“I’ll be the one wearing the floral raincoat,” wrote Annie.
I found myself walking, with great anticipation, toward the entry gate of the flea market in the middle of Worcestershire, England. You may think meeting a “stranger” in a foreign country might elicit some anxiety, but I felt like I was meeting a friend today. And when I saw her face, I knew I had.
I came to know of Annie several years ago when my Dad found her EBay shop and purchased a couple of things from her, some of which were gifts to me. Dad had struck up a friendship with Annie and they regularly kept in touch via email. When we decided to go to England, Dad wanted to meet her in person.
So over the last year, Annie and I began writing to each other about our meeting. Annie had offered to take us to a flea market and have “a mooch about together” at the Malvern Flea Market. A day with Annie sounded like such an exciting prospect that we based our whole leg of the trip on this date!
When my parents were unable to go because of my mom’s accident, we were naturally saddened, but I didn’t hesitate to continue our plans with meeting Annie. By this point, I considered her my friend too.
I spot Annie in her floral raincoat. She greeted me with a big smile and a hug.I told her I was glad she wore the floral raincoat and she laughed and said she was a regular walking flower garden.
It was raining so we decided to hit the inside booths first. We hesitated on how to shop together but easily fell into a rhythm like friends do. As we had our “mooch about”, we began to recognize what one another liked and pointed out interesting things to each other, chatting with a few of the sellers, and finding a few booths to spend our pounds in, and before long we found ourselves in a line to buy hot melted chocolate with fresh strawberries and mini marshmallows! Look at that copper pot of chocolate. All girlfriends eat chocolate together. Kevin showed up just in time to pay.
As we perused the row’s of booths, Annie’s story began to unfold. She began telling me bits and pieces of her past. She was born in Hungary during the dictatorship of Rákosi. Seeking a better life, her parents, on the premise of visiting friends, they slipped the border and left Hungary on foot and immigrated to the UK. Although America was their first choice, UK had a shorter immigration wait. Because Annie was only 9 months old, they left her with her grandmother. Difficult as it was for her parents to leave her, they said it was the best decision, as many lost their children from sickness, exposure to the elements and being found out by the cries. Babies froze on their parents back as they waded through the winters, an inescapable image. Heart wrenching.
Her grandmother raised her until she was 10 when her parents at last could send for her. Sadly her story was long from being happy. Can you imagine raising your own child starting at age 10, or meeting your parents at age 10? Difficult to fathom the hardship.
Annie spoke of losing her sense of belonging. She grew up questioning who she was. But she didn’t dwell on this, it’s how it was. Annie did get to spend blissful summer holidays with her grandparents and they too were able to come visit for months at a time. I imagine those were the best of times.
Her family spoke Hungarian in the home but otherwise incorporated traditions from their new country into their lives. I heard her speaking with a seller regarding immigrants to the UK and the importance of them respecting their new country by learning the language and adjusting to its traditions without losing their own. (Interesting the UK is also having this issue)
While shopping, we came across a beautiful Hymn Board that I truly loved. I have been looking for one in the states for a while without any luck. We admired it and continued our shopping. Annie generously offered to ship it to me if I decided to buy it. When Kevin joined us, I told him about it and he went to spy it out. Kevin loved it too. We gave it some thought and discussed with Annie the shipping particulars; she insisted it was no problem. The seller was able to come off the price some, Annie helped us on that account, pleading our case of having the cost to ship it back. Kevin happily snagged this one up, even as others were admiring it! The seller told us what chapel it came from and later Annie researched it and sent us some history. I think of Annie when I see it everyday. (A quick side story: I put these numbers on the hymn board and Kevin asked me why I chose those, I told him to think about it. He got all panicked knowing he should recognize it but not able to. We had a good laugh when I told him it was our anniversary date.)
After shopping, with the rain still coming down, we went into town to eat at one of her favorite places. It was a delightful time as we enjoyed each other’s company over a delicious meal complete with coffee and dessert. A lingering meal where we really treasured our remaining time. Kevin and I both realizing what an amazing gift it had been to meet Annie.
We laughed at stories and tears stung our eyes at others. My favorite image drawn by Annie, she told of always feeling like a boat out to sea, the winds and waves tossing her about until she met her husband and he was a safe harbor, the only harbor she had known since she was 10. She belonged again.
It’s beautiful isn’t it?
It didn’t take long to see that Annie is a giver, and the most considerate person I have ever known. I only wished my parents had been there to meet her too. She had printed maps for Kevin to explore the town while we shopped, she had bought me an umbrella and chosen a place that had gluten-free options (she had picked up on my gluten-free diet from a slight mention of it on a blog post) She thinks of everything. So caring and thoughtful.
I made Annie a necklace using a love token I had found on eBay, with her name engraved on the front. As she held the gift, I thought about when I was making it for her, and how she is all that I had hoped she would be. And more.
We spent the rest of our day touring the town by foot, stopping for stories or photos or an interesting sight. Malvern is a wonderful town. Ironically enough, I had purchased a little wooden antique souvenir for Deddy on my first trip to England and it had a hotel on it located in Malvern. Annie took us to the hotel, which is now a school, and took our picture. We found out later we have ancestors that are from Malvern. Such a small world.
During the course of my dad’s friendship with Annie, she had written to say she had several pieces of family linens that she wished to give to someone who would treasure them, as she had no family to pass to. Would we like them? We told her we would absolutely treasure them.
Before we were to leave, Annie brought out her family linens. She offered them, saying to take what I would like and not to feel obligated to keep them. So humble is Annie.
She could offer me anything and I would treasure them as my own because of who she is and what they meant to her. I held one at a time up and saw their beauty and workmanship from a generation before. I looked at them with awe and admiration. I listened to her stories of who made the pieces, of her sitting at her grandmother’s knee listening quietly to the radio (an illegal station) while her grandmother worked away, of the piece her mother made when she was 13, of the cross stitched table-cloth belonging to her cousin, of the lace collar she remembers not. Annie had lovingly weighed them in groups and had a little slip of paper of their weights so our suitcase would not be overweight.
This inheritance deeply touched me. Being flooded with emotions of things I could not say, I only hoped that Annie realized just what a gift she had given me. Having very few things from my own grandparents and great-grandparents, made these heirlooms all the more cherished. My Annie loves them too. She instantly curled up on them.
When home, I wrote to Annie and told her I expected her to be much older since she was parting with her treasures. She said that she had a dear friend recently die and it made her think about such things. Having no family to bestow them too she did not want them to end up in a bin in rubbish sale. I certainly understand.
I do love linens. They are the first thing I look at in a booth or an estate sale. I wonder how family can discard these. I admire the details and think of the ladies who carefully made them for a newborn or trousseau . I wonder their stories. Now I have beautiful linens that have stories and now I am folding them in to my story. And sharing them with mom, she too is adding her story to them.
This beautiful tablecloth was made for, Emoke, Annie’s cousin. Her housekeeper made it for her and she treasured it. Growing up, Emoke and her family helped the Jews and as a teenager she was able to move about Budapest without drawing suspicion, warning families when they were in trouble of being found out. She gave to Annie because it meant so much to her. I love the mend on the back. Hours of work.
While planing our day, Annie had written that lunch was going to be her treat. At lunch this came up again and she reminded me it was her treat. This didn’t go over to well with Kevin who insisted it was to be our treat. Annie’s response was to remember to “love the giver”.
Annie treated us to lunch but the real treat was meeting Annie and calling her friend.