Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall “Gramfer”

Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, Chapter 1: Solihull,  August 1960,  “Gramfer”

GramferNote: The featured picture is a detail from the book cover. It’s of Reg/Reggie’s maternal grandmother, aka “Grammer,” aka “Angharad.”]

“C’mon, Reggie, you’ll hafta buck up and walk the rest of the way.”

Uncle Roddy took me down from his shoulders and set my feet on the churchyard grass.

I didn’t truly need his help, strictly speaking. Gramfer and I’d walked to church from home plenty of times before; I was perfectly capable of doing it again. No, my need was psychological, not physical. Chronologically, Uncle Roddy was 28, a new university graduate this past June. But Mum and Dad still took a dim view of him back then, while I still considered him my cohort, confederate, collaborator and comfort against—and from—the adult world.

“Stiff upper lip now, there’s a good lad,” he added as he forced a smile, no doubt with as much faux upbeat encouragement as he could muster.

He took my hand as we walked along the neat trails through the churchyard to a portion at the rear of the church, following Mum and Dad, at three or four paces. My warm weather school uniform: Navy blue blazer, white shirt, school necktie, doeskin short trousers, knee socks and brown oxfords—so polished I could practically see my own reflection in them—was doing off-season duty as my funeral attire.

Grammer came over as we neared the grave site, her stiffness and acquired Silhillian tones failing to hide the remnants of her West Country speech. It was pointless to comment or complain—it was what it was.

All of us knew that within her rigidly formal decorum beat a heart as warm and gentle as sunshine itself.

“Roderick, giss’ee Maria soome help with Genevieve, please. She’ll be quite past uz all ’fore we know it. I’ll stay here with Reginald.”

Sure enough, though Mum was trying her very best to comfort and quiet her baby sister, Auntie Gene had chosen this moment to fall apart completely—and as loudly as possible. Dad stood by, ready to help if necessary, but he pursed his lips in that impatient way I knew meant he thought what Auntie Gene, for all her delicate beauty, really needed was a right smack across the gob.

Grammer took my hand. I looked up at her. She and Mum were forged of stronger, sterner stuff, but that hardly meant their hearts weren’t breaking too. Grammer forced a smile down at me, even as tears swam in her eyes and she stifled a sob.

Gramfer had died.

Finally, somehow, I’d wrapped my mind around that fact. I’d been hearing it all week, of course, as Mum and Uncle Roddy put aside their differences and tried in vain to get Uncle Bertie in Canada and Auntie Evvie in Australia to come over for the funeral, and I was streets past old enough to know what “died” meant. But it had made no more sense to me than if someone were to say that Gramfer had “quodged” or “zwolfed.” It had taken a full week for the realization to sink in: Gramfer wouldn’t be with us for the rest of this lifetime.

My first mentor and my favorite companion was gone.

© 2014, 2015 G.H. McCallum and Duvanian Press. All rights reserved.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.