It was 1988, or maybe it was 1989, and I moved into a newly built bungalow in the small village of Lees near Oldham. In actual fact, anyone driving through who didn’t know the area wouldn’t realise that Lees was a separate place as it had been subsumed into Oldham. When I moved in, I met the neighbours, in particular Jean and George, and we soon became friends. It was a lucky move, the move to the bungalow seemed to change my life – within a year I had a new partner, within another year he became my husband, and then we became parents to two lovely children.
Jean and George became Aunty Jean and Uncle George, and our children saw them almost as grandparents. I’ve written here the story of Aunty Jean’s special wine glasses – she was having a family party, maybe for a special birthday, I can’t quite remember now, and we parked our car in another street so her friends and family could park on our drive. The next day to say thank you, she brought round two glasses of champagne and some cake. The children were only small and I told them they must not touch Aunty Jean’s special glasses – so what happened? I was washing them and knocked one against the tap. It broke and I then spent the next couple of days going round all the shops in Oldham and then Manchester to try and replace it. I couldn’t find the exact glass but found one almost the same. I took it round to Jean’s; I was full of apologies, but she laughed because in actual fact her glasses were a set given away free at the petrol station!
We moved away but we kept in touch, calling in to see them when we returned to the area to visit. After George died, Jean continued to live in their home and despite being quite elderly, learned to drive so she could go out and about, pursue her interests and remain independent. Each year at Christmas we exchanged letters and kept up with each other’s news, and we called in whenever we were in Oldham. The children, in particular wanted to see her and visit when we could, Aunty Jean was a very special person to them. As she got older, she became less independent, but kept as busy as she could, always cheerful and positive. At last there came a time when she could not manage on her own, and moved into a place where she could be more supported.
When she reached the wonderful age of one hundred, we sent a card and some flowers, and her daughter sent photos of dear Jean with her congratulations telegram from the Queen. Last year we received photos of her 101st birthday celebration, and news of her at Christmas too. Yesterday another message arrived; Jean had slipped away while taking a little nap. We were very sorry of course to hear the news, but glad that her life had ended so peacefully. We will always have such lovely memories of a dear friend, how lucky we were to have Aunty Jean living next door to us.