A wonderful weekend. No, not just because I escaped the chaos that is my home! A wonderful weekend.
As you know, my Dad has been spending the last fortnight up in the Peak District at my sister M’s house – hence the frantic decorating which just doesn’t get done when he’s here. We have come to the realisation that yet one more disadvantage of Dad no longer being able to stay alone in his own home is that I won’t be able to go and stay with my sisters for a girlie-visit any more because when I go away I will either need to take him with me or they will have to come here to stay. (In fact we are starting to think that it won’t be the former again as he finds the travelling and the change of location too stressful and painful). So this was an opportunity too good to miss. Having to go up to the Midlands to fetch him back, I decided to go across on the Friday to visit my other sister, J, and stay there until Sunday morning. We had a lovely time… including a visit to Bath. The intention had been to take Tiddles to see the Roman Baths as he’s such a keen historian/archaeologist but he was still too tired to be bothered with it, so we just did the shops and the cafes and had a lovely time in each other’s company.
But what about Smudgelet, I hear you say. Well, he was having a little adventure of his own. His very first Cub Camp. He’d had a real hard job deciding which he most wanted to do, but finally couldn’t resist the lure of camping for the very first time. I was rather pleased, actually, as he’s been a bit clingy and this was a sign of him feeling secure enough to let me out of sight for more than a day, confident that I would in fact return for him. I think I missed him far more than he missed me, in fact (hmm… so I did miss him after all).
Sunday, though, was the special treat. We drove over to my home town to meet Dad at the church of which he and my mum were founder members 50 years ago. Strange sensation driving into the carpark of this church which I last visited twenty-nine years ago. Lovely to have my eldest son with me.. looking remarkably handsome in his new Sunday best. I had feared it would be a sad experience, with mum not there, and with so many people from the past dead and gone, but I was so very much mistaken. There were people there who mean so much to me still – the honorary aunts and uncles who were part of my everyday life as I grew up, so close was the community of that church. The visiting preacher was the minister who had been there when I was a child so it took me right back to be sitting there in our normal place (believe it or not!) and seeing this familiar, slightly older and greyer-haired but otherwise unchanged, face smiling at me and listening to his style of preaching which had so excited me when I was a child and which still was a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to touch my imagination. It was especially special for me, as his daughter and I had been extremely close friends from the ages of four to eleven – virtually inseperable – and most Sundays were spent with me being part of her family or her part of mine. I can still remember the games.. sitting playing with her dolls’ house while eating Sherbert Fountains without touching the liquorice which neither of us liked. Hide and Seek around the church building, with the scary bit near the cellar being too dark and spidery for either of us to brave. Singing rude songs using the word “poo” in them!!! I wonder whether the minister and his lovely gentle wife ever really realised what we got up to?
Who else was there? Well, I was utterly delighted. My very first school teacher was there! Tiddles couldn’t quite imagine that this lady (who looked surprisingly young.. until I discovered that I’d been in here very first class) had actually known me when I was five. She was a wonderful teacher and I’d always been very fond of her, and grateful for the way she steered me through my introduction to school. But that was not all. Suddenly someone asked me if I knew that O.W. was there with her daughter. I couldn’t believe it. She had been my nursery school teacher from the age of 2 1/2 and her daughter had been the other member of our trio of friends. Sadly it wasn’t this daughter who was with her… and I was not a little embarrassed to remember how we had made the elder sister’s life a misery whenever I went there to play! But to see her again was lovely, and to find how my friends had actually grown up too – with her daughter I had played Bill and Ben for hours on end, never tiring of hiding in two large boxes and jumping out and saying “flubbalubalub… little weeeeeeeeeed!”
The funniest moment of the day was when I reached forward to take my mobile phone and car keys out of the pocket on the back of the chair in front, only to discover that the chair in front had been exchanged by one of the stewards for a different one!
Strangest moments of the day – first finding my name on the cradle roll (the list of babies baptised in the church) and then finding my elder brother on there too; finding a photo of the Sunday School from the time when my siblings were there (I am considerably younger than they are so it was a photo from the mid fifties); and best of all, opening a photo album and suddenly seeing my mum looking up at me. There were two photos of her there.
Naturally I thought of Mum a lot during the day, but it wasn’t with sadness but with a joy because I suddenly felt very close to her. I think she was there too, to tell the truth. I felt a strange feeling when one of her closest friends stepped up to the lectern to do one of the readings as I realised that if mum had still been there, it could have been her standing at the lectern. And the hard part was realising that all those shared memories I now had nobody to share with as my sister had left the church before I was five and my Dad just doesn’t have memories of my childhood as our relationship wasn’t quite the same. He wouldn’t have known who my friends were, or what I liked or disliked – and what’s more, his own memory is now no longer intact enough for him to remember that I am of a different generation to my siblings and so didn’t know the people who went before.
It was hard to walk away. I may never see these special people again. It seemed very final. But my memory of them and my love for them has had a boost which I never expected and I feel much the richer for it. I pray my own children will have the same fond memories of their upbringing within a loving church community and that the same experience will await my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.