I first met my little old lady in November of 2001. Her first name was Cissie but everyone called her Phyl. Slightly before I met her, I had become friends on the internet with her son Kevin who I went to school with and who we all called Griff. Griff had sent me a `hello` e-mail in September of the year I met Phyl and I have never fathomed out why, I had last seen him in 1970. If anyone had told me then that several decades later I would be living with him, I would have burst out laughing. Griff resided in Australia and he thought it would be a nice idea if I went to meet his parents Phyl and Owen who lived in Birmingham, so I did! I met his parents before I met him.
I shall never forget Phyl greeting me for the first time. I was quite nervous but she opened the door and smiled at me as though I was a long lost friend, she gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, she made me feel very welcome and we immediately hit it off. Owen was a grumpy old bugger but I grew to love him too. Phyl was a little woman hence her nickname, she was always slightly stooped as she had a curve in her spine which over the years became more pronounced and in the end, caused her some pain but we weren`t to know that then.
In her sixties Phyl had survived breast cancer and had a prosthesis which constantly slipped and usually sat somewhere around waist level because Phyl didn`t like wearing a bra and much preferred a vest. Quite recently I took her for her cataract operation and afterwards a nurse came to me and said, “Excuse me, does your friend wear one of these?” The nurse held the prosthesis in her hands Phyl must have dropped it somewhere along the way. She found this terribly funny and we giggled about it for the rest of the day.
I think the most precious thing about my relationship with Phyl is that we made each other laugh. She liked to call me her little ray of sunshine and I have very many happy memories of enjoying funny times with her; in fact her next door neighbour Jackie said that she always knew when I was visiting because she could hear us laughing through the wall. We had a similar sense of humour, for example, we laughed until the tears ran down our faces when she told me the story about a small girder which Owen was installing into the kitchen ceiling, falling and skimming his body by inches. He wasn`t hurt and I have no idea why we found this so funny.
Every year Phyl received an abundance of Christmas cards which arrived from all over the world. The most she had in one year was three hundred and sixty something. This was a source of great joy to her and she always felt and indeed was, very much loved by many people. When her son and I split up Phyl and I remained very good friends. Every other Tuesday I would go and see her and she would cook me a roast dinner. Phyl made the best gravy I have ever tasted, I could have existed on her gravy alone it was heavenly. She always hand wrote a menu on the back of an old birthday card. She headed her menus. “Phyl`s Restaurant” listing all that was to be eaten and concluding `Tea and coffee if required.` I have kept dozens of them. I`d arrive at her house at 6pm on the dot and she would peer round her open door, her snowy hair billowing around her rosy cheeks and say, “I`m sorry, the restaurant is closed…..” and shut the door again or I would say, “I`m collecting on behalf of the sisters of mercy and wondered if you would like to make a small donation?” We were both absolute fools together. When Phyl moved about her kitchen getting the dinner ready, she did those old people farts that old people do but cannot hear because they are deaf.
After dinner Phyl would watch Emmerdale and I would fall asleep, she used to say, “If I see you fall asleep I shall give you a good kick on the shin.” The thought of this always made her giggle. Before going home I`d make her a cup of tea and she always told me I made a very good one. To take away with me Phyl would pack a bag with two tea buns, one for me and one for a friend, a bag of chocolate bars, some hard sweets, usually Werther`s, some Sunbite crisps and two packets of mini cheddars, one for me and one for Alfie, my dog. She would also insist on giving me a fiver for my petrol, we had many an argument about this as I didn`t want it or need it but she was a stubborn old lady. I estimate that over a ten year period Phyl cooked around 250 dinners for me and had given me something like £1,250 in bi-monthly fivers the silly old biddy.
When Phyl hit her late eighties, unsurprisingly she started her decline. She seemed to shrink in front of me, losing both weight and height but this didn`t stop her from going out into Solihull shopping, or to Shirley every Friday with her good neighbour Beryl, she kept in touch with lots of her friends and family. I walked with Phyl through the loss of her beloved husband Owen, her sister Eileen who she loved very much, her oldest friend Elsie who passed away in a residential home, her next door neighbour Ron, the list goes on. They were all ancient and had known each other almost all of their lives so to Phyl, the losses were great.
A few months ago, Phyl had a fall and hurt her back. It triggered off her spondylitis and she was in a lot of pain but she came through this dark period and by August, was quite her old self. I was with her for dinner, my last dinner with that wonderful old lady, on Tuesday August 12th. She had cooked coq au vin and we had lemon sorbet for pud. Days later Phyl suffered a heart attack and was admitted to hospital in Redditch.
I visited her every other day and shared the visiting with her neighbours. Phyl declined to eat and became weak, very tired and fragile. She reminded me of a little snowy bird all propped up with hospital pillows, she was tiny and we were expecting the worst at any moment. On the Tuesday of what was to be her last week with us, I sat with her for an hour. She was minus all the medical paraphernalia that had been supporting her and was being medicated with small doses of morphine. She had really perked up and like many people just before they die, she enjoyed a laugh with me, with Carol her niece and her good neighbour Sue. She talked about how much she hoped she would `hang around` to see her grandson Tom, her two sons Kevin and Roy and her grandson Sion who had all booked flights to be with her as quickly as they could and that she hoped to `hear good news about Mel`s baby,` due on September 15th. (Another much loved relative.)
Before leaving I offered to give her a good kicking to make her feel better and she laughed at that too. Nurses call this phenomena the “glow before you go” but I`m glad I had that time with her, glad I could kiss her cheek and say, “I love you Phyl,” and hear her say “and I love you.” What a lovely memory. Her beloved grandson Tom had come as fast as he could from Australia to be with her. Very sadly, too late to talk with his nanny but I think Phyl will have known that Tom was here, she certainly knew that he was on his way and this cheered her up huge amounts. Phyl loved a lot of people, she was the least judgemental woman I have ever met and I aspire to be like her. I hope Phyl, that you are reunited with Owen now and all of your friends and family who have gone before you. I shall miss you a great deal and Tuesday nights will never be the same.
Cissie Phyllis Griffith
April 13th 1923 – September 3rd 2014.