Daily Archives: June 13, 2012

Heredity versus remembrance

So, you may have noticed I haven’t been blogging much. Oh, you hadn’t noticed? OK, fair enough. No, this isn’t a blog about the Mike Leigh film. Or testicles. Well, maybe it’s slightly about testicles, but not in the way you were hoping. Off you trot.

OK, the rest of you, hello! Yes, I’m not blogging very much. I am a tightly wound knot of seething raging anxst and my mojo has been snagged in the tangles and can’t work free just at present. If I tug hard, I get a giant snarl – do any of you knit? Have any of you tried to find the end of the yarn in a centre-pull ball and got what we knittery types cheerfully call ‘yarn-barf’? Like that, only with off-topic wailing.

Let’s just pick a snarl and thrash our way about in it.

H’s Grandmother’s funeral upset me, in a way that his Grandfather’s funeral really didn’t. Grandfather’s funeral and memorial celebration the next month were extremely moving, powerful, beautiful, funny, occasions, and it was abundantly clear how loved, how missed, how memorable, he was. I cried, I still miss him, I found both events comforting and joyous, and I think a lot of other people did too. This was Grandfather. He was wonderful. He is part of us all.

Grandmother’s funeral was small and quiet, which is probably what she would’ve liked, so it’s not that at all (Grandfather’s funeral was also small and quiet (memorial celebration, not so much)). The people who spoke, her friends, her co-religionists, who’d known her from a young bride, simply had very little to say about her. The conductor of the service (who was one of those who’d known her all her adult life), get this, spent more time reminding us of the schedule for the afternoon and where we had to be when than eulogising her.

We had letters from Grandmother’s cousins reminiscing about what a funny delightful young woman she’d been, but this radiant creature didn’t feature in the funeral at all. She’d somehow been wiped out by marriage and motherhood. And now old age and death had wiped out the private, quiet, lady, who wrote good letters and loved music and flowers and among whose scraps of paper we found a beautiful poem she had written on the back of an envelope and buried in her desk. All that was left was this hollow shell – supported her husband in his work. Raised several children. Died. That was all the people who’d known her best and longest could say for her, on the day we buried her in the same grave as her husband, with her children and grandchildren standing there listening.

(I told H, if I get a funeral like that, I’m climbing out of the casket to make a fuss, I swear. I’d rather be remembered with shudders as the book-obsessed cantankerous old mad cat-lady with the tongue like a razor I shall insist on being than remembered so perfunctorily).

This is the poem my MiL asked me to read at the graveside:

by Thomas Hardy

I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
Over oblivion.

The years-heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despise the human span
Of durance – that is I;
The eternal thing in man,
That heeds no call to die.

The reason given for my reading it, instead of H? I am good at reading aloud, I understand poetry, I wouldn’t make a hash of the sense of it coping with the enjambed lines, interesting syntax, and metrical variations. I can cry and still speak clearly. I am not particularly self-conscious about public speaking (I read it very well, thank you). H’s poem was easier, but considerably less apropos for him. He should’ve read Heredity. I could have coached him, if we’d been sent the text sooner. He’s the one who looks like his mother, and therefore like his Grandmother. I’m the barren wife who has slammed a portcullis in the path of this particular family face, and as long as H stays loyal to me, there ain’t gonna be no leaping over oblivion. Call to die, heeded. Human span of durance, all you’re going to bloody get.

So, there’s that. Grandmother’s actual memorable self has pretty much disappeared, probably in large part because she married and had kids, but we’ll remember and celebrate that above all things, even as we forget what made her unique. Get the barren one to make the point especially. Then we can all look at her as she reads it, and at her husband’s family face, and back at her, and appreciate the fuck out of that irony.


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