"A recent visit to our allotment got me thinking about daffodils and apples, along with a substitute mum of mine that took me on after my own mum had died many years ago. Her name was Etta and she lived until she was 94 years old. I was first introduced into Etta's life (Henrietta), as a kindly neighbour who did her gardening after she became too old to do it herself. Etta; who never married, loved me as the son she never had. She treasured my name which was shared with her secret wartime sweetheart, soldier Bill. Bill was the first and only man she ever loved. He was killed on the battlefront during the 'Second World War.'
Did you know that flowers have meanings associated with them and that during the late Victorian and the early 20th century, they were nothing less than floral letters? Flowers, apples and letters were an integral part of the most important occasions in the lives of women and men during the war years. They are conspicuously present on any occasion of celebration or remembrance. Floral gifts would be given by the man to the woman to signify their fragrant love, while all that many a poor man could afford to give to his sweetheart was an apple. Letters would naturally be the prime means of communication when the couple were apart, each one saved, bundled, and read many times during the years ahead; none ever discarded!
During the last two weeks of her life, I remained in Etta's home 24 hours daily. Each night and day during that last fortnight of her life. Etta's mind wandered in and out of the many years she had spent on this earth and the memories she had treasured since her late teens.
One night, three days before she died, Etta asked me to go to a Georgian book cabinet she had in her lounge and from one of the old books therein, retrieve for her an item she wished to hold once more. As requested I found the specific book she asked for and took it to her. She asked me to open the book to page 22. This was the age she was when she had first placed a daffodil inside.
The pressed daffodil had cost nothing and yet, to Etta, it was more precious than any amount of gold she could ever hold. As she was too weak to sit up at the time and was unable to even turn the pages, she asked me to look through the book until I came across pages 22 and 23, where between, I would find a pressed daffodil which she had put there during the Second World War years after her sweetheart soldier had died on the battlefields. I will never forget the fond and loving expression that crossed her face as she looked and tenderly felt the daffodil. It was as though she was caressing the bruised wings of a beautiful butterfly that had fallen to the ground. This was followed by a look of remembered sadness across her face and the shedding of a few tears as she remembered, her soldier butterfly would never rise again.
Etta passed away a few days later, still holding the pressed daffodil which signified her greatest loss over sixty years earlier, and as her Power of Enduring Attorney, I ensured that she was buried with it. After Etta's funeral in the grounds of the Mirfield Methodist Chapel, where she had attended service for over 80 years, I looked up the choice of her flower which she had pressed to her heart before she inserted it within the leaves of an old Victorian book.
Upon leaving to go to war, Etta's sweetheart soldier and she swore to marry upon his return. This was an event that was sadly never destined to be. Her parents had refused this marriage to take place prior to his departure and indeed, their letter correspondence took place in secret via the go-between address of her lifelong friend, Mary Milner. Etta was so frightened of her strict father discovering the clandestine relationship between his only daughter and a wartime private, that she destroyed his letters as soon as she'd read them.
After Etta's death, I'd been so moved by her tale of her soldier sweetheart and their planned marriage that wasn't meant to be, that I wrote a poem entitled, 'Arthur and Guinevere' which can be accessed through the link below.
Flowers possess a beauty that even the blind can see, the hopeful smell, the child excite and the romantic pleasurably press for future recall. Often, our finest flowers are like garden friends who are always there to support us during inclement times. It is frequently the most splendid flowers that bloom most beautiful and strongest from the experience of their darkest moments.
Following Etta's death, I greatly missed her presence in my life. It was as though my birth mother had died all over again. It was during the autumn months and as she had willed me her Gothic House, I needed to maintain the upkeep of its garden until I'd sold the property. For over two months, the fallen apples from her four Braeburn apple trees remained slowly rotting on the lawn, asleep within the mounds of fallen leaves. For one reason or another, I kept putting off the task of clearing them.
Eventually, I was obliged to acknowledge that my failure to tidy up Etta's garden was merely a sign of my continued bereavement, and until my body was ready to, it couldn't 'move on.' I rolled up my sleeves and tidied up my past. Come to think of it, ever since that autumn day I cleared up Etta's garden, I will eat no apple other than a Braeburn. It's a funny old life, isn't it? " William Forde: October 15th, 2017