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The Simple Things...

My befriendee Nan (who was in her 80s) had often talked of a doll called Elsie that she owned as a child. This toy had been her only friend at times in a difficult childhood when she was often beaten by her father (one attack had left her deaf in one ear) and disliked by her sister.

She would hide away and talk to Elsie and tell her that everything would be all right. Things reached extremes as she and her mother ended up running away from home and hiding with a driver in his cab.

Elsie was one of the few things Nan took with her. As a seamstress she had also spent many happy times making dresses for the doll. She married late in life and I think it was around this time that perhaps surprisingly she gave the doll away to the Museum of Childhood.

One day after hearing about Elsie again I came up with a plan. I made some enquiries quietly behind the scenes and found that the museum could easily trace the doll and bring it out to be seen again.

As a rare Christmas trip I suggested to Nan that she and I could go and see Elsie. The look of disbelief on Nan's face that she could see Elsie again is still with me. It was interesting to see that the thought of leaving the house which so often seemed to present difficulties were firmly put to one side for this momentous trip back in time.

We taxied on a damp December day to the museum and announced ourselves. We looked at some of the exhibits as we waited, many of which brought back memories for Nan. Then the staff member I had spoken to arrived and opened a box heavily lined with tissue paper, with the doll nestling inside.

"Can I hold her? ... oh ma wee love ... there you are again ... and still in that dress I made." The staff member and I caught each other's eye – it was obvious that this was deeply meaningful moment. We almost felt that we were intruding.

It was very moving for all of us. They had been through a lot together and some of the stories came out again. Nan sat and held Elsie and nursed her and chatted to her for maybe 10 minutes and then kissed her and handed her back to be returned to her box.

We returned home to Nan's wee flat for the sandwiches that she had prepared before we left. "That's the best Christmas present I could have had – I'll not stop thinking about that".

Not every contact you have as a befriender means a lot but sometimes you just hit the right spot.

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