Health and Guidance

 

On a sunny morning at Bordeneuve, there is a good chance that you would find yourself curled up in a wicker chair on the balcony, soaking in the sun and birdsong. If you were to glance up from your book, coffee, or writing pad, you would see a rectangular panel in a soft, blond wood. Tweaking your neck around and maybe squinting a bit, you would read the words “Health and Guidance.” Elegant capital letters, carved into the wood by a talented hand.

Health and Guidance. They are very mysterious words to me, especially in that combination. I suppose, were I a person of deep faith, it might have more resonance. Health, yes. I can go on for hours about health, but Guidance less. Strange that those words came from a man who didn’t overtly accept guidance and his health was not enviable.

The man who carved those words sat in that very spot ten years ago. Andy was an angry, volatile German who had lived in East London for most of his adult life. Andy was in turns gruff, moribund, full of rage and then full of extreme tenderness, especially when he talking about his young daughter, Morgan.  His body wracked by MS since he was a young man, Andy came across as a man angry at the world, at God, at many things. And yet, this man who growled his way through the English language, who would have worn a hook or a pegleg honorably, planted his East London balcony full of sunflowers. He also lent my husband the last 5000 pounds he needed to buy the house, counting his visits as interest on the lump sum that we eventually repaid.

When Andy drove down every year in his MS adapted estate car, he would haul himself out, survey the progress we made, grunt his approval and then make himself as useful as his mobility allowed. He never accepted help, he just did what his body allowed him to do.  He had a strong artistic streak and enjoyed arranging clay tiles destined for the roof in a sunburst shape around the base of tree. Other times he would haul stones around, or fix things that he knew how to fix. On his last trip, his health had blatantly declined. He struggled to climb the staircase to sit on the balcony but he had a project in mind. We had recently finished laying a poplar floor in the barn and Andy claimed a few scraps and started carving in the morning sun.

First, an echinacea flower emerged from his remarkably steady hand, as a test. Then came Health and Guidance.  That night we handed him the money owed and we toasted many things. He said that he probably wouldn’t be able to come back, due to poor health, and that as a last gesture, he would like us to hang that plaque somewhere as a tribute to him. When asked what it meant to him, he just grunted and flapped away our words, burying his nose in a glass of wine.

Andy’s tiles

 

I only met Andy six or seven times, although we spoke regularly on the phone. A few years later,  late one night, his ex-wife rang to say that Andy had died. She had another call coming in and she signed off, saying she would call back. She never did.  David spent days phoning around Andy’s neighborhood trying to get information on a funeral or a wake that we might attend. The number we had for his ex was no longer in service and all trails led to a dead end. We were so sad that we weren’t able to properly say goodbye to Andy.

 

All these years later the echinacea flower is still there, though faded and hard to see. Health and Guidance is more prominent. It is a phrase that evokes mystery and sadness in me. Maybe for Andy, those were the two things that he would have like to have had in his life. Having lived what I have lived in the last years, I know how precious health is. The sign always reminds me to feel gratitude for such a precious gift. When guests ask me what it means, I like to flap my hands at them, grunt and then offer them a glass of wine.

 

Andy and his daughter Morgan

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