Where do I start? Valda’s not someone you can sum up in a few lines. She was my friend for 28 years, eccentric, creative and hugely funny. In Valda’s life everything was pink and the more vibrant the better, including at times, her hair. Creative in so many ways, fabulous cook and gifted artist, she also designed and made the most off-the-wall sweaters imaginable, but in later life she concentrated on her photography.
When I was learning to cook she put me up and shared her home with me and others too. She helped me through my disastrous marriage and was full of encouragement when penniless, I decided to open my restaurant. Her advice was direct and honest, she never sugar coated it.
Her love for her friends was exceeded only by her love of animals. Her horse, Totty, loved to stand on people’s feet which delighted Valda…..so you see, even her pets had personality. She loved all animals but dogs were her passion, except for labradors, she found them irritating, and I quote;
“Nothing on god’s earth can be that happy……they’re just plain stupid.“
That aside, she rescued dogs, parrots and raised money for the greyhound charities even designing a memorable picture of a cherub kissing a greyhound, accompanied by the words,
“All greyhounds and lurchers have been kissed by angels.”
This was then printed onto T shirts with all the proceeds going to the charity. Her last dog, Wisteria, Wisty for short, a truly elegant greyhound is currently being looked after by her son Leckie.
Valda lived for her friends, she cooked for us, shared her home with us and provided not only a wonderful home for her animals and birds but a warm, safe and secure haven for us too.
During the last two months of her life her home became a hub. Her girls, as she called us, organised a rota to care for her but we were rarely alone as literally streams of friends dropped in throughout the day and evening. The back door was never locked and Wisty, jumping and running around would herald the latest arrival.
My favourite time to be there was when I arrived late at night after work. I would give her a kiss and a hug, make myself a coffee and have a chat with Cathy, Jane or Tracy or whoever had been sitting with her. Then I’d get my bed ready, in fact I slept in the kitchen with the connecting doors open from her room. Leckie and I would help her into bed and we normally all had a laugh as we tried to make her comfortable, some nights were harder than others. We’d sit with her until she fell asleep, always with the light on, she couldn’t stand the dark.
Valda hated to miss anything and was miffed that she wouldn’t be at the party after her funeral. So we planned a tea party, her “living wake” she called it. It was just going to be us girls and some of Leckie’s mates, in the event over 60 people turned up. Everyone baked and the tables were groaning with delicious food. A gazebo was put up in garden, chairs were borrowed from the local school, tablecloths from the cricket club and the sun dutifully shone. Valda appeared dressed in a hot pink T shirt, black joggers, pale pink linen tunic and draped in a matching pink feather boa, accompanied by Wisty, sporting a fuschia boa. It was a great day and no one that was lucky enough to be there will ever forget it.
The weeks that followed were filled with more friends and lots and lots of laughter, she imposed a zero tolerance policy for tears.
Then came the midddle of the night phone calls to the community nurses for morphine shots and the almost daily visits from her GP, Dr. Paul Van den Bosch, who inspired us all with the amazing level of care he provided.
She would open her eyes in the morning and see me sitting there;
How lovely to see you Nona.
When do you sleep?”
She would ask me.
“Go and make yourself a coffee and have a fag, I’m fine for now.”
Then the day began again, Jane would arrive armed with freshly baked bread and put the kettle on. Later on someone would stop at the same local bakery and bring cakes for tea…..Tracy, Cathy, Wendy or Miranda would be there for the evening shift.
She brought us all together. I met old friends and made many new ones, friendships that I'm sure will endure. Even in her illness she gave us so much.
Bob Dylan, her hero, played on the ipod 24hrs a day. The parrots shrieked her name and her friends kept on coming.
Then, exactly three weeks after the party, on my birthday, Sunday May 2nd at 4am she died.
It felt like my world had stopped, it still does.
200 people crowded into the crematorium…..all dressed in pink to honour her. Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” played, Cathy read the eulogy. A poem was read and a song was sung, both written for her and with the strains of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” still ringing in our ears it seemed like it would all be ok.
We headed off to Pirbright village hall and feasted on homemade cakes and sandwiches, absolutely delicious, everyone enjoying the day.
Afterwards; Cathy, Jane, Caroline, Chrissy, Tracy, Miranda and me went and sat in the garden of the local pub. We raised a glass to Valda and howled with tears and laughter. Dressed in pink and fairly loud we were mistaken for a hen party…..much to our delight.
I packed my bags, said my goodbyes to Leckie and Wisty and prepared to leave. Jane and I ended the day with Lindy and Richard, who everyone adores, sipping gin and tonics by the fire in their lovely home. As we drove back to London there was the most dramatic sunset. Oranges, yellows and shocking pinks stained the evening sky. Then, as we crossed Putney Bridge all that was left were two enormous streaks of fuschia pink. Well, if you believe in heaven……she had definitely arrived.
She is deeply mourned, greatly missed and will never be forgotten.
Copyright © Ffiona Reid-Owen (2010)