They've been friends for 64 years, since Mum was 20 and Auntie May was 16. They had jobs at Farnborough Hospital in Kent and were part of a group of young women that came from Ireland; Holland and various parts of England.
World War 2 had just ended; they were young and still single. It was a happy, carefree time.
When Auntie May first met Mum, she went to her room to practice saying her name. She sat in front of her mirror and said it out loud over and over; a Dutch name spoken in a Geordie accent, "Pieternella Kaatje Janny Schipper!"
Auntie May looked up to see Mum standing in the doorway, her long hair as dark as hers was blond, listening to her with a smile. They became firm friends, as close as family, and stayed friends through six decades.
This weekend, Auntie May celebrated her 80th birthday. I timed my trip to England so that I could be here to be part of the celebrations with Robert. Auntie May's son Paul, whom I remember first as a little blond boy, a few years younger than Robert and me, flew in from Mexico, and Auntie May's sister was arriving from Switzerland.
We weren't sure if Mum would go with us as the journey to Auntie May's daughter Diane's home in north Wales is a two and a half hour journey; much further than she has traveled for a long time. Rob, the more cautious of the two of us, had misgivings about her going, but wanted Mum to make up her own mind and she decided that she was coming with us.
And so, mid morning on Friday, we were on our way, the three of us. Auntie May had no idea that we were coming.
Rob tried to text Diane when we were about to turn into her street, but couldn't get a signal on his phone, so we drove there and I helped Mum out of the car. While Rob went to park the car, Mum and I slowly made our way to the door, Mum holding tightly to my arm as she usually uses a walker.
When Diane opened the door, excitement filled the air. She said,"Come in, come in! I'll go and get my Mum, she will be so surprised!"
She hurried to the back of the house and I could hear her saying, "Mum there is someone at the door."
There was a six inch step into the house and without thinking Mum put one foot on it and I, definitely not thinking at all, took hold of both of her hands to support her as she stepped up. But then. her legs, not strong enough to manage stepping up, gave way; and with a soft cry, she began to slide down to the ground. It was a horrible moment, but even more horrible--the threshold had a raised metal lip to keep out the draught. Mum's weight pressed her shin against it, and her fragile flesh sustained an awful gash.
Auntie May arrived to find her friend in a heap, with blood gushing, and me applying pressure and calling for something to hold against it. The carpet surrounding Mum looked like a crime scene. Rob showed up from parking the car, took one look and said, "That'll be an ambulance."
Diane disappeared to call 999. She later said that she had never called 999 in her life before and had no idea what she would say when they answered.
I felt sick that my carelessness of our precious Mum had resulted in an injury that I knew would take months to heal.
The ambulance arrived, the attendants assessed the situation. and agreed she needed to go to Accident and Emergency. Auntie May grabbed her coat and climbed into the ambulance with Mum and I followed with Trudy, Auntie May's younger daughter and her Rob. My brother Rob stayed back with Uncle Tommy, Diane and Paul.
Auntie May said that she and Mum laughed all the way to Wrexham hospital and that she told Mum that she was trying to steal the limelight from her.
Mum was so brave, even through the ten excruciatingly painful injections to freeze the injured area, which had to be done directly into the wound. I so wished that I could take the pain for her and was in awe of how she held herself together with such strength.
She was carefully and skillfully patched together within a couple of hours and Trudy's Rob tenderly put her into the front seat of his sporty SAAB and drove us back to Holt, where we enjoyed a belated but delicious lunch and toasted Auntie May with champagne.
Tales were told, memories shared and laughter filled the room. Auntie May recalled Mum knitting a fine white lacy sweater and asking her if she could borrow the pattern. Mum said, "You can, but it's in Dutch." Auntie May said, "Well, can't you translate it?" Somehow together they managed and Auntie May knitted an identical sweater.
Diane, Paul and Trudy call Mum, "Auntie Nell." She, and their visits to our homes in Hagley and then Alvechurch, formed some of their happiest childhood memories. They remember our cat, Topsy, and visits to the Alvechurch playing fields as fondly as we remember our trips to South Shields and Marsden Rock in County Durham, near to Newcastle upon Tyne.
I am thankful to say that Mum is recovering amazingly well and not in too much pain. Her spirit and attitude are such an awesome example to me.
Tomorrow she will see the doctor for a dressing check and I am praying that her leg continues to be free from infection.
We surprised Auntie May; but in a way that we certainly had not intended!