My darling friend, aged 90, is in hospital, having suffered two heart attacks on Tuesday night. I call her Persil. Her real name, incomprehensible to me aged 2, was whittled down to Persil. And Persil she has been ever since. I met her when I was three months old. Quite simply, she has always Been There. And I love her Hugely.
Now she is lying in the hospital bed, tubes galore, a little anxious, and rather wanting her own bed.
Persil has a wonderful daughter, three grandsons, and an array of great-grand children. They all feel like family.
Persil used to come and clean our house for us when I was little, right the way up to the time I had my Eldest. Flour to the armpits, she would make Apple Pies, and Treacle Puddings. Twinkly eyed. Kind. Steady as a rock.
My mother relied on her. My mother had chronic anaemia for years, rendering her exhausted on occasion and needing help with the house. Persil cleaned, cooked and looked after me if needed. My older brothers and sister had gone to boarding school by the time I was 5. Persil helped make those potentially lonely days good ones. Sometimes I would stay at her house, a little bungalow in the village. Her husband, Boy (yup, couldn't say his name either!) would take me for walks, play football and cricket with me (until he was hit in the chest by a cricket ball one Sunday afternoon match in village and damaged his heart for good) and generally ensure I had a good time. I can remember these wonderful toffees he would buy me. In blue shiny paper.
I loved them both.
Then, one day, Boy died. Apparently he woke in the night, turned to Persil and said, 'I'm going to look after you. Don't worry.' By morning he was dead.
I will never forget darling Persil, sitting in her chair the next day. Seeing Boy's chair empty. I couldn't bear it for her. Yet she coped. The years have passed and she has filled it with her gentle ways.
And now... while she lies there I keep remembering so much. I feel about 5 again. Memories of quiet, happy days. Once while I was staying with her when my parents were away, we went to my house to feed the chickens and cats. When we had finished I asked if we could go home now.
That's how I felt about Persil. She was Home.
She remembers little things about me. Apparently I used to say when I couldn't reach something...'Persil, I can't stand hard enough.' And would tell people to 'Be a Nice Time' if they were off out.
She has a vast array of floral dresses... each one sort of the same. I am always asking her, 'Is that a new dress?' It never Ever is!
If you read this, send up a prayer for my friend.
You'd love her.
All 4' 11" of her.