Anna (“No last names, please!”) has lived in a retirement home now for at least three years, ever since her husband passed away. Her loss is reflected in her voice as she speaks of being surrounded by so many people and yet feeling terrible loneliness at least a dozen times a day. She misses her husband, plain and simple. But mention Rithet’s Bog and her lovely brown eyes light up with mischief and fun. Suddenly the elderly woman in front of me is transported back to what Shakespeare would call “the blaze of [her] youth”, and she tells me that our cherished wetland changed her life.
In the spring of her eighteenth year, Anna met a “very nice boy” at a party. He was twenty, penniless, “no Clark Gable”, but one that she felt “had prospects”. He was gentle, quick to laugh and she liked him immediately, so when he asked her to go for a lunchtime walk sometime during the next week she accepted with alacrity.
Since he, Charles was his name, had no money to speak of, their walks became their regular “date” and she would pack a small lunch for them to eat at their meeting place near the well-known oak, the Sentinel, as some of us call it, that overlooks Rithet’s Bog near the location of the information kiosk at present day Chatterton and Dalewood. Charles could name every flower that bloomed in spring and summer, as well as the crops planted in the general area and one of their games was for him to quiz her on them each time he identified another plant. Soon she too knew most of them and for the rest of her life she joked that she fell in love with him because of “a bunch of weeds”. “Wildflowers”, he would gently admonish.
Anna’s father knew nothing of these perambulations with “my beau”, as she called Charles, and one day when he happened upon them eating their lunch near the oak, he flew into a rage, and threatened the boy with “a thrashing that will paralyze you for life” if he ever caught them together again.
Of course the pair continued to meet, and soon enough Anna’s father, who was in fact a sensible and not unkind man, learned that the boy’s intentions were honourable and that when he had saved up enough money for a start in life he would ask the girl to marry him. This he did, and our oak tree was the solitary witness when Charles slipped an inexpensive engagement ring on Anna’s finger.
Anna and Charles were happily married for fifty-two years and every week, until Charles was unable any longer to walk, they visited the Bog. They knew it in many of its guises as it metamorphosed from farm to what it is today. Though they never knew his name they had a nodding acquaintance with a farm lad whom I was able tentatively to identity as Jack Burdge, whose family farmed the site for many years.
As I was saying goodbye to Anna she took hold of my sleeve. “One last tidbit for you. Every spring Charles and I would pick out a pair from the many mating ducks floating two-by-two down there and name them Charles and Anna, and wish them happiness as great as ours.
If you liked the article on Memories of Rithet’s Bog and you have a story, memory or anecdote of a similar nature that you are willing to share, please contact John Lucas at email@example.com, so that we may continue to compile a human history of our beloved wetland.
BARA Bugle (Broadmead Area Residents Association Newsletter),
Spring 2005 – John Lucas