Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Promoted to glory

My neighbour died last week. Beynon was 83; he'd been ill since Christmas, spending his last few months in a nursing home. I once asked him if he had lived all his life in the village? 'Oh no,' he said, 'We used to live at Upper Vanley.' Upper Vanley is 300 yards from my house, about 50 yards past the village sign.

His wife Myfanwy is a redoubtable lady. She likes our children and tolerates them running over over her lawn to play on the green. 'We were not blessed,' she told me once, but we have lots of family. Every Sunday, she and Beynon would wave as they set off for church in their smart silver car.

I was sorry to have missed the funeral. We went round to say our condolences, taking some flowers. The living room was littered with cards, nestling between the vases and photos on the mantelpiece, TV, dresser, side table, china cabinet. It reminded me of Dylan Thomas's opening to Under Milk Wood - text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolours done by hand, china dog and rosy tin tea caddy... I can hear Richard Burton's voice as I type.

Jane asked about the funeral. Myfanwy told us the service had been held at the chapel in Trefgarn Owen. I thought you went to Newton chapel? 'I do,' she said, 'I'm a Baptist but Beynon was an Independent. Married for fifty years and yet we kept separate churches - very friendly though,' she adds with a smile. But she was having the last word - he'd been buried at Newton where her family were laid to rest, and more waiting to join them.

'I'll just put the plant somewhere safe,' she said. Opening the sliding doors to the parlour, I notice the table is lost under bouquets stuffed in vases, in buckets, on the floor; a pile of sympathy cards stacked on a chair for lack of anywhere else. 'I'm glad you've given me a pot plant,' she says kindly, 'What can I do with this lot?', her arm gesturing over the cramped room.

On the wall is a tinted photograph of her wedding day: she was a slim girl with dark curled hair but the likeness is still there. The picture beside it - same church, same photographer - is of her sister's marriage two years later. 'Evelyn lost her husband seven years ago; he died unexpected' she said, 'She comes round a lot, and we go to the WRVS together.' It occurs to me that she is entering a phase that many women of her age, and in this corner of Wales, pass through - husbands gone, but surrounded by family, church and community, their lives continue to be filled if not as full as before.

I love my house in Pembrokeshire but I've always thought it would be an isolated place to grow old. But this is an outsiders view; it is not so for Myfanwy. And though her life and her house might seem like something from a different era, there are values and comfort here that cannot be matched by the more cosmopolitan world I come from. In truth it is closed to me; no amount of integration - no absorption in its culture, its language, its landscape - could make me a part of that community in quite the same way.

As we are leaving Evelyn calls. There are two other cars pulling up on the drive. We say our goodbyes and ask if donations had been requested in Beynon's memory . 'Only if you wish,' she said, 'To help upkeep the churchyard; it's a local boy does the work and he needs it. Otherwise he'll have to look elsewhere.' I said we'd drop in an envelope. 'And he's keeping it tidy for me,' she winked.


  1. I got quite sad reading this - you do write about it ever so well. The paragraph about you loving your Welsh house and the locals being from a different era - you could apply all of that to our part of Brittany - still firmly rooted in tradition. I mean the churches are even packed on a Sunday!

  2. She sounds an admirable old lady and a wonderful human being to have as a neighbour.

    Thanks for dropping in on my blog - love yours (especially the decor!) and shall be back.

  3. Her life may not be as full in the same way, but wouldn't we all wish to have that attitude when we reach her age?

  4. Living in a similar sort of place in the North of Wales I do know what you mean about never being able to be part of that community, and yet, and yet. I don't want to live anywhere else, that is for sure. And I have found great kindness here.

  5. Sad but very typical....I am, oddly, still part of the village 'family', even though I only get to visit Ludchurch once or twice a year. The people I grew up with can be heard to say "I see Daryl is 'home' for the weekend again then" even if I left home at 15 to join the Royal Navy, I never actually left home.....comforting, that is....