grandmother and I loved nothing more than sitting down to tea in the house she had lived in for most of her life, and listen to her talk about her life.
And what a life it was.
Growing up in London, Lyn could recall with startling accuracy moments of the Second World War. She would often tell me about the time she went to collect her weeks worth of food rations but the line for the butcher was too long so she headed to the chemist nearby. Along the way the bomb siren went off and she took shelter underneath tables which were outside a furniture store. Once the raid was over, she headed back to the butcher, but the store was no longer there – it had been flattened – just one of the many instances in which fate intervened and saved her life.
She would meet an Australian POW at the end of the war in a story that would rival any Hollywood film. A friend of hers was preparing for a date with an Australian soldier when, at the last minute, he said he was bringing along a friend. Naturally she couldn’t go about town with two men, so she asked Lyn to come along as well. Reluctant to go, she insisted she had nothing suitable to wear, but her friend was determined and lent her a dress. It was on this date that she would meet the man who, only a few short weeks later, would become her husband.
I could listen to her stories for hours, and quite often did, some of which can be found in the pages of the print editions of Lila Jean Vintage. One of the magazines biggest supporters, she would often turn to me when we were out and about, point to a copy of The Australia Woman’s Weekly or New Idea and say “They’re full of ads and your magazine is so lovely, with hardly any ads. I can’t understand why it couldn’t continue.” I didn’t quite have the heart to tell her that part of why the print magazine didn’t continue was because it wasn’t full of ads.
Lyn would always comment on my outfits and my hair, often saying it reminded her of how she used to style her hair, which is possibly the best compliment she could give me. She told me that men should never wear a navy suit with brown shoes and women should never wear black and navy together and that gay men make the best friends. She was quick witted and had an infectious sense of humour, with so many of my memories involving us laughing at something – or potentially someone. She was ballsy, opinionated and outspoken about issues that were important to her.
After returning home from having lived in the UK for two years she asked me all these questions about how things had changed since she was there – given she had last been there in the 1940s, suffice to say, things had changed quite a bit. Everything except the weather apparently, which she sited as one of the main reasons she had never returned, not even for a holiday.
Lyn lived a very full and long life and while the surprise is perhaps less when the person is in their nineties, the grief is just the same. I will never get to hear her retelling stories from the Second World War for the tenth time because I never tired of hearing them, I’ll never get to have tea in her back sitting room and talk politics and current events, I’ll never eat any more of her cakes that often contained an egg shell surprise, which I never told her about. My life was fuller for having known her and I will never forget the impression she has left on me. Her life was one of tragedy, turmoil, war, travel, new beginnings, love, family and enduring friendship. Before moving to Australia she had experienced more sadness and seen more tragedy than any of us can even imagine and yet she never indulged in self pity. If ever asked how she got through the war, she would simply shrug and explain that you just had to keep going. So that’s what I’m going to do, with a heavy heart, in loving memory of a woman who refused to give up.