It is the 5th June 1962 and the Assistant’s aunt has died. She was sixty two and she died of cancer.
It is term time but The Assistant has been taken out of school and sent to Wales. She will sit with her grandmother while the funeral takes place. Although it is June, they will sit by the fire, one is old and frail and the other asthmatic, though she is not wheezing today. No women attend funerals and all the other female relatives and mourners are being led in prayer by a priest at the dead aunt’s house. The grandmother has now lost four of her children, two of whom will now have been buried in the plot, which she meant for herself. The two companions do not talk of death, except for the grandmother to say that children should not be sent to funerals. The grandmother is dressed from head to foot in black, which she has worn for some years. She is a chapelgoer and despite her age, she will attend chapel every Sunday. She does not talk of religion, but she testifies to it by being loving and kind to all she sees. There is no dissent in this house. She gets up now and puts out the bread and the eggs on to boil. They can enjoy a small meal together before the others arrive. It is quiet, peaceful and they sit together thinking of the dead aunt, who used to hide housekeeping money, so that she could give her niece the school equipment that she needed but could not afford.
Amidst this silence, there is a shove at the back door. It is a warning and the child is sent to open the front door. The child is examined as each person enters. Eventually, the house is so full that shorter people are forced into the large kitchen pantry. There is a lot of Welsh being spoken, a lot of clatter, clamour and general mayhem. The child had never seen so many cups of tea and people kept on coming. Worried about the fragility of her grandmother, the child timidly opens the front parlour door, insisting that her grandmother sits on a supportive dining chair. This room is flooded with people and everyone wants to talk to “Mamgee”, the mother. They speak in English now, so that the child can understand. There are tributes and there is laughter and many, many memories and so the day goes on into the night when the uncles come home roaring drunk and the aunts are silent. The child sleeps on the floor with an aunt deemed fit enough to give up her bed. The strength of the grandmother is undiminished as she is summoned in the night to give instruction on the care of an asthmatic aunt who has all her pillows removed and who breaths more deeply at the sight of her mother.
Well, you might ask what has all this got to do with Dartmoor? It has a great deal to do with community and this place.
It is the day of Winnie’s funeral. The family are expecting a few people to attend at Providence, the chapel in Throwleigh. All around this area of Dartmoor, people are preparing. Even the photographer, who has only attended the funeral of one great friend since his own illness, is getting dressed in his best moleskin suit and black tie. The Assistant is wondering about hoping to look inconspicuous. They will start off early and the Photographer will drive the car. They are taking David, their close neighbour and he is looking very spruce. They are anticipating a lot of parking difficulty ( chapels were built for walking to ). The Photographer parks a short way down from the chapel. When they reach the chapel, there are an enormous number of people going in. The church itself and its balcony are full to busting already, so the threesome make their way to the anteroom. There is much chatter along the lines of, ” I haven’t seen you for years ……. “. The service is lovely and the priest makes a good job of it despite having to make himself heard over a very large area. There is much talk of Winnie’s great kindness and understanding of people. Everybody present had been touched by this dear lady, whose Christian beliefs had been so unfashionable that it made you wonder why a cup of tea offered in a time of worry could be so unworldly. Winnie had grown tired and had never got over the loss of a dear daughter. She wanted to be peaceful and her wish had been quite simply granted.
After, what a wake there was! There was tea and cake and pasties, of course, and talk and chatter, memories and wonder at such a wonderful life so simply and well lived. The attendance at this funeral was well over 200 souls, people of our community joining together in love and unison. When the Photographer and the Assistant got home, they had another cup of tea. The Assistant remembered that day, years ago, when her grandmother had buried her daughter and everyone came, so that she too was not alone.
What to do this month on the Moor? Well, what not to do would be more accurate. Have you managed to get to Chagford Swimming Pool yet? Castle Drogo continues to display the Grayson Perry tapestry. Coffee shops and Blacks continue to buzz. The Photographer continues to purchase a very fine steak every weekend from Andy, the butcher. Have you, though, and I bet, you haven’t, visited Stone Lane Gardens, which are now managed by a charitable Trust carrying on the work of the Ashburners. It is just up the road from Chagford, past the Mill End Hotel. It has a tea tent this year.What a lovely place to go! Teas continue at Gidleigh Church on Sunday afternoons. You can walk yourself to exhaustion along the river or up on the Moor. Chagford Show is on 18th August. We are looking forward to the Chagford Film festival and Open Studios in September. Go on, get out there, knock yourselves out before the Dartmoor Autumn winds arrive!
Sorry. That’s it, we are off out to sun ourselves in the best venue of all, our garden!
Any similarity between characters in this blog and real people, products or events is entirely co-incidental
Any similarity between “The Little Town” and Chagford is entirely deliberate, Click on this link to find out more. Visit Chagford