I love the word - Thomas Hardy was fond of it too. In his day I can just imagine how it could be used. He lived through the First World War and so would be witness to a generation of women who became 'Maiden Ladies' or as so many called them 'Old Maids' - a generation of women unlikely to marry because their men had been killed on the battlefields of the Somme or Paschendale - and who were mostly left to a life of solitude. Many of them had private or secret lives about which the rest of society knew nothing. I had four such Aunts (I have written of them before) - they always loomed quite large in my life (they were my father's sisters) but of their inner thoughts and their lives I really knew absolutely nothing. It was only after her death that I found out that Eve had given birth to a child and had it adopted - but it had died in infancy - what a secret to carry with her all her life (she lived into her eighties) her innermost thoughts must so often have dwelt on it but it was for everyone else 'behind closed doors' - not to be mentioned. Another of the four - Nellie - had an officer boyfriend who turned out to be married. After her death (she left her money and all her private belongings to my brother) he found a box under her bed. In the box were all the things he had given her - pressed flowers, pretty lace-edged handkerchiefs, tiny leather bound poetry books of love poetry with relevant passages underlined. I have them now. I have access to a secret world, a sad world and one hidden away, impenetrable.
As a small child in the thirties and forties I remember one or two elderly (to me they seemed very old) ladies belonging to this era of forgotten maiden ladies. One lived in a neighbouring village and on hot days in Summer we would trudge over to her cottage in the village to go to her cottage and ring a bell outside the front door. This would bring her out through a curtain hiding the rest of her house away, to serve us with a delicious ice cream - tasted like frozen custard and probably was just that - golden yellow and divine.
What was hidden behind that curtain we never knew - we always wondered, and guessed but in the end there came a Summer when she was no longer there to serve us and I suppose about the same time Eldorado (Stop Me and Buy One) men on their bikes began to come round in Summer and we quickly forgot.
At the moment I have a couple of friends who are trying to sort out their affairs and throw away years of unnecessary bits and bobs - things which probably have great and deep meaning to them but which have no meaning at all to the next generation. Things which, when they are gone, will be left to be sorted out otherwise. A bag for the tip, a bag for the charity shop, trinkets for some antique dealer to sort through and decide whether it is worth trying to sell them. Things which have meant such a lot and have such memories but not for anyone else.
Our innermost thoughts, our innermost secrets, things which, when we die, will die with us or become meaningless - just trinkets in a charity shop. Do we all have them? I suspect the answer is yes. When I moved here I had a really good going over everything,making sure I packed a box each day for the charity shop. a box to take with me, a black bag for the tip. I was so pleased with myself when I moved in - I had nothing that would need to be gone through and then speculated on.
But I can't help feeling that these things creep up on one - a saved card here, a pressed flower there,
things which have meaning to me. My dear grand daughter sent me a sketch of a birch tree at the beginning of lock down and with it came a tiny bunch of birch twiglets from the tree itself. Throughout lock down I have kept those twiglets, tied with a piece of ribbon, hanging from the bookshelves. They are meaningless to anyone else but they are symbolic of hope for the future for her and for me, part of my penetralia I suppose you could say.