Heaven is a Place on Earth

TLot18againOur home in the forest

This is the last instalment of my autobiography before I resume my normal blogs

I asked the Salvation Army’s Missing Person’s Bureau to find my mother when I was nearly fifty. It took them three years, and when they did, I immediately flew to London to see her.

We met on neutral ground at the Tate Gallery, and sat on a leather bench in front of a masterpiece. I have no idea what the picture was, but the pattern of the red brocade wall- covering surrounding it is stamped on my memory forever. We stayed there for hours until the gallery attendant gently told us they were closing, and then we paced the Embankment trying to catch up on a lifetime.

In the end we never did bridge the gap of that lost time as she only seemed to remember the good times we had had, while I remembered the bad times, but what I learned about her broke my heart over and over again. Her father had left before she was born, and two stepfathers died of cancer.

When she was eight months pregnant with my younger sister she lived through the angst of waiting for her husband to return at Dunkirk. He didn’t. He escaped two weeks later. Two years after this, when he returned to do his officer training she became pregnant again, and gave birth to that child on her own as well.

And now, she met a farmer from the Channel Islands, who was working on Pluto – Pipe- Line Under the Ocean, a top -secret invention to supply fuel to the armies at D-Day. They planned to marry when the war was over and take us children to live on his family farm. There was an accident and he was killed. My mother was pregnant, and in despair she fled.

She couldn’t afford to keep the baby, adopted her, emigrated to Australia to start a new life, and eventually re-married a man she’d met on the voyage out. Back in London she had a daughter with her new husband, and when that baby was a few months old, this man went into a sanatorium with TB and when he recovered, never returned to her and their child.

She brought up that child alone, and became an efficient civil servant. On her retirement she sold her house in order to move and buy a house near her sister. Shopping for a new sofa, she learned from the hushed gossip in the local shop that her solicitor had hanged himself after embezzling all his clients’ money including hers.

She had a few thousand pounds left, which she blued on a trip to China, to fulfil at least one life’s dream. She had whiled away the long lonely years by learning Chinese, attending cookery classes, playing chess and listening to opera. And when I met her, she was living in a council retirement flat. She was a gentle, refined woman, and never at any time when I met her at intervals before her death, made any complaint about her life; and though she was sad, she was never bitter.

After a forty-year silence, I met my stepmother again too. And the weeks I now spent in her company were amongst the happiest in my life. All the dislike, hostility and coldness she had shown me had dropped away. And all the hurt and pain and anger I had felt at being rejected also dissolved. The love between us was so complete and miraculous, it felt as though we had transitioned to the next plane of being, when we see each other clearly, and recognise the love and beauty of each other’s soul.

My father died fifty years ago. He shaped the person I am today. Back from the war when I was aged ten, he used to stop at a second- hand book stall set up by his bus stop on Friday nights. There he chose his old favourites for me, like Lord Lytton’s ‘The Last Days of Pompeii,’ and ‘Harold’, Kingsley’s Westward Ho and my very favourite – read and re-read – Hypatia, the Greek woman philosopher and mathematician who came to a sticky end, thanks to men! Then there was David Copperfield and so many others.

When we moved to Catterick, he shared the books he was reading then, which included Sir Nigel and the White Company, Conan Doyle’s historical romances set in France in 1366, C.S. Forester’s Hornblower Books, and Napier’s History of the Peninsula Wars. And every night, when I’d finished my homework, he read aloud to my eleven- year- old self from H.M. Trevelyan’s ‘English Social History,’ setting up my fascination with history.

Still eleven, he taught me the value of money and compassion. Sitting at the dining table I had suggested my stepmother buy some sheepskin boots because her feet were cold, “they only cost five pounds,” I blithely chirruped.

“Look out of the window,” my father ordered. A worn working man with a deeply-lined face and shabby clothes covered in grime from a building site, was dragging tiredly past. “That man earns five pounds a week to feed his family”, my father grimly pointed out, and lectured me on extravagance in words that would have profited Marie Antoinette.

Later in Malaya, when I was sixteen, and we entertained the Indian quarter -master to tea with his wife in her colourful saris, and I had to give them my books on the Royal family who they loved, he demonstrated tolerance and the opposite of racism.

Back in England in the mid- fifties, he taught me to accept homo-sexuality at a time when it was scarcely mentioned. I commented on a strange man on the bus who wore a brown striped suit with flared trousers, a wide brimmed brown felt hat and thick makeup. He laughed, told me he was a wonderful old ‘queen’ and was such a punishing boxer that no-one dared jeer at him.

He demanded respect for all his soldiers, telling me they’d fought through the war, were bringing up families on a pittance, and were fine decent people. Like Abou Ben Adhem, he ‘loved his fellow men.’

Later when I was twenty-one, he suggested that my outlook was a bit narrow, and that I should read The Manchester Guardian. Back then it had a reputation for fine writing, tolerant humane values, and wide culture. I became a sensible feminist, reading Mary Stott on the women’s pages, learned about good food, enjoyed witty TV criticism, discovered avenues of musical appreciation, and acquired a burning social conscience, which cut me off from all my family and many of my friends!

When he retired from the army at forty-five he commuted/cashed up his army pension to pay for his youngest son’s expensive schools, and so condemned himself to working to support his family for the rest of his life. But he died in 1968 at fifty-four.

I wonder if anyone will remember me, fifty years after I am dead? At the moment, I am far from dead, and know that he would have loved to know what risks I have taken to live my life as fully as I can and to be able to love as deeply as I do now.

When I began blogging, I inadvertently stumbled on an unusual blog when I was looking for some poetry I’d enjoyed. When I left a comment on this rather beautiful blog, which was not poetry, the writer replied with such courtesy that I was enchanted. In the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein’s words – I ‘grocked’ him. Which meant I felt I knew him, and recognised him, and understood him at a very deep level.

We began ‘following’ each other, and our comments reflected a mutual admiration. My new follower wrote exquisite remarks on my blogs, but when a rather malicious stalker I’d attracted from the day I first began writing, began sneering at my “followers massaging my ego,” I feared that he might recognise the underlying message of love in the sensitive, perceptive words my new friend wrote on my blog. I feared that my stalker’s spite could spoil this friendship.

So I wrote to my friend, suggesting that we write privately instead, to avoid any unpleasantness. Two years and two thousand letters later, my friend – now my love- left his country, his home of forty- five years, the job he loved at a world-famous observatory, his family, and his friends and came to begin a life with me.

I read recently:”I don’t think genuinely falling in love is negotiable. The heart goes where the heart goes. Age has nothing to do with it.” This is true – he’s much younger than me, cherishes me the way I’ve never been cared for before, we share the same spiritual values, and revel in a life of love and freedom.

Like me, he had left behind not just his home, but most of his assets too, so we looked for a place where we could afford to live, that would give us the environment we both wanted. It was waiting for us. Just as out of over eighty million bloggers we had  found each other, so we discovered the perfect place that we could not only afford, but which turned out to be a haven of beauty, peace, and community.

We bought a tiny one room log cabin set on forty acres of covenanted podocarp forest, where we look across a valley like an amphitheatre and gaze up to our own mountain. We listen to our streams tumbling over rocks below, and hear birds singing from the dawn chorus in the morning to the moreporks/owls through the night. Our property is home to various almost extinct species of frog, lizards, geckoes, to more than three hundred species of butterfly and moths – or lepidoptera as I’ve learned to call them – and to rare plants and trees. People come from the universities and world-wide societies to study these precious vanishing species in this time of the sixth great extinction.

Our neighbours, hidden in the forest, have a shared environmental commitment to keeping the sprawling hills and ranges free of pests and to nurturing the creatures who’ve made their homes here for milleniums. These neighbours come from all walks of life – an architect, a musician, zoologist and landscape professors, a geologist and several engineers, a restauranteur, a painter, a therapist and others. They are all nationalities, Swiss, English, Australian, Belgian, Dutch, Maori, Russian, Mongolian, American.

Behind our high wrought iron gates, we share a civilised social life, and work together to preserve the forest. On our property, we’ve extended our original tiny dwelling, planted fragrant flowers, created architectural flights of steps, made melodious bells from diver’s tanks, re-cycled doors and windows and other found objects, and live a blissful life of creativity and harmony.

I wake in the morning and look out of the window to where the dawn shines gold on the peak of the mountain. I turn to my love and whisper, “the sun is on the mountain.” And another day begins of a quiet mystical life of love and beauty.

The end

 Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 I love Indonesian food, and a friend gave me a little booklet of recipes years ago. One page in particular is stained and dog-eared… with the recipe for sambel goreng telor on it – this means eggs in coconut milk.

For two people hard boil four eggs, cut them in two and put in a deep dish. Fry a chopped onion, and when soft add tomato, clove of garlic, half a red pepper, a table spoon of brown sugar and salt to taste. When they’re soft, add half a cup of coconut milk, heat and pour over the eggs. Delicious with plain boiled rice.

Food for Thought

 Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering; for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all that must be put to death.

We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion, gentle hands and kindly words.

Make us ourselves to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.

Albert Schweitzer, doctor, humanitarian, writer,  musician, organist and organ restorer

 

 

 

 

 

 

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46 Comments

Filed under animals/pets, army, bloggers, british soldiers, cookery/recipes, environment, happiness, life and death, spiritual, sustainability, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized

46 responses to “Heaven is a Place on Earth

  1. What a lot you cover in an ending and so much more to explore between the lines. And a beautiful happy ever after so deservedly flourishing and blooming from the seeds of your writing. Thank you for sharing the words of Albert at the end, I didn’t know that was his first name, the first Street I lived in when I moved to France was Avenue Dr Schweitzer, so many of the street names are named after personalities, which I find intriguing and might almost admire, were it not for the patriarchy being in charge, recognising only notable men, with one exception, though compromised, that of rue Pierre et Marie Curie. I imagine and predict that the words and adventures of Valerie Davies will continue to be read for a very long time, and I look forward to this series being produced in a physical format to ensure it. Bonne Continuation Valerie.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Claire, what a lovely surprise to find your generous comment – thank you so much … much appreciated… Dr Schweitzer is one of my favourite people, an amazing man, who started a hospital at Lambarene in Africa, was a doctor in a number of disciplines as well as a medical doctor, and was devoted the animals, trees, and the earth – as well as people !!!
      I think he came from Alsace…

      Like

  2. Juliet

    Oh Valerie, my heart is full of gladness reading this final instalment of your life. The two phrases that leap up are ‘how well deserved!’ And ‘about time’. Blessings to you and these precious years of love and a true home. Thank you for telling your story with such truth and passion.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dear Juliet, what a lovely response to my story, thank you so much – thank you for what you say about the writing, and for your lovely blessings…
      I hope all is well with you, and good things flow into your life too… let’s keep in touch…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Valerie, for all your autobiographical blogs!

    This music video matches with the title of this last post of the series:

    Liked by 3 people

    • Petre, lovely to hear from you, thank you… and thank you for your comment on my story.
      What a great idea to send the song… thank you, I had no idea the phrase had been used before !!!!

      Like

  4. How lovely to read you’ve found heaven on earth, and a special someone with whom to share it. May you continue to enjoy your special place and the special man, you have more than earned your happiness.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sound like you found your own heaven on earth. You have found the perfect person with whom to share it, and I wish you both great happiness and joy.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I am SO going to miss these instalments.
    What a lovely ending, though. Or, should I say, new beginning . . .?

    Liked by 2 people

    • What a satisfying comment from a discerning reader, Leslie – thank you so much…
      you’ve been such a supportive and encouraging reader, and greatly appreciated…
      And now I’ve finished my saga, I can start to catch up with all friends and their blogs !!!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I feel your Dad’s love still wrapping around you. The seeds he planted, well, gosh, even he couldn’t have seen how much they would grow and to what heights, dear Valerie. To connect with your Mum and your step-Mum in the way you did in their later years, is pure love. Your idyll now has come at a high price, with many life layers building to it. Flowing much love and energy to you and your loved one, as you flow care and energy to all those souls in the forest, in their many guises. How humbling it has been to share your story thus far. ❤ Thank you ❤ xxx

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m still saving all the episodes to read at a later time as life is so busy right now and they deserve my undivided attention, BUT…I have to comment on this one and you know why. It makes me so happy and I’m smiling just thinking about it. Much love to you both and hello to you-know-who!! 🙂

    janet

    Liked by 2 people

    • Janet- what a treat to find your message… hope all is well with you, and the busyness is satisfying… Thank you… He enjoyed your message too !He says hello and sends his love,,, ( and says to tell you he’s the luckiest man alive !) – I like it !!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Right now we’re getting ready to go to our older daughter’s wedding on Saturday, so that’s definitely good busy-ness. 🙂 I think you’re both blessed to have found each other and over such distances. Perhaps one day my husband and I will make our longed-for visit to NZ and get to stop in and say hello.

        Like

  9. I love a happy ending and you gave us one!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us. I agree with you, the heart goes where it goes. Mine went to a man in Australia. Even though we had not dated until he had lived there for ten years, a chance meeting put us together and it was right for both of us. I’m so glad for you to finally have the love you deserve. 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ardys, thank you for your words… I have sensed… gleaned… something of your story as time has passed… it sounds fascinating and romantic… a satisfying combination !
      May you continue to iive happily ever after too…

      Like

  11. Just as out of over eighty million bloggers we had found each other,—-that says so much and more than anyone could ever imagine —which proves to me, my belief: if it is meant to be it will be!
    Hugs to you my most dear and wonderous friend!

    Like

    • Dearest Linda,
      You and I know we think alike… I agree with all you say ! And I love your new photo… though with typical modesty you are turning away !!!
      I’m looking forward to replying to your letter and returning to your blog… have felt a bit overwhelmed with things and got behind lately …
      Much love XXXXXXXXX

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Angela

    Dear friend…..I’m sighing a quiet sigh of contentment for a life story told so truthfully & compassionately …..I’m so moved by how your life has progressed & happy that you have found the ending (beginning) that has been waiting for you…..the fact that all those years ago you chose the title for your book as ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ is one of life’s ‘pleasings’….that it has all come together through all the highs & lows is quietly satisfying for us, your readers. I believe strongly that you’ve found the place that was meant for you. Thank you also for Albert Schweitzer’s words on the animals ….touching & beautiful…..& oh so true…
    With much love
    Angela

    Liked by 1 person

    • Angela, what a simply lovely message from you, thank you dear and loyal long term friend!
      I couldn’t think of a title for this last blog, and then “Heaven…” came into my mind, and it felt so true, that I thought no more, and just typed it out!
      I love what you said about it all coming together… and yes, We felt that in the words of OI: “Our house knew our face”…
      Albert Schweitzer was special, wasn’t he, and felt about animals the way you and I do, before few others had reached that level of consciousness…
      Much love, Valerie

      Like

  13. Stephanie

    Your autobiography has enthralled me, enchanted me and delighted me. To read of a life so filled with experiences and love shared is heartwarming to the soul. God bless you and your husband in your peaceful lives together and know that across the miles, others too live out their simple love filled lives and honour yours alongside them. Thank you Valerie for being you. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Stephanie,
      What simply beautiful words and a beautiful gift you have given me with them. Thank you so much, and how lovely to know that you have been there, reading my story… so satisfying, thank you…
      Blessings to you too, as you live your simple love filled life… and as you say, it’s so good to know that so much good is flowing through the world, easing the hurts and softening the energy – warmest best wishes… Valerie

      Like

  14. These posts have given me extraordinary insight into the heart of the human narrative. Your resilience, spirited joy and determination to embrace all of what life offers – the good and the not so good. Have you ever heard of the Canadian author Richard Wagamese? He recently passed away, but his words remain, just as yours have become embedded in my heart. What is even more exciting – that our story, our friendship, will continue beyond this final autobiography post.

    “All that we are is story. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship – we change the world, one story at a time…” Richard Wagamese

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Dearest Valerie,

    What an exquisite conclusion to your story. I’m sorry to see it “end.” Although it truly hasn’t ended, has it?
    It’s amazing how close one can become through blogging and connecting across the internet. Naturally there are those who are without scruples and I’ve encountered a few of those. However, there are those with whom we connect in a deeper way than those in close proximity.
    As I watch you two build a life I’m reminded that he once told me that this would be a love story for the ages. I confess, at the time I scoffed inwardly. Now that time has passed and I see that my friend is happier and more content than I’ve ever known him to be, I smile inwardly.
    Thank you for sharing your life and your soul.

    Shalom and hugs to you both,

    Rochelle

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dearest Rochelle,
      Thank you both for this beautiful comment and also for your letter… I went into a bit of a collapse after I finished my long saga, and am just putting myself back together again!
      I will be back to you – with love, Valerie

      Like

  16. What a wonderful ending and new beginning, Valerie…sending my love to both of you. Anything is possible, isn’t it? A life of love, nature and wilderness, with a scattered community of like minded people. That would be my heaven on earth too!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. What an incredible finale, Valerie. Only it’s not a finale really but a wonderful new chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I am so pleased for you both that you are living happily-ever-after dear Valerie 🙂
    .
    Many coincidences:
    My mother worked in Shanklin on the Pluto telephone switchboard.
    .
    http://www.iwhistory.org.uk/RM/shpumps/home.htm
    .
    The false bomb damage was excellently created.
    .
    And I spent many courses over the years in Catterick usually in the winter. Yuck !
    .
    And more, but it’s all about you my friend. These posts need to be a book ! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  19. How fascinating your memoirs have been and lovely to find them conclude to such a happy ending on your blog. In spite of everything (or perhaps because of it?) it’s possible to find a community of kindred spirits.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. A beautiful and moving ending to your wonderful autobiography Valerie – it’s been a joy to read your beautifully described memories – exciting, sad, worrying and happy. I bought and read a copy of The Sound of Water quite some time ago and I’d thoroughly recommend that to your readers too!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Dear Andrea, thank you so much for your comments, this time and in the past – always perceptive and thoughtful, thank you….
    So glad you enjoyed Sound of Water… you are such a discriminating writer yourself … Best wishes, Valerie

    Like

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