Carolyn Steele Agosta
Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, published in 2000. I first read this book probably about fifteen years ago, when it had been around long enough to make it to my local library. I’m a big fan of the author, having read most of her previous books, and loving the way she puts you right into her colorful cozy settings.
In the story, the main character, Elfrida Phipps, is a woman of 62 who has retired from her life in London and moved to a small village, there to become involved with her neighbors and to build herself a home for her ‘old age’. As I say, I first read this about fifteen years ago, when I was in my early fifties and still had high school aged children at home. I loved the story but didn’t particularly relate to Elfrida’s idea that all the adventures in life were behind her.
Now I’m 68. When I began rereading the book this year, which I do every Christmas season because it’s the perfect book for cozy winter days, I began to see Elfrida differently. She’s 62! A mere child! A baby! Practically in utero! Of course, her adventures aren’t all behind her! (And so she discovers in this book.)
Because I had my three younger children in my mid-to-late thirties, I was often a bit behind my friends who were dealing with college-age kids and empty nests while I was still in the throes of PTA and multiplication tables. And now, so fortunately for me, I’m happily in the throes of very young grandchildren, mine being ages 1-1/2, 2-1/2, and 3-1/2. I feel like I’m just beginning, all over again.
This is the beauty and wonder of reading. I’m taken to wonderful worlds and fascinating people, and yet – so often – I find that the stories make me reflect on my own life. What did I once expect I would feel, when I got to the age of 68? Decrepit? No longer likely to have adventures? When my mother was 68, she had already been widowed, handicapped by a series of strokes, and about to move into an assisted-living facility. Whereas I am enjoying a family room filled with young children’s toys, and exploring the exciting new world of South Korean television shows with my younger sister, Jacki. (Seriously, we are enthralled.)
This past year has been a learning experience for all of us. My husband, Matt, had just retired in January, and we were looking forward to lots of travel. Now we’re navigating the valleys and mountains of spending 24 hours a day with each other, seven days a week. Talk about adventures! We’ve cleaned out those secret corners of the house and garage, we’ve rewatched every episode of Game of Thrones, he has taken up golf with great enthusiasm and I’ve read something like 80 books since January. We’ve learned to appreciate little things, like a hot cup of tea with honey in the evening, or an unexpected Saturday morning visit from some very short people. To be quite honest, this has been a happy year for me.
In Winter Solstice, Elfrida finds her life complicated by a number of events and crowded by an unlikely group of people. Instead of going quietly into her old age, she finds that everything has become full of complications, but very rewarding. She says, “Life is so extraordinary. Wonderful surprises are just around the most unexpected corners.”
That’s exactly how I feel. Thanks, Mrs. Pilcher. And Merry Christmas to you.