Mrs. P. invariably signed her letters “Yours very sincerely, Mary D. Park.” That “very,” inserted so deliberately between “Yours” and “sincerely,” was a kind and thoughtful nuance that has now almost completely vanished from written correspondence, though at times I know my own grandmother certainly practiced it. The locution was, I think, a sign that the salutation extended affectionately beyond mere epistolary convention, while retaining a degree of formality that was not distant so much as careful, in the best sense, certainly stopping short of anything that might be taken to presume too great a degree of familiarity: hence the full signature with that appealing middle initial, which, incidentally, stood for Davis. There was an added inflection, too, when at length the “very” gave way to the sprightly “v.” Alas, e-mail is busily sweeping these things into the dustbin of vanished usage, but that is neither here nor there.
I have been going back over her letters and some of the photographs, jogging my memory, because I knew that there was a dimension to Mrs. P.’s surprise two-week visit to Government House for Jean and Davis’s golden wedding anniversary in September 1990 that I had completely forgotten. What on earth was it?
Writing afterwards from Moyrath House, Belmont Road, Belfast, Mrs. P. rejoiced in “how well the surprise worked.” She went on: “I think almost the best aspect of it was that no one knew who else knew!” And that’s the missing link that lifts this little story to a higher plane of exquisiteness, because with Karla-level ingenuity over many months beforehand Mrs. P. contrived to recruit willing collaborators, by airmail, both among her nieces and nephews but also scattered throughout the Office of the Governor, none of whom were aware of the role played by each and every other, or even their identity. In lesser organizations a cat might well have been let out of the bag, but at Government House, Melbourne, discretion was everything. It was as if Mary D. Park were busily planting moles, and with remarkable success. Clearly she was a missed opportunity for MI6. What I do recall, however, is for weeks beforehand being eaten up with curiosity about who knew what, and when, but Karla’s recruitment process took account of every potential foible, based on the wisdom accumulated over the course of a lifetime as the doughty widow of a Northern Irish Presbyterian minister. Fortunately on this, our secret mission nobody ever discovered the consequences of failure.
Here we are, a few days later, Mrs. P. and I, consoling each other in defeat following another epic struggle against Jean and Davis on the croquet lawn at Government House—the dream team, Irish rules this time, and not Moscow.