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Village Traditions (around 1938)

She was indeed lovely; her pale face framed in lace had a serene beauty that I had never experienced.

I lived in a mining village not far from the sea.  One day I strolled along the street and saw several children standing in a queue on the back stairs of the upstairs flat where Jenny had lived.  Jenny had tragically ‘gone to heaven’ the previous week, suffering burns to her body when her nightdress had caught fire, and contracting pneumonia as a result.

“What yer doin?”

“Wa waitin ter see Jenny.  Her Granny’s taken her up.”

I promptly joined the queue, only surprised to see Lydia two places ahead.  Lydia had Shirley Temple curls and her mam ‘kept her lovely.’  She rarely came this far down the village among us scruffs.

“They say she looks like an angel,” Lydia said excitedly, “and she’s lying like this.”  She put her hands together in prayer and fluttered her eyelids.

We all waited in an orderly manner with an occasional hop on and off the bottom step till it was our go.  We crept like mice up the stairs, two at a time, led by the granny, a tiny bird-like woman with a conspiratorial air.  She didn’t have to tell us to be quiet, we all realised it was something out of the ordinary and none of us wanted to spoil it.  My turn came and I silently gazed at the still form in the coffin.

“Isn’t she lovely?” the granny breathed.  Solemnly I nodded.  She was indeed lovely; her pale face framed in lace had a serene beauty that I had never experienced.

She was an angel by now alright, you could see it, we all told each other afterwards.  There had never been anything like it in our young lives.  The village was not the kind of place for beautiful happenings, but this certainly was one.

There was no reverence in the beginning, no taking farewell of our young playmate, simply young kids curious to see a dead person.  Afterwards there was reverence.  We had been in the presence of something holy.  The chapel in the village and the tin church at the end were ugly places, not uplifting in any spiritual sense at all, but this was different.  Heaven became more real.

I shall always be grateful to the little granny who thought it only right that children should see such a beautiful sight and I have never been loath to view death as a consequence.

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