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U3A Writing: Great Aunt Florrie

“Our great Aunt Florrie was mad, we knew it without a doubt. It was just that we couldn't get any of the grownups in the family to agree with us.’’

But Aunt Florrie is hiding a sad, sad secret, as Elwyn Frankel reveals.

Our great Aunt Florrie was mad, we knew it without a doubt. It was just that we couldn't get any of the grownups in the family to agree with us.

Try as we might, there was no escaping the regular summer holiday, when my sister Helen, younger brother Ken, and me, along with our parents, went to stay with her in her big old house.

Talk about a waste of two weeks off school. Really, what did they think they were doing, taking us away from our mates? No creek to swim in, no roaming over the hills chasing rabbits. It just wasn't right.

"Maybe if we behave badly enough we will be sent home," I suggested to Helen. "I don't think that will work," she replied, "and then we will all be in trouble, and remember, it is Christmas."

I thought about what she had said, and went off to pack my things ready for the dreaded trip next morning.

Young Ken wasn't much help. He didn't seem to care that we had to mind our manners, put on a tie and slick our hair down each night before we sat at what Aunt Florrie called 'the dinner table'. Whatever happened to good old tea, like we had at home?

Mind you, the food was rather good, apart from some strange green stuff that appeared on our plate occasionally. We could always rely on a slap up Christmas dinner with sixpence in everyone's serve of plum duff.

"Mother," I asked one day, "why is Aunt Florrie so straight-laced and set in her ways. Didn't she ever have any fun?"

"Yes, Richard," Mother replied, "when Florrie was a young girl she was full of fun, always the first one to enjoy a party, or play a joke on someone. She was one of the most popular girls in our town."

"Well then, whatever happened to make her as she is today?" I said. Mother looked at me, and sadly shook her head.

"Son," she said, "there are many things you don't know about your Aunt, and I think it's time I explained." Mother went on. "At the age of twenty Florrie met a young man. They started keeping company and came to care very deeply for each other. It was just before the war started, and so, like many other young men, James enlisted in the Army. They decided to marry before he was posted off overseas. James was given a week's leave, and they had a wedding and a honeymoon in a very short time.

At first there were regular letters from him, and Florrie busied herself with the various tasks to help the war effort, and looked forward to making a happy home with James on his return.
After a time James's letters came less and less frequently and then stopped altogether. Florrie was beside herself with worry, she had learned by then that she was carrying a child. We all did our best to comfort and support her. Then came the dreadful telegram to say James had been killed in action. Florrie was inconsolable, and in the end she lost the baby too, and feeling that there was nothing left to live for, she tried to drown herself in the river.

A passing farmer pulled her from the water, and after some weeks in hospital she returned to the family home.

Florrie was never the same after that, but she eventually pulled herself together and became the solid rock around which our family still clings," Mother concluded.

I was stunned to hear this story. I had never imagined anything like that, and I guess when you are quite young you don’t give much thought to what older people may have been through in their lifetime.

Years went by and I came to understand Aunt Florrie more and to appreciate all the things she did for us. We became very good friends and I tried my best to help her whenever possible.
I was 25 years old when our Aunt Florrie quietly slipped out of our lives, with the same minimum of fuss as she had managed everything else.

We sadly arranged her funeral and gathered for the reading of the will. Imagine our surprise when we learned that she had left quite a large estate. Apparently our ladylike aunt had a passion for the stock market and had done well over the years.
After the lawyer had read of substantial amounts bequeathed to my parents and also to Helen and Ken, came my greatest shock. Aunt Florrie had left me her house with these words, “To Richard I leave my house, as he knows what it means to me, and I know he will take care of it.”

Thus ends the story of our Great Aunt Florrie, who in my lifetime went from seeming to me to be quite mad to becoming my good friend and benefactor.

As I look back I realise that it was not Aunt Florrie who changed with the years.

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