The Wadhams: A Sympathetic Ear

Tea for two Illustration: Shutterstock

We’re delighted to bring you the continuing adventures of Life & The Wadhams, featuring the younger members of the family. Not yet met the Wadhams? Read the background on My Weekly’s best-loved family, then come back and enjoy the next generation’s adventures as Mike and Polly Wadham’s elder grandson, Alex Clark settles into family life with wife Natalie, toddler son William and baby twins Lyra and Lottie. They’ve moved from their flat above Pretty Polly’s, the hairdressing and beauty salon which Natalie runs to live in a house with attached annexe for Natalie’s grandmother Julia. But there is sadness now for Alex’s grandma Polly, as her beloved husband Mike is ill.

“Hello, my lovelies!” Iris looked round excitedly as the door to the salon opened and her boss Natalie Clark pushed her way through sideways, a laden baby car seat in each hand.

“I’m getting muscles like Tarzan,” she joked as she put down her burdens, and Lyra and Lottie cooed up at auntie Iris, who’d momentarily forgotten her client.

Fortunately, everyone loves a baby and the young woman in the chair was happy to join in admiring the twins as Iris and Natalie quickly updated each other.

“We’re as busy as ever.” Iris grinned. “Your clients miss you, of course, but Evie is doing a great job, so take as long as you need on maternity cover.”

“Thanks.” As always, Natalie blessed the day that Iris had arrived for her interview, a young hairdresser with big attitude and a talent for making every woman’s style dreams come true. “With these two and William, I hardly have time to draw breath, but I am keeping my hand in today.

“In fact, that’s why I’m here. I need Polly’s usual products – she’s coming over to the house later to have her hair done.”

“But why doesn’t she come here?” Iris asked. “I know we’re busy but we can always make time for our co-owner! And she always says coming to the salon is a real treat.”

“I know.” Natalie looked worried. “But she’s just not herself at the moment, Iris. Since Mike’s latest stroke, Polly seems to have aged, too. She spends most of her time at the rehab centre with him, and comes home looking so drawn and frail. Alex and I feel quite worried about her.”

“How is Mike?” Iris asked sympathetically.

“He is improving,” Natalie replied. “But he’s lost more mobility, and his speech is affected, and of course it hasn’t helped his memory problems. But on the whole, he’s getting on well. Jennifer thinks he’ll be discharged soon.”

Alex’s sister, Jennifer, a geriatric-nurse-in-training, was in tune with all old folk, but especially with her grandpa Mike. The two adored each other.

“Maybe Polly will feel better once she’s got Mike home,” Iris consoled. “Look, we got a lovely batch of beauty samples in from the rep the other day – fill a bag for her, and give her some extra pampering. It sounds like she needs it.”

Natalie and Alex were not the only ones worried about Polly. Her daughter Pinky Clark, and sons Jonathan and Drew were at that very moment having a pow-wow about her in the cosy kitchen of 23 Elderslie Terrace where the Clarks and Wadhams lived separately but together in harmony.

“Jennifer thinks Dad will be home soon,” Pinky said. “But it doesn’t seem to have cheered Mum up. She is saying all the right things about how she is longing to have him back beside her, but her smile isn’t reaching her eyes.”

The three sat in silence for a moment. Their mum without her twinkly, laughing, loving eyes was like… toast without butter… champagne without bubbles… a bare-branched Christmas tree.

“Do think she might be ill, too?” Jonathan broached the subject they’d all been avoiding.

Pinky shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m hoping she’ll perk up once Dad is home. Meanwhile, we’ll have to think about how we’ll manage.”

Jonathan frowned. “I feel bad leaving all this to you, Pinky. They could come and live with me and Anne, you know.”

“Or me and Annabel,” Drew put in. “You’ve done more than your fair share, Pinky. And it’s not like you don’t have other responsibilities.” He grinned at the thought of his youngest niece, Ruby and the constant mischief she got up to.

But Pinky shook her head. “This is Mum and Dad’s home and always has been. But maybe there are more ways we can help them…”

In the downstairs cloakroom of No 12 Linden Grove, Polly Wadham gazed at her reflection and sighed.

Natalie had done a wonderful job, and her soft white hair shone in the light, but the face it surrounded looked tired and old.

Polly gave herself a shake. She was old! She was over 80, for goodness’ sake. But this was the first time in her life that she had felt her age, and the worst thing was, she couldn’t tell anyone why.

What would they think of a wife who didn’t want her husband back home after several weeks’ absence? Who dreaded the day the doctors would come round and say, “Good news, Mrs Wadham, your husband is being discharged”?

Polly didn’t know why she felt like that. She’d managed so well after Mike’s first stroke, and together she and Mike had found ways to keep their independence, even after his dementia diagnosis. What was so different now? She could cope, she would cope.

With a square of her shoulders, she exited the cloakroom, straight into the path of Julia Jameson, Natalie’s formidable grandmother, who lived in the adjoining granny annexe.

“Hello, Polly,” Julia said a trifle stiffly. “I didn’t know you were here. I was just coming in to check if Natalie needed any help. I heard those babies screaming their heads off a minute ago.” She tutted. “Such a racket.”

“They’ve been good as gold!” Polly defended her great-granddaughters. “They’ve just woken up from their nap and they are hungry, of course. Natalie is just feeding them, then she will be back down. I’m waiting for Pinky to pick me up.”

Despite herself, her eyes glistened a little. Poor Pinky – she hated that her daughter had to spend all her free time running around her parents. How could she and Mike continue to burden her like this? It should be her helping Pinky with her still young family, the way Julia helped Natalie. Not the other way around.

Julia looked at her keenly.

“I was just about to have a cup of tea before I was so – rudely interrupted.” She raised her eyes to the ceiling. “Come through to my place, and I’ll put the kettle on.”

Julia waited till they were seated in her little lounge, cups in hand, biscuits in front of them, before asking, “How is Mike?”

“Doing well.” Polly said bravely. “The doctors say he should be home soon.”

“And how do you feel about that?” Julia asked in her usual abrupt manner.

“Happy, of course,” Polly said. But her lips trembled and her hands shook.

Julia leaned forward and gently took the teacup from her.

It’s all right to feel apprehensive, you know. It’s another big change you’re facing.

The sympathy coming from such an unexpected source finished Polly off, and she burst into tears.

“Oh, Julia, how am I going to manage? I love Mike so much, and of course I want him home, but It’s going to be so difficult. The stairs… his speech… how will I know what he wants? How will he know what he wants? I’m so terrified that he’ll be even more confused, and unhappy. I can’t bear for him to be unhappy.

“Julia, he’s been my life, and I his. But what if… what if I can’t make him happy any more?”

Another, warmer woman might have pulled Polly into an embrace. Julia just put down her own teacup and looked thoughtful.

“You know, Polly,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’ve always envied you. You and Mike have such a loving marriage. Robert and I rubbed along well enough, but we never talked about our relationship much.”

“But you must miss him!” Polly breathed.

“I do.” It was Julia’s turn to look emotional. “Every day. Funny, I didn’t think I would. But I look at you and Mike, and at Pinky and Jim, and Natalie and Alex, and I wish I could have him back. Just for one more day. Just to tell him, for once in my life that I love him. I can’t remember the last time I did that.” She shook her head. “Probably on our wedding day.

“But even if Mike had died, you wouldn’t have any regrets, Polly. You tell him you love him every single day, and you show him you love him. He could never be unhappy while you’re around. I… I sometimes think Robert was not very happy with me in the later years of his life.”

It was Polly’s turn to be sympathetic, but Julia wasn’t finished.

“And you have such a wonderful family, who are glad to help you because they love and respect you. I hardly see my son.”

“But you have Natalie,” Polly reminded her gently.

“And I count my blessings on that every day. She’s like your Pinky with her sweet and loving nature, and I don’t tell her often enough how much I love and appreciate her. It’s just not in my nature, I suppose.”

“You show it in your actions,” Polly reminded her. “You’ve been a wonderful help to her and Alex in buying the house, and now helping her with the children.”

“As you have been with Pinky.” Julia reminded her. “And even with Natalie, in helping her to buy the salon. I’m so grateful for that, Polly. I have so much to be grateful for, these days, and I don’t deserve it.

“But you do. Your family is a close and loving and supportive unit because of you, not in spite of you, and you are not going to be on your own when Mike comes home. Remember that, and don’t be too proud to ask for help, as I was all those years.”

When Polly reached out and took Julia’s hand, the other woman didn’t remove it, but looked slightly relieved when her doorbell rang and Natalie let herself in to announce that Pinky had arrived for Polly.

In the car, Pinky grinned at Polly.

“Never thought Julia would be you new BFF. Get you, having tea with the enemy.”

Polly laughed and Pinky was relieved to hear the sparkle back in her voice as she said, “Oh, her bark’s worse than her bite. What do you think of my hair, Pinky? Natalie has done such a good job. Do you think your dad will notice?”

“Of course he will,” Pinky reassured her. “And talking of Dad, Jim and I are thinking we’re going to make some changes to the house before he gets home. Jonathan has offered to fund turning Elderslie Terrace back into one big house. You and Dad can move downstairs, and we’ll move upstairs to sleep, but we’ll all live together as one family. What do you think?” she added a trifle anxiously.

Polly swallowed. She didn’t want to be a burden, and she had her pride, but she remembered Julia’s words about how pride had led her to so many lonely years. She reached over to take her daughter’s hand briefly.

“That would be lovely, dear,” she said. “Oh just imagine, your dad might be home for Christmas!”

What a thrilling thought that was. Polly Wadham’s world had righted itself, and she couldn’t be more happy.

Join us next month for more adventures with the Wadhams and Clark clan

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