Monday, 27 June 2011

11 Years.

Hullo ma wee blog,

Ursula was an oddity. She was my lovely G's mother too which is how I came to meet her in the first place all those years ago. A woman with an occasionally wacky, always distinctive sense of dress and a huge stride that virtually made you run to keep up with her, she was the kind of woman that stood out in any crowd, normally for the wrong sartorial reasons as colour co-ordination was never her strongest suit, but that must have come in very handy for her husband and children when she needed to be found. Having come to the UK in the early 60's from her native Switzerland to complete her training as a nurse, she met and married a Scotsman and never went home again except for regular holidays.. Despite having lived here for 35 years she never lost her Swiss accent or that same Swiss bluntness of approach. She never quite mastered English either which could be inadvertently hilarious, often at the most unfortunate moments. It's never a good thing to burst out laughing when a woman is angry and in full flow no matter how mangled the phrases coming out of her mouth. She loved to speak the Swiss-German dialect of her homeland and shared it with her daughter who learned it at her knee and came to cherish it in the same way. The regular and long phone calls to her sister back home left her enthused and flushed with pleasure every time.

Ursula's grasp of English could be highly entertaining, with her sometimes odd take on pronunciation { thoroughly was 'thuruffly' in her eyes for many years} and often managed to misremember a phrase in a way which still retained enough of the original that you would get the message but be rendered helpless with laughter. So, a phrase like  'without batting an eye'  would come from Ursula as 'without flapping an eyebrow'.  She found incidents like this confusing and would watch the resulting paroxysms of her family  -and much later me - with a disbelieving stare. If you asked Ursula a question there would normally be a slight delay in her response which added a certain frisson to talking with her given that you never were quite sure what kind of response you were going to get.  I always believed that no matter how long she had been in this country, she translated the English she heard back into Swiss-German, thought of an answer, translated it back into English and then delivered it to you. I think it was this that led to the 'close but not quite' replies that often came back in such hilarious ways. She loved the crosswords which she did to improve her vocabulary but - although I would never have told her - she was an inveterate cheat and constantly looked up the answers when she thought no-one was looking. She was an avid communicator though and loved to sit and chat. She made family occasions like Easter and Christmas - traditional Swiss Christmas - truly special with unforgettable meals and an incredible attention to detail. She loved walking and she and her husband walked - or in her case marched - the hills and mountains of Scotland for many years, sometimes dragging a breathless G and I behind them.

Ursula and her husband were very involved in the church and in village life. She was a great singer and used her beautiful singing voice to great effect in the church choir. She was a Kirk elder too and I often wondered how the elderly parishioners she visited took this kaleidoscope of colours coming charging up the garden path to hammer on the door like a police squad on a raid. How did they cope with her grasp of English. It would seem they did well for she was well liked and respected for her efforts over the years.

She loved movies that were 'nice', had dashing male leads and happy endings. She hated science- fiction and couldn't watch a film where there was even mild violence. She had a penchant for silly board games and loved 'Pictionary' where clues are drawn to be guessed by your partner before the other team get the answer. She was such a hopeless artist that her birds had four legs and ears and most of her attempts were illegible and obscure, or she would pretend not to understand the clue so Ken, her husband, had to follow her into the hall to 'explain' - which was a euphemism for a little kiss most of the time. Often the Lovely G and I would be left waiting to carry on with the game while those two fifty somethings had a snog in the hall. If you couldn't work out her unintelligible scrawl you were likely to get a punch on the arm in her frustration with you and we laughed so much during those games tears ran down our faces.

Ursula and I had issues initially. When I started seeing G I came with baggage, had previously been married and separated and was seen as a threat and not to be trusted. Our relationship was tense to begin with and could be taught with friction. Over the years though we came to understand and appreciate each other. She saw that I wasn't out for what I could get and I saw that she was more than the sum of the resistance I encountered. Slowly our defenses came down and we found that we could both lay our reservations and prejudices aside and that we actually had a lot in common. We came to have the strongest of relationships and would often choose to spend time together because we enjoyed it so much. We could banter and poke fun at each other and we could laugh at ourselves.

In her late fifties she developed a slight lisp. Quickly it progressed to slurring of words. Some of those narrow minded people you always find in every small village gossiped that a drink problem was probably the cause. She ignored them with Germanic determination even though it hurt. She began to have light choking episodes and over time these became more frequent and more serious. She knew I'm sure, what was wrong before everyone else did. After all as a child she'd seen her own mother suffer similar symptoms. It was her deepest and secret fear and she knew what the future held even before motor neuron disease was diagnosed. With startling speed things moved on and this dreadful, deceitful, wicked disease took firstly her song and then her speech.  For a while she communicated via notes in her illegible hand until it was clear even this effort was beyond her. Eating and drinking became impossible, her body wasted and she became unable to walk and to have a normal life.  Her husband nursed her for two long, increasingly difficult years, watching her become completely debilitated and seeing the woman he loved slip out of his grasp no matter how hard he tried to prevent it. She fought with all the strength and courage of the bear at the root of her name but ultimately it was in vain.

She died 11 years ago yesterday.

We miss her.

So liebe Urseli, this song is for you.

 I always think of you when I hear it.


Twisted Scottish Bastard said...

Lovely post Alistair.
Not sentimental, but obviously from the heart.

I've never met Urseli, but I think I would have liked her if I'd had the chance.
She must have been a really good friend.

Anonymous said...

So nice Alistair - a fitting tribute .... she sounded like quite a woman.

Morning's Minion said...

You've caught well the affection and humor which you and Ursula came to share. She sounds like a larger-than-life personality--colorful, vigorous, talented, generous--and probably exasperating. Such people don't work at being this way--they just, remarkably, ARE.
Thank you for posting this character sketch.

Alistair said...

Thanks all.

Rebecca S. said...

A loving and honest tribute to someone who by the sounds of it enriched the lives of those around her. Perhaps she knew deep down to live as large as possible before her difficult illness took hold. I know several local Swiss women who all seem to sing well - it seems a national pastime they hold dear.

Scottish Nature Boy said...

Beautiful post Al, delivered with love...

Celulares Juegos Chinos said...
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