By Thongwa Kyaw Win
Yo Salleans, Paulians, and all other BOBs:
This is a belated report of my wife Gandasari’s (“Riri”) and my visits with Brother Charles Everard in Liss (Hampshire, England) and Brother Felix (Albert Gissler) in Illertissen (Germany). Technical and other problems got in the way, delaying this report.
Saturday, 7 July 2007
After attending Dora Than E’s funeral in Oxford, followed by a reception at St. Hugh’s College (Aung San Suu Kyi’s alma mater), our friends Ken & Marion Freeman of Pershore, drove us through the English countryside to Liss, Hampshire. It was a pleasant 2.5-hour drive on uncrowded roadways. (Some of you may recall Aunty Dora as the recording artiste of yesteryear whose professional name was Beelat-pyan Than. She later worked for the United Nations, beginning at its founding in 1948 at Lake Success, New York. Had she survived her final fall, she would have turned 100 on 16 February 2008.)
Clayton Court, the De La Salle Brothers retirement community at Liss, is a beautiful 22-acre estate with gently manicured lawns, gardens, and gorgeous views of the rolling hills. There are three large structures on the gated property. It is a place with spirit, where one’s soul is rejuvenated. The Fratres Scholarum Christianarum, (Christian Brothers), acquired this estate, once owned by a wealthy gentry, in 1974. The other FSC retirement home in England is located in Manchester.
We arrived at Clayton Court about 5:45 P.M. The place was abuzz with staff, volunteers, and neighbors who were preparing for a party for one of the brothers’ 70th birthday. The brothers were in the chapel doing devotions. Becky, a staffer, who was my contact, was most gracious. There was another staffer whose forearms were heavily tattooed. “Were you in the royal navy?” I asked. “Yes,” he said with a glint in his eyes. “I was a cook on the aircraft carrier Ark Royal,” he answered with pride. The two were most welcoming and amiable. From them, I took comfort that the brothers were living and eating well.
When prayers were over, Brother Director Joseph Hendron wheeled Brother Charles out of the chapel. I recognized the former right away even though I had not seen him since 1979 when my De La Salle, and later St. Paul’s classmate, Brother Patrick Minus, and I visited him at the Brothers’ Mother House in Rome. I do not know whether Brother Charles recognized me, but he broke out in a big smile when I greeted him in Burmese. At 89, dementia has diminished much of his memory and affected his speech. I helped him eat some of the goodies that were generously spread out on the table. He uttered a few words in Burmese: “taw bee, …yay ne ne thauk chin de,” (enough.., want to drink a little water), etc. I spent the rest of the afternoon with Brother Charles and the other party goers until the celebrants faded away.
Brother Director Joseph is truly a personification of tremendous love and patience. He was most gracious. He made us feel very welcome. We were accommodated in comfortable guest rooms which commanded beautiful views of the estate.
Sunday, 8 July 2007
Riri and I took a leisurely stroll on the estate as the sun shone over the countryside. At breakfast, I sat on Brother Charles’ left while Brother Joseph occupied the end seat on the right. Both Brother Joseph and I helped Brother Charles with his breakfast. His appetite was good.
Breakfast over, I wheeled Brother Charles back to his room. The room was nicely decorated with Burmese and other memorabilia. There was a large framed photograph of a much younger Brother Charles of his Burma days. (I recall seeing him in 1959 at the Kalaw Railway Station as he hopped on to the steam locomotive. “I always ride in the gaung dwe (locomotive),” he harked, as the train pulled away towards Thazi. He was happy as a lark. (Riri and I were teachers at Kalaw’s Kingswood School that year).
Bidding Brother Charles adieu was difficult. I had known him when we were both young long years ago at a place so far away.
We took leave of Brother Joseph and the other Brothers later that morning. Ken and Marion drove us to Liphook from where we boarded the National Express coach for London’s Victoria Station. (Marion and I began our friendship as pen pals when we were both 16. I was then at Woodstock School in the Himalayan town Mussoorie, India, in 1950).
Monday, 9 July 2007
After spending the night in London, we flew to Frankfurt, arriving there in the evening. We bedded down at Hotel Manhattan, conveniently located across the street from the Frankfurt bahnhoff (railway station).
Tuesday, 10 July 2007
The train from Frankfurt took us to Ulm where we changed for Illertissen. It was raining when we got there in the afternoon. We started to walk towards Kolleg der Schulburder. A kind gentleman picked us up along the way and drove us to the Kolleg, sparing us from getting wetter. (He did not speak English. We did not speak German. But the language of the heart transcends all tongues).
Brother Felix, who is known as Brother Albert at the retirement home, was brought out to a waiting room. He walked with the help of a stick, and a walker, alternately. He was as happy to see us as we were to see him. (I had last seen him, and Brother Peter, over thirty years ago, in Germany). His first words were: “You look like your father.” What a compliment!
Once he got warmed up after muttering a few words in German, the talk gushed out. He talked and talked, recalling his days in Burma; as a prisoner in Dehru Dun (India) and Insein Jail; De La Salle, St. Paul’s.Dinner that evening was at a restaurant. When Brother Felix noticed a paunchy man sitting at the next table, he remarked: “Baik pu gyi,” (paunchy fellow), a mischievous glint in his eyes.
Because guest accommodations at the Kolleg der Schulbruder were occupied by a visitor from Rome, we lodged at Hotel Vogt for the next two nights.
This was also Riri’s birthday. I snuck out of the hotel quietly and walked the streets of tiny Illertissen in search of a bakery. But it had shut down for the night. I was fortunate to get a cake from a restaurant just as it was closing. With the help of the hotel’s staff, I was able to surprise her.
Wednesday, 11 July 2007
In the morning, we were fetched and taken to Kolleg der Schulbruder where Brother Felix was waiting for us at the breakfast table. But we had just eaten at the hotel. So we nibbled a bit while he ate. After breakfast, he showed us the chapel, grounds, gymnasium, and gardens at the school. There are only lay teachers at the school. The numbers of those entering the FSC are getting thinner and thinner. A section of the campus is partitioned off as a retirement home for the brothers.
A sumptuous lunch prepared by the kitchen staff was served. When he saw the generous fare spread over the table, Brother Felix remarked, “Do they think we are starving?” That was typical of him, wit fully intact.
At 93, Brother Felix is the most senior retiree at the home. He has a comfortable room with an attached bath. “When I die, everything I own can be cleared out of this room in ten minutes,” he said.
After a brief rest, another non-English speaking brother drove us around that charming Bavarian town. Sightseeing ended after visiting the graves of Brothers Fulbert and Peter in the well maintained cemetery. A section of the cemetery is reserved for brothers and priests. The graves were well tended, a profusion of flowers growing on them.
Afterwards, we were driven back to the hotel where a teary Brother Felix hugged and kissed us before he was driven back to the retirement home. “Pray for me,” he asked. “I pray for all the people of Burma,” were his parting words.
Bidding Brother Charles and Brother Felix at their respective retirement homes was very difficult. Brother Felix was only 18 when he left his family and country to go to Burma as a missionary with the (French) Christian Brothers Order of the Roman Catholic Church to serve a lifetime as a teacher. But it gave me joy that I could honor these two teachers in the sunset of their days. “Parting is such sweet sorrow…”
If there is one word that comes to mind which describes these two brothers retirement communities, it is COMPASSION, of which there was an abundance.
I thank Margaretha Sudarsih (“Menuk”) for blogging this report for me.
The holy season of Christmas is upon us. May peace, joy, and good health of both body and mind be yours. UPDATE: Brother Charles passed away on 28 December 2007. May “flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
I am yours sincerely, a grateful product of the Christian Brothers schools,
U Kyaw Win
8566 Flagstaff Road
Boulder, CO 80302-9531, USA