It is a glorious day and friends and relations are gathered at my father’s house to bid him our last farewell. Amongst them, our small immediate family; my sister and I and two cousins We are sad because it sees the end of our parent’s generation. On the table we spread photographs of the eight of us. A Mum, a Dad, an Uncle, an Aunt and 4 kids, snapshots of our shared lucky 1950’s childhood. There we all are, smiling and laughing, our hair wind blown or neatly ribboned. These were beach days, hill walking days, tree climbing days. There are little sundresses, short trousers, hand knitted jumpers and elasticated swimsuits. We linger by this table, it’s hard to drag ourselves away from such happiness.
But the hearse arrives and we have a ritual to observe. In this small village where the church is just along the road and down the hill, we walk with Dad, in the sun. Our elderly kind undertaker, an old friend, leads the procession, just as he had for my mother. He uses a stick and limps a little now, but so do we all. There is a timeless resonance to this last rite and, for a few minutes, busy village life pauses, the traffic is halted, and dog walkers and passers-by stop to look. We seem to be the only ones moving in a frozen tableau.
We chat and laugh as we go, along the road and down the hill. The Church is full and pretty with its Harvest Festival decorations. How fitting for a man who made his living in the seed trade and whose garden was such a delight. The service is a celebration of a life and my sister’s tribute is eloquent, funny and touching. We round off with the rousing and appropriate hymn “ We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land.” I am thinking the wheezy church organ needs some attention.
In the village hall there are cups of tea, sandwiches and cake, tears, memories and stories. Strange things, funerals. It’s a time when you realise what “other” lives your parents had. People came who I had never met before and will never see again, just to say some nice things about Mum and Dad, to share a funny moment, reveal a kindness or acknowledge a helping hand. Not so many now, because at 94, as Dad would say, quite a few old friends had “dropped off the edge”.
Then back to the house again and to the happy photos and to saying au revoir to the relations and friends. People are leaving, walking home, driving north, taking a train south, back to partners, to jobs, exams and busy lives. It has been a lovely day and Dad would have been delighted to have stopped the traffic, “an excellent “do”” he would have said.
And for me, it’s back to my bees.
A bracing Welsh holiday in the 1950’s for the Littlewoods. Dad, far left, next to him Auntie Bessie with the sunglasses. Mum sitting next to her looking right. At the back between them cousin Jennifer. The little boy looking down at Mum is cousin John, my sister Eileen behind him and me, standing next to him. I am not sure who the lady is who is holding my arms…Sitting at the front holding the pipe is my fathers brother, my Uncle Frank. Happy days We are not sure who the other family are … just one of those holiday get togethers!
Family Tree: Cousin John, sister Eileen, me and cousin Jennifer.