Again the response was swift, charming, and personal. A far cry from what any of today's agents, besieged by and accustomed to hysterical fans, would have sent me. He gave me as much information as he was able to provide, first explaining that he considered Freddy’s mother better equipped, advised that he had written to her, and that he had provided her address in case I wanted to contact her personally.
Today her letters are even more precious to me than they were then. Such information as I have provided above can probably be downloaded from the Internet now, but the personal things about his life I gained only from her. It was she who told me that he had a Selmer sax and clarinet, always played the Mk V 'balanced action' sax he had obtained in about 1935, throughout his career, and how he was able to play a sax an octave above the register for which it had been designed. He could play the instrument in such a way that that even the manufacturer could not determine - just by listening - whether it was a tenor or an alto. It was probably this amazing ability, what I have described as “soaring to thrilling heights," that caused him to die of a stroke before he was 50.
She told me that his wife was not very well at the time (understandably so), that finances were a bit “tight” and that it was his little son who had called the ambulance when his father collapsed. In every letter I wrote back to her, I expressed a longing to visit England and to meet her her family in person.
With the most treasured letter of all came a signed photo of her son, carefully protected by stiff cardboard, and an explanation that she had others, but that the one she was enclosing was very special. It was the last he had ever signed, and he had done so on the afternoon before his death.
A Personal Meeting
Then, out of the blue, my husband came home one day to tell me that he was shortly being sent to England on airline business. How the letters then began to go back and forth! What should I send her? Nylons were still unobtainable, and many commodities were still rationed, she wrote back. Kathleen would be happy to receive the same as she did. And what was on the boys’ wish list? Tiny Zulu assegais and spears. “The kind that tourists brought back as souvenirs.”
A Memorable Experience
Tom’s visit to the Gardners was memorable for more than one reason. We did not yet have television in South Africa, and it came as a surprise to learn that some people in Britain actually had a special TV room. How amazing it was that his first experience of television was in theirs, during a visit to the Gardners, Freddy’s mother and children; and together they were blessed to share the Freddy Gardner Special which aired that day!