The English Patient

The English Patient

Saturday, 16 October 2010

My Pear Tree

Rose Cottage  had an elderly orchard in the back garden. There were peach trees grown in fan shapes against the warmer, south facing wall and long straight rows of plum ,apple and pear trees.. These trees were well past their best but still fruited abundantly. Right underneath my window was a gnarly old pear tree. I think that it was a variety called "Doyenne du Comice" which is French for "Queen Mother of Pears". A very popular desert pear which came originally from Europe.

The large tree was the first sign that spring had arrived for me, it blossomed weeks before the apple trees. The blossom was a beautiful pure white and I loved to watch the flowers flutter in the wind. When the blossom fell from the branches like hundreds of butterflies onto the path below the soft, white, petals looked like a snow fall..

The fruit from my pear tree was delicious. It melted in my mouth. The flesh was smooth and juicy and as I bit into the flesh, juice used to run down my chin and cover my hands. I wasn't allowed to eat too many pears for a special reason. The large golden yellow and russet fruit was picked in November. Nanny and I used to carefully wash and dry each fruit and wrap it in thin paper to be stored. The peel of the pears was quite thin and bruised easily the individual papers kept them pristine.. The fruit would store until Christmas. Baskets of Nanny's Christmas Pears made wonderful presents. We gave them to the doctor, the post mistress  and other families in the village. Grandad always put a sprig of holly on top for decoration.

I loved to lay awake in the mornings and listen to the birds in the branches of the tree. Blackbirds are highly territorial and they always sit on the same branch singing loudly to advertise their presence. Grandad and I used to put food out on the window sill for the blackbird. Although they are  usually ground feeders they did not turn down our little snacks. Wood pigeons were my favourite I loved their cooing. This sound instantly transports me back to my childhood now. The pigeons were so unpopular with the farmers as they could strip a crop of greens in a day. These big round grey birds always woke me up at the crack of dawn either cooing or by the clattering of their wings as they took flight.

Laying on my soft feather bed and breathing in the smell of fresh cotton sheets for hours before anyone else was stirring, I used to feel so safe and loved. The winter months were so different. The tips of the branches of that old tree scratched against the glass of the window panes. It didn't matter how many times Nanny explained that it was the branches of the trees against the glass that made this terrifing noise....I could not be convinced.

I lay there in the dark and the night was still and quiet except for the cry of a fox. Then the scratching would start. I tried to be brave, but I always imagined that there was something hidious trying to get in. I used to scream for my grandad to come and save me. He used to stagger down the landing in his striped pyjamas and checked slippers. He swept me up in his arms and held me tight always talking gently to me. He was never cross and he always understood. Then he picked me up and took me to bed with him and nanny. She used to groan and tell him I would never toughen up if he spoilt me. he was so kind he used to say...

" We don't want her to be tough Elsie, I like her soft just like she is now."

 Then he would kiss my forehead and we always prayed together. Before the prayer ended I was fast asleep. Sometimes I woke up in my own little bed. Those  cold, winter mornings  I used to wake up cuddling grandad. Warm, cosy, and safe.


  1. This is so beautiful Ginny. Tears were running down my face. I could hear the tree on the window as I read it. I love you sharing your past days with us. Thank you


  2. Your parents and grandparents raised an amazing woman. Tough and soft, in just the right ways. Thinking of you, Ginny!