I just received some very sad news. Mrs Penney passed away the other night.
Violet Penney (I always knew her as Mrs Penney) was my neighbour when I was growing up. She babysat me before I can even remember. She used to give my brothers and I lollies, and let us help pick the moss from between the cement slabs in her back yard. She let me interview her for my fifth form history project. She always welcomed me with a smile and a rundown of what everyone in her family had been up to recently. She’s the exception to my dislike of old people.
We wrote to each other, sometimes, when I was overseas. She was a Southland girl who rolled her ‘r’s and went to the North Island once. When I heard that was as far as she had been, I was amazed. I’d always figured she was the type of person who had been places.
Mrs Penney was born in August, 1914. She had a lot of brothers and sisters, but not all of them made it through the 1918 influenza pandemic. Her life was so different to anything I know. She rarely spoke of her past, and when I asked she seemed confused by it, as though that length of time was too much for anyone to comprehend. I try to imagine experiencing all the changes she lived through. I can’t. She lost her husband when she was still young, and lived in the same house she lived in with him, number 46 Ravelston Street, for 50 years. When I was born she was 70. She was in good health for most of my childhood, and I remember her walking down to her Womens Institute meetings with her bag on wheels regularly. In the past decade, she’s been in and out of hospital more times than I can remember, but she never lost her positive attitude.
Even when she had something to complain about, she always put a positive spin on it. That’s one of the reasons I never thought of her as being old. She never seemed old to me. Well, not that I can remember. I knew she was old, but that wasn’t how I saw her.
She never tried to give me advice, but for one time. I was a teenager and had just gotten my learner’s licence. She told me it was important to learn to drive, because it gave you independence. That was the only time I ever felt any sense of regret on her part for anything she had or hadn’t done.
I guess I’ve always known that I should get to know her better, but in the end should haves don’t count for much. All I can say is that my life is richer for Mrs Penney having been a part of it.