From the age of 9 months, I lived with my parents and big brother Calvin in 20, James Street, Port Talbot, South Wales. At that same time, a little girl called Yvonne used to spend quite a lot of her time with her grandparents who lived in the same street as I. Mr. and Mrs. Raikes had converted their parlour, or front room, into a grocery store which was quite common at that time. It was a fascinating place because everything such as sugar, tea, coffee, flour, and dried fruit had to be weighed and packaged according to demand and cheese had to be cut according to the required amount. This provided a wonderful opportunity to chat with the friendly grocer. Few possessed cars, and so for those who had too much to carry home in shopping bags, it was the custom that groceries could be delivered to the customer’s home. This was made possible by the use of a very large, heavy bike which sported a huge metal basket at the front.
Both my parents and Yvonne’s decided that we should attend a kindergarten situated a number of streets away from our homes at the house of a lovely lady called Miss Maines who later became my first music teacher. So Yvonne’s grandpa used to put us in this basket much to our delight and ride the bike to and from Miss Maines’ home every day. So when we were about three years of age, Yvonne and I became friends and then, when we were four we started attending the Trefelin Infants’ and Junior School until we were ten years of age.
I remember Yvonne well as she was very friendly and we were both talkative. She always used to boast that she could talk as much and faster than I which, if you know me, is completely impossible. On Friday afternoons, our teacher Miss Miles used to give us an opportunity to tell a story to the whole class, at the end of the day. This is when Yvonne showed a natural talent for narrating and acting. She used to hold us spell bound and I still remember vividly a story that she had written herself. It was brilliant. It was called “The Cat and the Custard” which was about a little girl who was left in the care of a babysitter and at seven o’clock it was time to go bed. Once she was upstairs in bed, she couldn’t stop thinking of the jug of custard that her mother had left on the shelf in the larder. This became an obsession and she couldn’t stop thinking about the custard. Unable to fall asleep, she finally decided to creep downstairs on tip toes as quietly as possible, without drawing the attention of the baby sitter just so that she could have a few spoons full of custard. Once inside the larder, she started sampling the custard and it was so delicious that she couldn’t resist eating the whole lot. Whatever could she do now? Then she had a bright idea; she would lock the cat in the pantry hoping that her mother would blame the cat. As she went back up the stairs to bed, she heard the first step creak and it said, “Who’s been eating the custard? “ and this continued all the way upstairs. Then she saw the beautiful full moon through the window and the man in the moon said, “Who’s been eating the custard? “ She ran into her bedroom, jumped into bed and pulled the blankets over her but she could still hear the voice saying, “Who’s been eating the custard? “ Eventually, she fell asleep and the next morning, when at breakfast her mother asked her if she knew who had eaten the custard and she suggested that it might have been the cat. To her surprise, her mother replied, “But cats don’t use spoons!!” This is my abbreviated version of the story and doesn’t include Yvonne’s dramatic and suspenseful narration.
At the age of 10, all pupils had to write an entrance exam which was called the scholarship, in order to be able to attend one of two Grammar schools in Port Talbot. Out of a population of 50,000, only the top 200 pupils per year would be able to gain entrance to these schools. If anyone failed the exam the first time, it was possible to try it once more the following year. Yvonne and I were among the fortunate ones to succeed the first time. It was very unfair that a child’s whole future depended upon the result of this one exam. Yvonne and I remained friends once we were in high school but there were four of us who
were very close friends; Yvonne, Joan, Cynthia and I. We used to cycle to and from school every day and on the way home we always stopped at Nicky the Greek’s shop for an ice block (ice lollies which Nicky used to prepare every day in small glasses). Cynthia used to come to my home every evening to do our homework together and then the four of us would meet at Nicky’s. Yvonne, Joan, Cynthia, Evelyn and I met some boys when we were about 12/13 and we used to meet them at Nicky’s most evenings. There happened to be a double decker bus parked in a lane near where we all lived and as it was cold and dark in winter it was much more comfortable sitting in the bus seats upstairs. The only light that shone on the bus was the light of the lamp post. This was such fun; this was our secret place until one evening, we heard a gruff voice order us to come down demanding to know our names and addresses threatening to tell the police that we had been trespassing. Without a blink, Yvonne took control of the whole situation by making up false names and addresses for us all and then we ran off laughing hysterically. It was dark so he couldn’t see our faces easily so he would never be able to recognize us in the future.
When we were in our second year at the Sec, Trixie Thorn organized a ten day skiing holiday in the French Alps. We had the time of our lives from the moment we left Port Talbot station to go to London until our return. We travelled overnight stopping at every
town – it was the milk run. We were too excited to sleep, and the next day we took a train from Victoria station to Dover where we boarded a ship for the very first time in our lives and on that train we met a group of teenage boys all wearing grey suits, which was their school uniform; they came from Framlingham College which was a boarding school for boys. We were unable to continue our conversations with them because it was becoming a nightmare and we were feeling so ill. It was an hour and a half of roller coaster horror because we were all being violently sick including the seasoned sailors. Later we learned that it was the roughest crossing on record.
Once we arrived in Paris, we had to travel on another overnight train to Chamonix. The Framlingham boys were again on the same train so we invited some of them to come to our compartment once everyone was settled down to sleep. As planned they arrived but much to our surprise a little later, Trixie started going from carriage to carriage to check that we were dutifully sleeping. Yvonne was sitting right by the door and as soon as she saw Trixie, she was galvanized immediately into action and held up her blanket so that she couldn’t see the boys we had smuggled into our compartment. Yvonne’s brain always seemed to work so much faster than the average person. Trixie was an excellent French teacher but a real dragon who tolerated no nonsense and terrified us all. I dare not think what would have happened if Trixie had seen the boys. After a few hours, we thought it would be sensible if the boys returned to their compartment in case Trixie visited us again. Not long after that, our train stopped at a station but we didn’t realize what was happening. The train consisted of many compartments and they unhooked two equal numbers of compartments to make two separated trains, one was going to continue its course up one valley and then the other was intended to go up a different valley. However, we had no idea that the boys were not going to the same ski resort as us. Had the boys continued to stay in our compartment, can you imagine our embarrassment and dilemma when we arrived in Chamonix with four of five boys?
Selwyn Davies, our English teacher in the Sec (Dyffryn) recognized Yvonne’s potential acting ability and she had a role in “Pride and Prejudice” when she played the part of Mary a studious, devout young girl, probably a geek and of course Yvonne was superb. Yvonne was intelligent but did not enjoy serious academic studies and didn’t have any real interest in school. She saw no advantage of continuing because her mind was set on becoming a hairdresser and so she left school at the age of 14 to follow her dream of being a hairdresser. As a result of this, I did not see her as frequently because I stayed on at school for another four years until I completed my A levels. Like Yvonne, I knew from the time I was in elementary school that I wanted to become a teacher and once I was in high school, my passion for French increased. I became focused on becoming a French teacher. Yvonne and I were similar in some ways; we loved people, talking, laughing, mimicking and although ADHD was not heard of in those days, I think both Yvonne and I were both hyper active and lacked concentration in school. Nevertheless, we both ended up in the careers of our choice and in marrying the best guys on the planet.
Yvonne was a total extrovert, most likable, quick witted, had a heart of gold and loved making people happy; at the same time she was honest and frank and would not be afraid of expressing her dislike of anything or anyone. She had few inhibitions and could relate to anybody. There was never a dull moment when she was present. Yvonne was a natural comedian and had some of the funniest original sayings; she was an entrepreneur and worked hard all her life as well as raising two sons. John was a very kind, gentle and marvellous husband and father. Wherever they lived, in Wales or Essex, she always made sure to have her own salon in her home. Her clients loved her and for them a weekly visit to Yvonne’s was the highlight of their week because they had 2 for the price of one – a very good hair do and a complete star studded comedy act. Yvonne was very kind to everyone and particularly senior citizens by not charging them what she deserved. My mother used to have her hair done every week at a very reasonable price until Yvonne, John and the boys moved from Wales to Essex.
I went to London to become a teacher, met my husband Martin and started teaching French and RE in London. However we frequently returned to Wales to spend all holiday times with my parents and so we always used to visit Yvonne and John and family. They too came to stay with us in London. I remember the first dinner I prepared for them and was encouraged to see how well they ate. Then Yvonne turned to me and said, with mock sarcasm, “Well I didn’t enjoy that a bit!” as she pointed to an empty plate. All through our married lives in the UK, and when we immigrated to Canada in 1975, we used to spend many days with the Goods, one of our favourite couples.
Martin and I had been Christians since we were young but in their early years as a married couple, Yvonne and John probably didn’t share our faith but of course we loved them and got on like a house on fire and it never created any problem between us. I can’t remember at what point John and Yvonne started attending the Salvation Army in Llansamlet where they lived in a beautiful bungalow. This added an extra dimension to our already strong friendship. They became keen, committed Christians and we were so thrilled by their genuine new found love for the Lord. As I said earlier, Yvonne was always totally honest and would not have taken this spiritual step unless she meant it with all her heart. They really enjoyed being part of the Salvation Army and were not just pew warmers. They wanted to be known as Christians and were not ashamed to wear the Salvation Army uniform of this fine denomination. Yvonne donned her bonnet and looked as pretty as a picture. It takes courage to wear a uniform which declares to all that one is a soldier for Christ in His army. For Yvonne, it was either everything or
nothing; she never did things by halves. John was an enthusiastic Christian and it was evident in his whole demeanour. It is always exciting to see people coming to the Lord without being coerced but rather because they discover who Jesus is and they decide to surrender their lives to the Him. They both knew how important our faith was to us and they were certainly not opposed; we had a deep respect for each other. It was especially wonderful that their commitment of their lives to the Lord was mutual. Our conversations and fellowship with them had always been great but from this point on then we had another important ingredient in our friendship; we were not only best friends but brothers and sisters in Christ.
During the late 1990s I wrote to Yvonne and suggested the idea of a Dyffryn reunion. Her response was very positive and, together, we organised a reunion that took place in the Masonic Hall in Port Talbot in 1998. I worked on contacting as many people as possible and Yvonne took care of the practical, on site arrangements. Yvonne threw herself, heart and soul into the spirit of the occasion and, typical of her, surprised us all with two comedic presentations. She first appeared dramatically in a Dyffryn school uniform and in the second, she dressed as a 1920s flapper and performed the Charleston! On hearing about Yvonne’s illness and death, Lilian (Sanderson), a former school friend recalled this reunion and said, “What a sad end for such a lively person who loved life and lit up the room when she was on top form. I will remember her at that reunion when she turned up in a gym slip, complete with pillow stuffed up the front.” The success of this event prompted the request for another one which took place in 1999 when Len Gibbs became involved. Two more reunions took place during the early 2000s, all of which were organized by Len.
During the early years after Yvonne’s dementia was diagnosed, John cared for her at home for a long time, until it became obvious that she needed 24 hour care. Reluctantly, she had to be placed in a care home where she stayed for the rest of her life. It was the very best; John visited her daily until his health deteriorated and he passed away last year. Their son Marcus has been an amazing son and he took on the responsibility to support his father in every way. He also became a hairdresser and worked with his mother in their own salon for many years. Marcus knew that Yvonne always loved to look nice; she was naturally very pretty but as a hairdresser, she made sure that her hair was always perfect. So dear Marcus went every week to the care home, washed and set her hair, put her make up on and painted her nails. John told us on the phone one day that he was so proud of Marcus and indebted to him for all he did for his mother. He was the one who checked all her clothes and when necessary went and bought anything she needed. We are grateful to Marcus for keeping us informed about his parents. We kept in touch with John by mail and phone until he died. From the moment I heard of Yvonne’s illness, I was deeply affected because I loved her very much and our friendship is the longest continual one I have experienced. It seemed cruel that someone who was so vivacious, loving, energetic with a unique sense of humour was having to experience such an existence.
It has been a very painful experience for John, Marcus and Julian to see their dearest loved one deteriorate until she only weighed 28 pounds. Whenever I have thought about her since her diagnosis, I have been reduced to tears and now I am only happy that she is completely healed, more vivacious than ever, reunited with John in a place which is totally different from this sad, unfair, problematic world. She is experiencing the most wonderful life in the place that Jesus promised to provide for all those who were His first disciples and all subsequent believers. In John 14, Jesus said. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” It is impossible for us to imagine what heaven is like and what God is preparing for us. In 1 Corinthians 2 verse 9, we are told “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has known what God has prepared for those who love him.” It’s beyond our wildest dreams and imagination where there is no sin, tears, pain, hate, greed, death, parting, suffering, injustice but only perfection.
I am so grateful to the Lord that I had Yvonne and later John and family in our lives. They enriched our lives and were such a blessing to us in innumerable ways. As Christians, death is not the end and I am excited that Martin and I will be able to spend the whole of eternity with John and Yvonne.
Grace (Franklin) Gouldthorpe