Does this blog do you justice, Auntie Norah?

Auntie Norah, aka Frances Woodsford
Auntie Norah, aka Frances Woodsford

Dear Auntie Norah

You taught me Scrabble. You took me and my brother to Kimmeridge to look for fossils. You sent me numerous lighthearted and witty letters when I was at boarding school. I was a child and you were my auntie’s sister-in-law. I am grown up now, playing Scrabble and looking for fossils with my own children.

You called me a few years ago to tell me you had published a book called “Dear Mr Bigelow”. I immediately Googled both you and the book. You were omnipresent: in your mid-nineties, you were on YouTube with around 1200 hits; your book had been ‘Book of the Week’ on BBC’s Woman’s Hour and you were (not so) quietly hoping the BBC might make a TV series. Naturally, I ordered the hardback from Amazon and discovered that your fondness for prolific letter-writing pre-dated my boarding school days.

In January 1949 you started writing a series of letters to a gentleman by the name of Mr Bigelow, a wealthy American widower, who lived in Bellport, New York. You wrote over 700 ‘Saturday specials’ from your address in Bournemouth, until he died in 1961. After his death, you asked for the letters to be returned but you were told they had been mislaid when his home had been cleared. In the light of this information, you disposed of his letters to you – a clearout I know you regretted. Forty years later, through an extraordinary set of circumstances, your full set of letters came to light.

U.S. Mail Box
U.S. Mail Box

As you might imagine, I gobbled up your book. My Auntie Audrey and Uncle Frank (your brother, “Mac”) feature heavily, and even my mum, Wendy – “Audrey’s kid sister” – take their places in the scenes described through your letters. The people, the settings and the Bournemouth locations were all very familiar; I was given an insight and an account of all your daily lives from a couple of decades before I was born. Priceless.

Bournemouth c. 1955
Bournemouth c. 1955

When I finished the book, I visited you in Bournemouth and took you out to lunch. You were still living in the same modest, immaculate, upstairs flat where I had learned to play Scrabble as a child. The “front” door was to the right of the building and, immediately inside, there was what I always considered to be a very steep staircase.

Frances Woodsford signs flyleaf
Frances Woodsford signs flyleaf

You wore a striking red hat set at a jaunty angle, donned a very fetching coat and negotiated your way down the stairs with what has to have been 70 years’ worth of practice under your belt. The Bournemouth one-way system has changed a bit since you used to drive me around as a child, but you had the “inside track” on which lanes to use, where to go and even where to park. We had a wonderful lunch, talking about family, your health, Mr Bigelow, your hopes that the book might be serialised – and who might get to play your part. Julie Walters? What a glorious thought!

You gave me a few original letters to Mr Bigelow which were not featured in the book. One of them is dated June 17th, 1952. It opens with “Did you ever read that rather charming, naive little book, “Daddy Long-Legs”?” The letter goes on to regale stories of what had happened to you that week. It was written in your familiar, inimitable style and with the usual charm.

It strikes me, Auntie Norah, aka Frances Norah Woodsford, that you were ahead of your time. As well as Mr Bigelow, you corresponded with over eighty people, using enticing and rich opening lines to reel the reader in. Once on the hook, you took them with you on a journey to a destination of your choice, enriching their leisure time with your weekly anecdotes and amusing – and sometimes mischievous – views on life. These are the qualities of a very skilful and entertaining blogger; I can only hope that, with your recent passing at the very respectable age of 99, this blog post does you justice.

Thank you for teaching me about Scrabble “triple word scores”and for showing me how to “balance my rack”; thanks for all those letters to an eleven-year old girl in boarding school; thanks, also, for sharing your letters to Mr Bigelow with the world-at-large (and me!) through your delightful book.

Goodbye. Sweet dreams. If Julie Walters plays your part, I will let you know…

Yours sincerely

Lindsay (niece-in-law)

Photo credit: Alwyn Ladell / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: Steve 2.0 / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

2014 01 UKBA Shortlisted Image

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Lindsay McLoughlin has a love affair with social media. She combines these tools to great effect with her other big love – blogging! She runs a copywriting, blogging, editing and proofreading service at www.proofedbylinds.co.uk. She loves talking to and interacting with anyone that will “listen” over social media. Check out her blog at www.proofedbylinds.co.uk or connect with her on social media. She’d be delighted!

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41 Responses to Does this blog do you justice, Auntie Norah?

  1. Triple like! This post made my day. What a wonderful tribute to an amazing woman. It is so wonderful to have these woman in our lives to help shape us to be what we are today.

  2. Ah, all those correspondents over the years that lie forgotten. How many people have written fabulously interesting and conversational letter to all kinds of people, only to have them discovered later? When my cousin died, her son went through all her papers and found everything that had been sent to her neatly catalogued and put into date order, absolutely everything from birthday cards to thank you notes. He offered mine back to me, but I declined (foolishly probably) because we live in a paperless world where most of what we communicate is now online. But what will happen to all this correspondence when technology advances and the simple email and blog becomes obsolete? Paper letters will never be… and neither will books. I now regret my decision…

    • Yes… The charming skill of writing letters is currently falling out of fashion. Like your own story, I am sure there are numerous tales of correspondence being unearthed as people leave us. Their writing should be celebrated.

  3. She sounds like an inspirational woman, Lindsay. How privileged we are to cross paths with women like this. With their letters and stories, they deliver the past right back to us – a precious commodity.

  4. What an interesting story. I love your Auntie! I have a diary covering about five years that my Aunt Agnes (she helped raise me) wrote back in 1935-1940. There are some interesting tid-bits in that thing, I assure you!

  5. Ah, I am one of those people of a certain age who laments the virtual death of letter writing—while my children roll their eyes. I have a large packing carton full of my correspondences with people as I was growing up. I asked my friends and relatives to hold my letters for me (as a journal) when I lived in Mexico, England and Colombia (all before graduating college) and my parents and grandparents save all my letters as well.
    Unfortunately, my most prolific correspondence when I was in Colombia was with my then boyfriend, now ex-husband (I mean “ex” as in 38 years ago) and I really don’t feel like reading those letters. Your “letter” to your aunt is causing me to put my plan to destroy them on hold.

    • Hi Suzanne. Thank you for your comments. Sadly, writing letters seems to have disappeared. A friend of mine travelled round the world, years ago. She sent me loads of entertaining letters and postcards full of stories about who she had met and what she had seen. Like Auntie Norah, I no longer have those letters, which is a shame. Please do keep hold of your letters; they are special…

  6. Lindsay, that was a terrific story. You’re probably right. Mr. Bigelow and your aunt were ahead of their time. I also think the we, as the people of today, have lost the art and the craft of writing intelligent and entertaining ‘old fashion’ letters.

  7. Thank you for visiting my blog – i have popped over in response and found this lovely tale of Auntie Norah – How fabulous was she!
    So – here we all are in a community of Auntie Norah wannabees – I am not sure we have experienced the demise of the letter merely a change of shape.

    • Hi Sarah – I found your own blog very entertaining and natural. Thank you for your comments about Auntie Norah. I do hope you’re right about letters in their original form not disappearing, just taking a different form. For me, writing blog posts has brought me a great many new contacts and friends that I would not otherwise have made. Lovely.

  8. Hi Linsay, what a lovely blog, your Aunt would have been proud. I would love to read Dear Mr Bigelow, how lovely that your Aunt left such detailed notes about her life. It’s so sad when all the memories and stories are lost when our elderly relatives die. Do you think our blogs will be around in 80 years time!!
    Katie xx

  9. Just finished the book (which I loved) and got to wondering if she had “gone”. Well she has, and what a lovely blog post you wrote for her. I am going to review the book now, on my blog, with a link to this post.
    Thank you.
    Susan Maclean.

    • H Susan – Thank you very much for your comments. It is so lovely to hear from someone who found the blog post after reading the book. It made a fascinating read, didn’t it? I wish we still wrote letters on a regular basis to people. It’s a wonderful social catalogue of the current time. Please come back to comment and add a link to the blog post you are going to write. I’d love that! Thank you.

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