Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Walk In The Woods

I was puzzled! Why was this old woman making such a fuss about an old copse which was of no use to anybody? She had written letters to the local paper, even to a national, protesting about a projected by-pass to her village, and, looking at a map, the route was nowhere near where she lived and it wasn't as if the area was attractive. I was more than puzzled, I was intrigued.
  The enquiry into the route of the new by-pass to the village was due to take place shortly, and I wanted to know what it was that motivated her. So it was that I found myself knocking on a cottage door, being received by Mary Smith and then being taken for a walk to the woods.
  "I've always loved this place", she said, "it has a lot of memories for me, and for others. We all used it. They called it 'Lovers lane'. It's not much of a lane, and it doesn't go anywhere important, but that's why we all came here. To be away from people, to be by ourselves " she added.
  It was indeed pleasant that day and the songs of many birds could be heard. Squirrels gazed from the branches, quite bold in their movements, obviously few people passed this way and they had nothing to fear. I could imagine the noise of vehicles passing through these peaceful woods when the by-pass was built, so I felt that she probably had something there but as I hold strong opinions about the needs of the community over-riding the opinions of private individuals, I said nothing. The village was quite a dangerous place because of the traffic especially for old people and children, their safety was more important to me than an old woman's whims.
  "Take this tree", she said pausing after a short while. "To you it is just that, a tree. Not unlike many others here". She gently touched the bark. "Look here, under this branch, what can you see?"
  "It looks as if someone has done a bit of carving with a knife" I said after a cursory inspection.
  "Yes, that's what it is!" she said softly. "There are letters and a lover's heart".
  I looked again, this time more carefully. The heart was still there and there was a suggestion of an arrow through it. The letters on one side were indistinct, but on the other an 'R' was clearly visible with what looked like an 'I' after it. "Some budding romance?" I asked, "did you know who they were?"
  "Oh yes, I knew them", said Mary Smith, "it says RH loves MS".
  I realised that I could be getting out of my depth, and longed to be in my office, away from here and this old lady, snug, and with a mug of tea in my hand.
  She went on …"He had a penknife with a spike for getting stones from a horse's hoof, and I helped him to carve my initials. We were very much in love, but he was going away, and could not tell me what he was involved in the army. I had guessed of course. It was the last evening we ever spent together,because he went away the next day, back to his Unit. "
  Mary Smith was quiet for a while, then she sobbed. "His mother showed me the telegram. 'Sergeant R Holmes ….. Killed in action in the 9)invasion of France'".
  "'I had hoped that you and Robin would one day get married" she said, "He was my only child, and I would have loved to be a Granny, they would have been such lovely babies'- she was like that! "
  "Two years later she too was dead. 'Pneumonia, following a chill on the chest' was what the doctor said, but I think it was an old fashioned broken heart. A child would have helped both of us."
  There was a further pause. Mary Smith gently caressed the wounded tree, just as she would have caressed him. "And now they want to take our tree away from me." Another quiet sob, then she turned to me. "I was young and pretty then, I could have had anybody, I wasn't always the old woman you see here now. I had everything I wanted in life, a lovely man, health and a future to look forwards to".
  She paused again and looked around. The breeze gently moved through the leaves with a sighing sound. "There were others, of course, but not a patch on my Robin!" she said strongly. "And now I have nothing - except the memories this tree holds. If only I could get my hands on that awful man who writes in the paper about the value of the road they are going to build where we are standing now, I would tell him. Has he never loved, has he never lived, does he not know anything about memories? We were not the only ones, you know, I still meet some who came here as Robin and I did. Yes, I would tell him!"
  I turned away, sick at heart.

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