Forgotten Friends

I originally wrote this as a submission for a short story competition under the title ‘Heritage.’ When it didn’t win, I thought I would share it with you here. Although it’s fiction, there are certain elements of fact involved, but I’m not telling you which bits.

‘I don’t understand these computer things, Judy and I’m too old to start learning now.’

‘Eighty isn’t old, Nan, and look how much you’ve picked up in the two years you’ve been on your own. Until Granddad died, you’d never had a bank account but now you know exactly what’s due and when.’

‘Yes, but you keep an eye on it for me. I couldn’t do it without your help.’

‘That was true at first but you don’t need me now. Anyway, computers aren’t just for the mundane things. You can have fun with them too. Didn’t you tell me you had an old friend in Canada with a very unusual name? Shall we try and find her?’

I usually visited my grandmother every Sunday, but when I broke my leg she came over to see me and was fascinated by my computer. That’s how it started. A way of giving her a new interest and helping her cope after losing her husband of nearly sixty years. We researched and found details of her schoolfriend. Although Emily had died several years before, her granddaughter contacted us, and new names were added to the Christmas card list. I taught Nan how to use email otherwise the postage costs would have been horrendous.

‘It might be a silly question,’ Nan said one day, ‘but I suppose there’s no way of finding the grave of someone who died abroad during the war?’

‘It’ll take a bit of research but it’s not impossible,’ I replied. ‘There are plenty of groups dedicated to memorials. What details can you give me?’

The quest for George became our main topic of conversation and although I’d never heard the name before, I sensed it some ways Group Captain George Archibald Stansford was a man of importance in her life. Eventually the plaster on my leg was removed, and I was able to take my laptop to my grandmother’s house.

‘I’ve got something to show you,’ I said. ‘Voila. Is this the right George Stansford?’

She gazed at the dedication on the gravestone without speaking for several minutes, then said simply ‘Yes. That’s him.’

I noticed the tears in her eyes, so went to put the kettle on to give her a few minutes to herself.

‘I could print off a copy if you like,’ I said as I handed her the tea.

‘That would be nice, thanks,’ Nan replied. ‘There are some biscuits in the cupboard. I bought your favourites.’

Nothing more was said about George, and I forgot all about him for a while, especially when work commitments meant it was several weeks before I got the chance to visit her again.

‘Judy, what a lovely surprise. Come on in and I’ll put the kettle on. It’s been ages since we’ve had a good chat.’

‘Thanks, Nan. You’re looking well. What have you been up to?’

‘Well, it’s quite exciting really. Someone told me about a social club for older people not far from here. I sent them a message and they organised someone to pick me up, and took me there to see how I liked it. Now I go every Thursday afternoon and I’ve made a lot of new friends. To be honest, Judy, I was a bit lonely with nothing to do, but as most of the members are my age, we’ve a lot in common. Sometimes they show old films, or bring in entertainers. There was a wonderful singer last week, and the next one is quite a famous magician.’

‘Wow! I think you have a better social life than me. I thought you looked well, and you’ve had your hair done.’

‘Yes, they arranged for a hairdresser to visit, so I thought I’d have a change. Do you like it?’

‘It looks lovely, you old glamour puss. You’ll have all the men chasing after you. Should I start looking for a bridesmaid’s dress?’

‘Enough of your cheek. Although there is a rather charming gentleman I’ve become quite friendly with,’ she laughed.

I thought no more about it until a few months later when I popped in to see her, and found the table covered with brochures for hotels and coach trips.

‘What’s this all about, Nan? Are you thinking of taking a holiday?’

‘Hello, Judy love. You know I told you about the club? Well, they’re arranging a trip to France to visit the war cemeteries. Does that sound a bit morbid?’

‘Not at all. You could take some flowers for George.’

For a moment I thought I had overstepped the mark but then she smiled, and I could imagine how beautiful she must have been as a young girl. The next time I visited she had a proposition for me.

‘Judy, how do you fancy a long weekend in France, all expenses paid?’

‘Don’t tell me you’ve got a job in the Folies Bergère and you need a chaperone?’

‘No, you cheeky madam, but you’re not far off with the chaperone bit. That trip to the war memorials is going ahead, and we can take a friend. There’s a full programme of other visits including a trip to a vineyard, and it’s in July so the weather should be reasonable. My treat. Have a think about it, but I won’t be offended if the idea of being surrounded by old fogies is too much.’

‘I’d love to. Someone’s got to look after you and keep those foreign wolves at bay.’

I knew my passport was up to date but was surprised to find my grandmother not only had a current passport, but up until three years before had been a regular traveller. The whole trip was superbly organised, and catered towards those who were not so nimble on their feet. As we boarded the luxury coach we were welcomed aboard by three pleasant couriers, and in a very short space of time we were off.

Before we knew it, we had arrived in France. Leaving behind the bustle of Calais we were soon enjoying the tranquillity of the countryside and pulling up to the charming hotel which was to be our base. Our room was lovely, and after unpacking we joined the lively meeting giving details of our itinerary for the next few days. A superb meal was followed by an evening of entertainment, and a reasonably early night in preparation for the long day ahead.

‘I hope you won’t get too bored,’ Nan said. ‘You can always wander off for a coffee or something as long as you’re back at the coach on time.’

‘I’ll be fine,’ I told her. ‘I’ve always enjoyed history, especially where the family is involved.’

I was amazed at the size and diversity of the cemeteries we visited and eventually we arrived at the grave of George Stansford. After paying my respects, I wandered off to give my grandmother some time on her own, but when I returned was surprised to find her deep in conversation with a good-looking man in his thirties and what was presumably his father.

‘Hello, dear,’ Nan said as I approached. ‘You’d never believe the coincidence, but this is George’s younger brother William. They’re here for a few days’ holiday and to visit George’s grave. We’ve never met before, but apparently he knew about me. I’ll explain everything later.’

‘Hi, Judy,’ the younger man said. ‘I know it’s an imposition but would it be okay if Dad and I joined you and Lilian for a drink at your hotel tonight. They’ve a lot to catch up on. I’m Mike, by the way.’

Imposition? He was gorgeous, even if it was a little odd my eighty-something grandma had inadvertently turned into a matchmaker. At that moment the courier arrived to say the coach was ready to move on, but on the journey back to our hotel Nan filled me in with a little of what I had already guessed. She had been engaged to George and was devastated when his plane was shot down and he was killed during the war. It was only when my grandfather arrived on the scene she learnt to love again, and they had spent the rest of their lives together.

As time went on, she became close friends with William but it was strange to think if George had survived, she wouldn’t have married my grandfather. We wouldn’t have met his brother by the grave, and Mike and I might have been related, which would have made life difficult when we fell in love. Nan and I are more alike than I imagined in our choice of men, even with so many years between us. She will be my maid of honour when Mike and I get married next month, and with William as best man, family history could be complicated if their friendship became something more.

© Val Portelli May 2021.


2 thoughts on “Forgotten Friends

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s