I should be blogging about the wonderful lunchtime afternoon spent in Weybridge with blog buds Pete and Jo, Kathleen and young Thomas, but that will have to wait. Suffice it to say, there were lots of laughs, good conversation, one spider, and a dearth of geography knowledge by someone at the table (ahem, PT).
Now, back to the distress. Rewind 29 years to the Ashley Park Hotel pub in Walton-on-Thames. I had finished at Oxford and wasn't quite ready to go back to Atlanta, so I was pulling pints at the pub in exchange for free room and board, plus 19 pounds a week. Jean and Aubrey were regulars and sort of took me under their wings since their daughter had just married and moved away. They became a second set of parents for me.
Over the last three decades there has been a lot of back-and-forth visiting - they would come to Atlanta or we'd meet them in Florida; we'd crash on their doorstep when in England. Seems to me, their house in Ashley Road is as familiar as any I've lived in and always a great home-away-from-home.
Fast forward to a month ago when I found out I'd be attending the conference in Derbyshire. The first thing I did was pick up the phone to call Jean and Aubrey. No answer so I left a message - woo-hoo! coming to England, will come down to say 'hey' one afternoon, etc. I also sent an email to Aubrey. And I waited. Nothing.
Hm. Maybe they're in Scotland at Daughter's house. I'll wait a week. Did that, still no answer. I left another message for Aubrey's birthday a couple of weeks ago. Still nothing. I was getting a bad feeling, but perhaps they were off to Barbados, one of their favorite haunts. Except that Aubrey, in particular, has had a bad run of leg-back-circulation problems over the past year, serious enough for a couple of extended hospital stays. Bad feeling grows.
I was determined to go by the house today after my lunch with Pete and Jo, just to see if everything was OK and shove a note in the letterbox if no one was home. Jo kindly drove me from Weybridge to Walton (they're right next to each other) and let me off in the very familiar High Street. Jean and Aubrey's house is just a few minutes walk - it was a beautiful afternoon - so I set off toward Ashley Road.
I saw the sign before I rounded the hedge. "Sold." Sold. "Crisdene" sold. They've lived there for over 30 years. Sold. Aubrey loves his real estate. This is not a good sign. Anyway, I rang the bell and waited. Then knocked and waited. No answer. Thomas had kindly given me a sheet of his notebook paper for just such a need, so I scribbled a note saying I'd come by and to please, please call or email me. I slipped it into the letter-slot in the front door, walked to the road, and looked back.
And here's what I saw: all the sunny afternoons in the back garden downing gin and tonics; the slap-up full English breakfasts greeting me when I came down the stairs in the morning (thanks, Aubrey); all the late afternoons coming through the front door and getting a delicious whiff Jeannie's curry or roast lamb (with homemade mint sauce); the years of piling on the couch for "Coronation Street," "EastEnders," or some war documentary; all the Sunday mornings being awakened by Jeannie's "hoovering" with some Welsh choir cranked up full-stop on the stereo; all the talks, all the laughs, all the love.
And where are Jean and Aubrey? What has happened that they would sell Crisdene? I pray it's nothing but a search for a more practical house for them. But I don't have Daughter's contact information with me, so I won't be able to find out anything until I get back to New York. I am distressed (and not in the fashionable furniture kind of way).
What a year of endings this has been - I'm almost overwhelmed by them all. And while it's also been a year of incredibly wonderful beginnings, I don't know how many more grand finales I can take right now. I just feel sad.