Letter #42: Retirement (1984-2016)

266, 2 St, Cardston, 3 Jan ’85

Dear Sasso,

We spent September in England with Len and Una, and I had 16 days in India while Jean and the Hugheses and Bas went to Minorca. I wasn’t sure whether Oak Grove still existed. There wasn’t a soul that I knew who was still in India, forty-four years having passed since I left it. I picked up the phone and talked to the office of the Indian Consul in Ottawa. I asked the first official who came on the line if he could give me the name and address in Canada of any Indian national who might be able to tell me about my old school. By a stroke of luck, I was given the name of a Dr Chetan Singh, a geologist with Alberta Research Council in Edmonton, who, I was told made a practice of visiting his family in Dehra Dun every two years. His sister Lakshmi is the wife of a retired Indian army brigadier, Surendra Singh. He gave me Surendra’s address and suggested I write and let him know of my plans. He also assured me that my old school was flourishing. A lively correspondence began between Surendra and myself, and he invited me to stay with him and his wife, Lakshmi, in Dehra Dun, just 50 miles from Saharanpur, and ten from Oak Grove. A more convenient arrangement I couldn’t have hoped for.

Of my stay in India two days were spent travelling, two with the Gandhi family in Delhi, where I visited some old haunts of my N.H.Q days in ’44, and two days awaiting my return to London. I spent two days at Allen Memorial School, now renamed Wynberg Allen, my first night in what was once the residence of old Biggs and his wife. I couldn’t help noticing how spartan the conditions seemed. I addressed the school at its morning assembly, after which the principal, Mr Edwards, took me into a few of the classes where I spoke to the kids. I found the English I was hearing quite strange. I was to find the same during my two days at Oak Grove. While there, at the invitation of the Principal Mr Kichlu I addressed the staff and boys at an after-school assembly. Back in Dehra Dun, Surendra, a member of the board of Governors of Camden Hall, arranged a morning assembly at which I spoke to the staff and school.

It’s six months since I retired, and I’m enjoying this demi-paradise.


Letter #62: Retirement (1984-2016)

1101 Ellsworth Rd, Mesa, 2 Jan ’05

Dear Sasso,

About a month ago I began thinking seriously about making one last visit to Oak Grove. To that end, I booked with British Air, so I’ll be gone for two weeks from February 28. Allowing for travel time and a stop-over in Delhi, I’ll have a full week at the school. That should allow me to better absorb the profound changes that have resulted from the Indianization of the school that I somehow missed when I was there in 1984. I bought a lap top computer in February and made good use of the internet throughout the year, almost entirely with e-mails. I’m much better at it than I have ever been, with the result that we’ve been able to keep in touch with family and friends. Kerbi, Britney and Sage had their second babies between May and August last year and named them Emma, Piper and Sloan respectively — all of them lovely little ones. We went to dances in Lethbridge on Fridays, but only when it was a band we liked. Unfortunately, John and Doris Poole were not in the best of health and sometimes kept away. We stayed the night after the dances at Gin and Gary’s place in Lethbridge and were made most comfortable.

Jean played little or no tennis in Cardston during the summer but has been playing quite a bit since we got here in late October. Her health has improved, but she tires easily. We were particularly saddened by the passing of our friend Guido Matteotti in February last year. We’ve drawn Anne closer to ourselves since she has been widowed.I’ve done a lot of reading, mostly re-reading books that I’ve specially liked before. I correspond by e-mail with Hazel Craig, author of ‘Under the Old School Topee’, a well written account of European schools in India during the time of the Raj. I sent her a copy of my journal whose India portion could prove useful to her in another book she is writing.

Our children and their families are doing fine. Doug returned from his mission in Denmark and had five months at the University of WA. Austin left for his mission to Paraguay in July and sends interesting reports of his work there. Nigel spent five days with us in December, and we enjoyed his stay with us. Stasia is doing well in Japan and is a regular e-mail correspondent of ours. Jason spent a short time with Gin and Gary and we were able to be with him there. We visited Sue and her family in Logan and saw our g-grandson Mason (‘Mr Pants’) when he came over with his mother Rebecca from Olympia, Wa. Jordan came to us in Cardston with his girlfriend, Bessie. They are now engaged to be married in mid February and Jean will be going to Logan for their wedding. While there she’ll be with Sue’s children and grandkids. Evelyn and Lorne’s son Matthew joined the US navy and is training with turbines. Jenny won’t be coming to us this winter, nor will Virginia, as they want to stay home this winter for a change. This is our thirteenth winter in Mesa, and the routine round of 5 ½ months here and 6 ½ in Cardston is one we like very much. In a couple of years we plan to sell out in Cardston and move to Lethbridge. Our granddaughter Sage Henderson wants to buy our place in Cardston. She and her husband Steve want to raise their children in an LDS environment rather than in Calgary where they are presently renting a house. We like the idea of keeping our Cardston home in the family and hope things will work out that way. We have also two rental places that we want to sell so that we can pay cash for a home in Lethbridge. Aside from Virginia and Gary, we have friends in Lethbridge and we would like to be near them. As it is, we see them only at the Friday dances, and then only when we like the band.

You and I are fast approaching the 62nd anniversary of a promise I made to keep in touch. I feel mighty proud of myself for having kept the pledge I made that night in early December, 1943.

I’m still working on my ‘Growing up in India’. Its foundations have already been laid in the pages of my journal. I hope to finish it by the end of 2006.


Letter #63: Retirement (1984-2016)

1101 Ellsworth Rd, Mesa, 20 Jan ’06

Dear Sasso,

We’re in the middle of our fourteenth winter in Mesa, and enjoying life in this piece of paradise. What do we do here, aside from enjoying the air we breathe? Jean plays tennis and enjoys going with her friend Carol Fischer, two houses down, to Bingo, on average twice a week. Carol goes almost daily and wins often enough to keep her encouraged. Now and then we have card evenings with Carol and Tom, and more often with John and Marguerite Webb our next-door neighbours. We’ve been to a few dances with the Webbs and a week ago had Anne Matteotti join us. I, of course, walk every morning, enjoying lungfuls of sweet desert air as I go, and discoursing silently with myself for the hour it takes me to do the four miles. I’m in terrific health, and owe it almost entirely to the things I do, including dancing and frequent rides on my treasured cycle. I enjoy reading, my only disappointment with myself is that I’m still not into a solid regimen of writing. I peck at it in a desultory way, and I know damn well that it’s not what turns out books. But I’m determined and know that I’ll get it done, the way it was with my journal.

I had the good fortune to spend a week in March at my old school. What an experience that was! I wrote an article about it and sent it to Oak Grove and to others who I thought would be interested, including the editor of the Acorn , a newsletter put out by the school alumni in the UK.

Here are excerpts from my article:

“The staff and kids can’t wait to hear you tell them about the old days. What struck me from the start was the extraordinary courtesy of everyone, so much so that I found it hard to resist fancying myself a fellow of no mean importance. In Junior School I signed autographs for its clamouring little girls, until I was spirited away by my escort, Mr Anupam Singh. The senior boys, more reserved, were nevertheless eager to hear about the Oak Grove of my day. I must have seemed an odd relic from the past — sixty-five years having gone by since I was there as a boy.”

 

“Their food was entirely vegetarian, and they ate western style. Staff and boys ate the same food. In my day, staff food was much better than ours, though, occasionally, the prefects had delicious left-overs from the staff table.”

 

“The old toilets that were flushed automatically had been replaced by Indian-style latrines, with mugs nearby for washing after.”

 

“I noticed a few senior boys standing reverently before a brightly-coloured statue of Lord Siva in a secluded spot near the visitors’ lodge where I stayed. They touched the ground at their feet, then their lips, and paused as if in prayer before quietly moving off. It took my breath away to see such public gestures of piety. The truth is that I was witnessing at first hand the new ethos of Oak Grove.”

 

“Judging from their magazine articles, the kids are pretty serious about their school and everything it stands for – so different from the devil-may-care attitude of my time.”

 

“They are always in uniform, tidily dressed and shoes polished – anything less would in their eyes be disrespectful.”

 

“Hearing the staff speak to one another at meals, I took it that the kids too spoke Hindi amongst themselves. Their speech, isolated from British English for so many years has led to a kind of language inbreeding, with the result that it is becoming less and less easy for outsiders to understand them.”

 

“I gave an English lesson to a senior class and was very impressed with their attentiveness and level of attainment.”

 

“One last comment: unlike church-run schools the world over, Oak Grove gave us a secular environment – one blessedly free from religious indoctrination. Today, there is the impression one gets of quite sincere religiosity in the school. What is one to make of it? One encouraging view is that Hinduism is grounded in the principle of nonviolence – ahimsa. Can there be any doubt of the value of such an orientation for growing children? There is good reason, therefore, to be comfortable with at least this aspect of their religious beliefs.”

During the year, I got in touch with my Atkinson cousins living in Perth: Kay Hodgkinson, Mauveen Parsons, Earl Atkinson, and Marlene Saggers and told them we’d be in Mt Helena in May with our son Stef and his wife Yvonne. What a lovely afternoon we had with them and their spouses and a few of their grandchildren who were able to be there.

Earlier in the year, I got in touch with an old classmate of mine, Ralph Scott, and, through him, his sister, Audrey Blankenhagen, both of them living in England. Audrey, five years Ralph’s junior was also at Oak Grove. She has published a book called ‘The Curse of Kali’ which I found interesting, mainly because she was at Oak Grove. She is sending me her memories of Girls’ school, which I’ll find helpful as I try to round out the story of my school days in a book I’d like to call ‘Growing up in India’.

Our granddaughter Sage and her husband Steve who were so keen to buy our place in Cardston have had to change their minds. Steve is doing well with a furniture company in Calgary, and has serious doubts that he’ll find as good employment in Lethbridge. That is a very real concern of theirs, and we appreciate the reason for changing their minds. In July we sold our rental property at #258 to Gerry and Dianne Tolman who are in the business of buying cheaper properties in need of upgrading, fixing them up, and selling them for profit. Work on it came to a halt after some two months because of Gerry’s need for dialysis, without which he will not live.

Our grandson Doug Brayley was married to Cassandra (‘Cassy’) Foutz on 28 December, just a few weeks ago. Cassy’s parents live in Tucson, Arizona, so the wedding took place in Mesa. It was a rather lavish but lovely affair. Erika and Natalie made beautiful bridesmaids in their dark red gowns. The couple are back at Indiana University, where Cassie is finishing a degree in elementary education, and Doug his BA. He’s been accepted into Harvard Law School, a three-year stretch, but then he’ll have it made when he’s finished.

That’s all for now, my dear Sasso.

Maurice.


This content has been reproduced from a blog posted by Maurice Brayley on November 27, 2006. The link to the original post has been removed in accordance with his family’s wishes.

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