Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Solihull, Chapter 7, Part 1 — Solihull, Christmas Eve Day 1960: Loss
[Note: the featured picture is a very early postcard of High Street in Solihull (you can see St. Alphege’s Church at upper right). Except for an absence of horses and presence of cars, the street would have looked much the same in the early 1960s. It’s where Reggie and Stan are when . . .]
Stan held Bethany on her other side.
“We shall be your little brothers for as long as you ask,” he said, “and you shall be our didi.”
He then had to offer her the same explanation he’d given me as to what a didi was, which seemed to leave her both pleased and amused.
“I’m pleased for you all,” said Gramfer, “but I shall depart soon, and need to have a long discussion with Bethany before I go.”
“But, Gramfer,” I protested, “this toime when y’leave we truly will never see y’ again.”
“Which is what y’ thought at my funeral,” Gramfer reminded me. “And yet,” he continued, “here I am. I can’t begin to say as how they’ll arrange things once I reach the Astral, save that I daresay I’ll not have much say in or about it. But be assured, Reggie, if there is a way to drop in on ya, I’ll find it and I’ll be back.”
“More carols, t’leus,” I said, perhaps with a bit too much whine in my voice.
“Yer sounding like yer Auntie Gene,” Gramfer admonished.
“Very well,” he said, relenting. “A couple more carols, and then the both of you have to scoot.”
I took a moment to use the screen to tune the guitar. As I did, sheet music for The Seven Joys of Mary appeared. I barred the chords whilst the screen provided an accompaniment ranging from banjo to concertina to flute and harp, to toy instruments and continuo, to full Renaissance band (with and without a church organ).
I barely needed to look at the next music. It was the rare, almost dancelike, Cornish version of The Holly & the Ivy we did at Grammer and Gramfer’s house each Christmas. Not the “San’s day” version, certainly not the French melody in three-quarter time that everyone does to death, Our family carol sing always concluded with this one; wherever I’ve gone since, if I have any say in the matter, I still try to end a sing with this one.
Then with kisses and hugs all around, Stan and I were bundled up, handed our swag and sent out the door through which we’d come. We ran back through the spiral and out the front of the hollow tree to find ourselves in the middle of the churchyard where Gramfer was buried, no more than 15 meters from his grave. We stopped there for a moment as I whispered a final good-bye.
Stan and I had just left the churchyard when I realized I’d forgotten to take the guitar with me. I dashed back to Gramfer’s grave, hoping I could still find the hollow tree and get back in long enough to take the guitar with me, but the hollow tree from whence we had exited was no longer there.
My heart sank.
My souvenir of Gramfer, all of the magic that he’d imparted to me, was gone. His delay of departure to the Astral realm to show me this was for nothing.
He’d done it all in vain. In a single moment of carelessness, I’d screwed it up.
I felt worse than I had at Gramfer’s funeral. Then I’d felt bad about his going away forever, I felt sorry for Mum, Grammer, Auntie Gene, Uncle Roddy – and myself – for what had passed out of our lives, for what we’d lost. But then it hadn’t been my personal responsibility, it hadn’t been my fault.
This was – no other way of looking at it.
The loss was more acute because I’d lost the legacy he had intended to give me. I had lost the way, in a sense, I could have been with me forever. I played back our departure in my head a score of times as we trudged home, mentally kicking myself harder each time I did.
Stan had the good sense to walk alongside me in supportive silence, not cracking jokes, not offering false comfort, not even – God bless him forever for this – complaining or pointing out that a new icy downpour had started halfway home, when I refused to walk any faster, much less run. I didn’t care if it was raining.
Go ahead, world, kick me some more.
© 2014, 2015, 2017 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
It’s coming — coming soon. The Third Edition of “Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall” (the version you’ve seen serialised). So is Volume 1 of the sequel, “The Bluebottle Boys.” Stay tuned for details.
G. H. McCallum
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