As sometimes happens, I veered off course last time. Just as well I didn’t learn to drive. So back to our Deaconess. Sister Isabel wasn’t, as we first thought, a trained Deaconess. When the Church was started the founders looked for a youngish, Christian lady to become a helper alongside the daughter in the Sunday School. They found Isabel and she was just what was needed. She was dubbed Sister Isabel from the start, and from all accounts did many years of great work for not a great remuneration. She was well-loved, respected and maybe a little feared! I don’t know how or when her retiral happened, but she still wanted to have a finger in every pie and no doubt some Minister got fed up. So John was warned she might not take to us! However, I had something I had written in my autograph book donkey’s years ago and I thought of it. It was something like this.
He drew a circle that shut me out, heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win, I drew a circle that took him in.
So we asked her to come and have tea with us soon after our arrival and before the upheaval. We had a pleasant time and the girls were treasures, they showed her dolls, books and so on. We didn’t make it weekly, just every now and again when John was home for tea. Then of course, we had all the trauma already spoken of and she came round when the girls were poorly and was very nice with them.
By the summer we were getting to be friends. Then in July we asked her to come to Anabel’s 6th birthday party which would have eight of Anabel’s friends and Elspeth. They came to the house in early afternoon and we immediately set off in the bus to the funfair at Seaburn. I always remember the bus driver saying to John as we shepherded them off the bus, Are they all yours, mate? Well, they had the time of their lives, and so did Sister. She actually went on the wee motors with the children, as they were too young to steer themselves! So did John and I – I don’t know how many contraptions we were on, but for me the big hobby horses were always my favourite. I loved riding on them with my Dad when I was a wee girl. Fortunately there were small horses that the girls could ride on alone. I wished some of the congregation could have seen Sister that day! They were all pretty tired by the time we got back to the house. Anabel opened her presents then we had the birthday tea. It was a lovely day. The children all were picked up by their Mums or Dads who had been told about the fun fair beforehand (even though health and safety hadn’t been invented yet!)
We saw Sister in a new light that day and, although she may not have always agreed with some of John’s views, we remained friends. She had lived in lodgings most of her life, but the time came when a large block of flats was built for elderly people and she was given one. We were able to help her to transfer her belongings as by then we had a car. I found out what a hoarder she was as I helped her to pack. For instance, she had never thrown away a card of any kind or a letter that someone had sent to her. She agreed that there were too many, and disposed of some which lightened the load. Sister often referred to some of the people as ‘old ladies’, but I think she was probably older than most of them, but that was a secret never divulged. She mellowed in our time and as happens to us all was glad to ‘hand the baton over’ to the younger folk. Almost her whole adult life had been spent ministering to the people of Thomson Memorial Hall, and she did a tremendous amount of good in a caring but realistic way. Few could pull the wool over Sister’s eyes! There will still be people in Sunderland who remember her with affection and gratitude.
We wondered if Isabel had been conscious that the other Deaconesses in the District had not only the name but the qualification. Like the ministers, they were itinerant while she was tied to TMH. Which of course we envied! She knew everyone from the cradle onwards, and who their grannies were, whereas we had to leave people behind every few years. I said that to her once and she was quite surprised. I suppose the fact that it was ingrained in Methodists that their minister’s time with them was limited meant that they seldom looked at it from the other side. For children it was difficult too, but of course other occupations had the same hazard. It was fortunate that our girls’ schooling fitted in with our moves. In spite of it all they grew up to be two lovely people whom we sorely missed when they left home! Don’t we all?