“Hello Sadie, when are you leaving?” said my father, the most mild mannered of men. Aunt Sadie had arrived at our doorstep on her annual visit. She was my mother’s oldest sister and was, what we called in Scotland, “a poor soul”. As a teenager she was shadowed by a strange man who tried to grab her as she entered her building. This so traumatized her that she developed all manner of phobias. This happened in the mid twenties in Scotland and mental health care was primitive.
She was admitted to Gartnavel, the local mental institution. In my young, feverish mind I imagined it to be a monstrous place; whenever I misbehaved my mother would threaten to send me there. While in Gartnavel Sadie was treated with whatever drugs were available at the time. At one point she was lobotomized and somehow came out the other side quite functional. I remember her as odd, but as a child, I was accepting of my family member’s peculiarities. She suffered from some form of OCD and had this strange habit of pausing and spinning round before opening the door.
She eventually left Glasgow for London, and being extremely intelligent, managed to land a job with Scotland Yard (police headquarters) where she worked successfully for many years. She lived with a man she loved for about fifteen to twenty years but admitted to me later on that she never had sex with him or anyone else. When I was about fourteen, on one of her visits, she asked me, an amateur photographer, to take some photos of her. We went outside to the woods where she stripped down to her underwear and posed. I could barely keep the camera still.
Many years later she entered an assisted living facility in West London near the Portobello Rd. By this time she had gone blind, the result of taking massive doses of prescribed psychotropic drugs throughout most of her life. At that time I was importing a good quantity of British equipment from Creek and Epos so I frequently traveled to London on business and of course visited Sadie. Typically, I would take her shopping; we would have lunch together and chat about her youth, her siblings and parents. These sessions were intense as she often criticized her brother who had refused to take her in. She was a bitter pill to swallow so I completely understood his reluctance.
On one visit she asked me to take her clothes shopping. She wanted to buy a new outfit. We went to one of the many department stores in the area and I found a sales woman to assist us. Sadie told us both what she wanted and I described the cut and color of what the saleswoman selected as best I could. She finally settled on a blue jacket with a matching skirt. I said to her, “Auntie, I think you will look very smart in this outfit.” She replied, “It’s not for me, it’s for my neighbor who is housebound”. I said, but Auntie, how can you choose clothes for another person, you’re blind.” She said, “Yes, but I have excellent taste!”