I can declare myself a true Anglophile. I love all things British and always have. It is part of my Canadian heritage.
I heard about this amazing British woman through my friend Barrie Levine, (http://barrielevine.com/), who is a writing instructor at one of the local Councils on Aging. Kathy Batten has been one of Barrie’s students for over a year. I did not hesitate in asking Barrie to determine if Kathy would agree to meet with me. I wanted to learn more about this eighty-five year old and her life experiences.
As Barrie described Kathy, “She is so creative, so imaginative, and so fearless. She is an important part of our writing community. She is an inspiration to me and to others.”
Kathy Batten has spent her life pursuing goals and moving forward. Despite, or because of, many hardships and setbacks, Kathy has met and continues to meet challenges head on, with a strong dose of determination.
Growing up not far outside London, Kathy, her twin sister, young brother, and her mother, lived with air raids and the sound of planes overhead on a regular basis. At six years of age, she had been sick with scarlet fever and hospitalized. The day she came home from hospital was to Kathy’s best memory the day the war began. “We were little kids so I don’t think we really appreciated or understood what it was all about. My mom made it feel like an exciting experience. It must have been so scary for my mother.”
During those six years, every house was provided with a shelter. Kathy’s mother chose the Morrison shelter https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_raid_shelter that was set up inside the home in the living room. Previously to owning a shelter, the family would shelter under the stairway.
“When the air raid siren would go off, we would all go into the shelter. We had tarps on the house windows that we would have to pull down so to keep the light from shining through. My mother would have two boxes that she would bring into the shelter. One had all sorts of goodies and the other had Band-Aids and creams, etc. We also all had gas masks.”
There were shelters built around the town and at school also. Kathy remembers one air raid that occurred while walking from school to home. “I have a memory of my mother running down the hill from our house, screaming to find her kids.”
Kathy’s father was a member of the British artillery so was absent during those six years. He was part of “the forgotten army” in Burma, one of the most violent theaters of conflict in the entire history of World War II.
The family did not see her father for six years. She remembers her first glimpse of him upon his return from war. He looked much smaller than her image of him in her memory. He had lost significant weight. He also most likely suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which eventually may have contributed to a ten-year hospitalization. When Kathy was a young married woman, her father sadly lost his life to suicide. They all paid a heavy price for his bravery and service to his country.
Kathy left England at the age of twenty-three with her husband to relocate in British Columbia, Canada. With two young daughters, Kathy was terribly homesick for England and after three and a half years, decided she wanted to return home to England. Her husband soon followed her and they settled for one and a half years with jobs and a rental home. Feeling as though they were barely making ends meet, her husband decided they should return to America. He went ahead to Connecticut and she followed four months later. Eventually the family landed in New Jersey where her third child, a son, was born. More moves were in her future, including to the state of Iowa and Arizona. In between those American relocations, Kathy spent some time back in England. It was many years of upheaval without being able to establish roots for very long.
In a remarkable and determined way, Kathy had managed to become a Registered Nurse as a young woman in England. “We all finished school at age fourteen and were expected to go to work. I was working in a factory asking myself, “What am I doing here? I thought I’d like to become a nurse.”
Seeking the guidance of the matron at the local hospital, Kathy tested for acceptance into a nursing program at age nineteen. She had no formal education past age fourteen but she studied hard for three years, took her final nursing exam and was one of three who passed the test. It was quite the achievement to pass and then become a Staff nurse and then be promoted to the position of “Sister” at the hospital.
None of Kathy’s hard work in her nursing career and her qualifications as a RN was recognized in America. She was not able to redo her education so she did the next best thing she could think of. She trained to become a Licensed practical nurse (LPN) in America and found employment in nursing homes.
She and her husband and son left the United States after her husband became ill with hepatitis. He worked sporadically after his diagnosis at forty-two. It was a better option to be in England where she could return to a RN position. Her husband wanted to die there. Kathy managed to get a house, a job, and a car. He died at age fifty.
Kathy continued to work in England until age sixty-seven when she retired. She chose to stay in England until just four years ago when at age eighty-one she moved to Massachusetts where two of her children had settled, while her other daughter had resettled in England.
Kathy has thrown herself into establishing a life here. She immediately got involved with the Council on Aging and joined the writing group. Barrie, her writing instructor, tells me that Kathy is a very versatile writer, being able to write about anything. “This spurt of creative energy can happen at any time in life. Now it is Kathy’s time to add to her arsenal of creative endeavors.”
She not only has explored her interest and skill in writing, but she has tapped into her creative talents and has her own cottage industry. “Brits Mitts” is just one of Kathy’s side businesses.
She finds wool sweaters at thrift shops and uses them to make gorgeously designed mittens. Having taken a workshop on the art of mitten making, she is now selling her work at various craft fairs and at a local gift shop. Kathy is also a quilter and currently she is making cushion covers to sell. Her creations keep her busy and bring in some extra money. If you are interested in any of Kathy’s handmade pieces, you can contact her at email@example.com or 978-778-8566.
At the end of our meeting, Kathy shared a quote from a favorite poem. She had beautifully written in her own calligraphy style and framed the quote. “Always remember to forget the troubles that have passed away but never forget to remember the blessings that come each day.”
Kathy has defined this belief as demonstrated by her ability to rise above challenges and push her limits all her life, reinventing herself along the way.