Lorna Stephanie Mesney was born on 2nd March 1920, in the village of Uffculme near Tiverton in Devon. Her father, Robert Lock Mesney, was a prominent local shopkeeper. She had two older brothers, Clifford and Keith. Her childhood and adolescence were happy, and she was well known and liked in the village. A picture of her dancing appeared in a local paper, and the accompanying article described her as "lithe". Most of all she loved the unspoiled and beautiful countryside around her home. She worked for a time as secretary to the author E. M. Delafield, and is mentioned in Lady Violet Powell's biography, Life Of A Provincial Lady, whose title is taken from that of Delafield's best-known work.
During the war she served in the stores at Quedgeley air force base near Gloucester, where she encountered Lester Waite, a young mechanic from London who stood literally head and shoulders above the others in his squad. They fell in love, and corresponded regularly when he was posted abroad to Italy and North Africa. On his return they married, and Lester chose to return to Devon with her, over the disapproval of some members of his family. For a time they lived in Uffculme, and then moved to live with Lorna's mother and brothers in Endgate, a large house with extensive gardens on the outskirts of Tiverton. Lester got a job as a clerk in a local agricultural engineering firm, and began through hard work and sheer merit to rise through the ranks.
Lorna and Lester's early attempts to have children were unsuccessful, and she had at least one miscarriage. At last, in December of 1955, they had a son, whom they named Jonathan, meaning "The Lord hath given." Four years later, in February of 1960, came Peter, who would be more successful in living up to the biblical associations of his name. Lorna and Lester were devoted parents; there was never any shortage of love for the two boys, and discipline only when needed.
By this time tensions were growing in the household. Lorna's mother had passed away, and Keith wanted to marry and move out. Endgate was no longer sustainable. In 1961 the house was sold to a local developer, who promptly built two more houses in the garden, and the Waites moved to a much smaller terraced house in the town centre. The house was expensive, and money was tight for some time, though the children were shielded from the awareness of this: Jonathan in particular, unworldly and self-absorbed almost to the point of idiocy, had no inkling that anything was amiss. To help make ends meet, Lorna took a part-time job at a nearby infants' school. She also became very active assisting the local scout group, helping to organise and run a regular stall in the town market.
It could not be long, though, before Lester's tireless pursuit of success bore fruit. He was already a manager, and much liked by the senior directors. Things became easier, and the family could contemplate a move to a larger house. Towards the end of the sixties, one was found: a property that had been part of the local grammar school, somewhat fallen into disuse but still sound. With the help of Lorna's brother Keith and others, the necessary work was done, and the family moved in, making Jonathan's journey to the grammar school much easier. Lorna called the house Othergates, a word she had found and loved in an old dictionary.
Another turning point came when Lester at last became eligible for a company car. He learned to drive, seemingly without effort, as he did so many things, and the family became mobile. It was shortly after this that Jonathan departed to university in London, suffering desperately with homesickness at first and never entirely happy away from his home and family.
Lorna's job became unnecessary, and she returned to full-time housewifery. In due course Peter also left home to become a trainee technician engineer for GEC, where he embarked on the same steady climb to prosperity that his father had undertaken. Jonathan was less successful: rudderless and with no clear idea of what he wanted to do, he was ejected from university, spent two inconclusive years at home and then moved back to London, a succession of dead-end jobs and his own so far unfinished story.
The children had grown up and moved away: Lester was being groomed for the managing directorship. All seemed well. Then the firm to which he had given so much of his working life turned its back on him. Suddenly, in his fifties, he was redundant. One can only guess how Lorna felt at that moment. The ground had been cut from under their feet. Happily, it was only a matter of weeks before he was taken on by Mole Valley Farmers, a retail co-operative with branches throughout the region, at a similar level to his previous job, but the trauma must have been considerable.
Othergates was now too big, and starting to show its age. History was repeating itself. Lorna and Lester sold it to a lady who turned it into an alternative therapy centre (keeping the name, much to Lorna's pleasure), and moved to a smaller house on an estate outside the town, a move which Lorna was to regret, since it cut her off from the life of the town in which she had been such an active participant. It also made her shopping trips more difficult, and it was on one of these, lifting a heavy bag to get on to a bus, that she felt a sharp pain in her leg.
The pain did not go away. Her doctor diagnosed a trapped nerve in her back. Nothing could be done. Her health had not been good for some time: she had had cancer of the bowel some years previously, and the radiation treatment had caused almost as much damage as the disease. Both she and Lester had smoked all their adult lives, and her lungs had suffered. Now she could not walk without pain. Gradually things worsened. Lester fell prey to Parkinson's disease, and then to Bell's palsy, both of which he could control with medication but which made for added worry. Lorna began to feel trapped, isolated from human contact. Her brothers were both dead. Visits from the children were welcome but never enough, even though Peter's wife had given birth to two grandchildren to carry on the family name. Jonathan, ashamed of his lack of success, had become even more uncommunicative than he had always been. The world was changing faster and faster, and Lorna's beloved countryside was vanishing under a blight of ugly new houses. She began to admit that she was ready for the end.
It came with shocking suddenness. One morning Lester found her kneeling beside her bed, unable to get up. She was taken to hospital, where they diagnosed an infection, put her on antibiotics and puzzled over her confusion and forgetfulness. This had been growing for some time, but now it overcame her completely. A few days later she could barely string two words together. A CT scan was performed, and it revealed a massive tumour on her brain. Again, nothing could be done. On Thursday 20th September, 2001, at eight-thirty in the morning, she died peacefully in her sleep.
On the wall in my parents' house is a pencil drawing of my mother as a young woman, smiling. The last time I saw her alive and well, the face had aged but the smile was exactly the same. She was in some ways an innocent all her life, in other ways wiser than I will ever be. She loved trad jazz, and Joyce Grenfell, and the west country, and her family, and she gave love without stint. Her courage never failed her, even when pain blotted out all her joy in life.
My memory is a treacherous beast at the best of times, but some images remain. I remember seeing her running up the street to meet me one afternoon as I walked back from the park. I remember the towelling contraption she made for us to change into and out of our swimming trunks at the seaside: bright yellow with a black stripe and a neck hole, it was called the Pregnant Wasp. I remember helping her and Dad make Christmas crackers during the lean times. I remember her pleasure when I pounded away at the old out-of-tune piano that had belonged to her mother, in the living room at Othergates. I remember her and Dad (the epitome of conservatism) turning up in full home-made mediaeval costume at our wedding. I remember sharing holidays with them in St. Agnes in Cornwall, and at last learning to appreciate the beauty of landscape and seashore for its own sake, as she did. I remember her letters, full of comfortable chat and news about people I had known, and full of love even when she was upset with me for not writing. And I remember too few times that I wrote to her, or called her, or went to visit. It would have been too few however many it had been.
I don't know what I will do without her...and yet somehow I feel closer to her now than I ever have been. Knowing how she suffered in those final years, it is quite impossible for me to feel sad for her, and knowing that, it seems a bit selfish to feel sad on my own account. That she survives somewhere is beyond doubt: that she lives in my heart and in my memory is a solid fact.
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