Twenty-six July Twenty Sixteen********************************
Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the famous day when I picked up that slightly-known-by-me, undeniably mad but equally undeniably fabulously talented British writer Peter Dickinson, at the Bangor, Maine airport, for a weekend of playing tour guide to someone who’d never been to Maine before. I was usually pretty good at this, and Maine is very show-off-able, nearly all year long,* but Peter was a somewhat daunting prospect. In the first place he was PETER! DICKINSON! and in the second place . . . I knew Peter well enough—anyone who ever met him for thirty seconds knew him this well—to know that he would need to be kept amused. Long afternoons relaxing in a lawn chair getting through the home-made iced tea and chocolate-chip cookies was not going to appeal.* Mind you, he was totally capable of amusing himself, but this could also be disconcerting. I’m pretty sure I’ve told you that when I presented him with lunch that first day, he looked at the two or three kinds of bread, bowl of fruit, salad, and assorted cheeses, spreads and nut butters, with total dread and dismay and said, That’s not lunch! Where are the shops? I’ll go buy something. *** But have I told you—and forgive me if I have—the first words out of his mouth when he came through my front door for the first time, and I had opened my tiny hall closet† to hang up his coat, he peered into it and said, would you like me to build you a shelf? And I could do better than those coat hooks.
That was twenty-five years ago today.
Today was his interment.
I can’t remember how much of this I’ve told you already, and if I look back at this year’s blog posts it’ll just make me cry. I’ve cried enough today. You will remember that he died just before Christmas, and the memorial service was early January. Those of the family likely to want to be there for the interment agreed that there was no hurry, that waiting for better weather was a good idea. I’d originally wanted it in April, when spring is clearly here and the bluebells are out, but I couldn’t find a date that enough of us could come—‘us’ being chiefly Peter’s four kids and his retired-dean-of-Salisbury brother, who would also do the saying-a-few-words thing—and then I kind of lost heart. As I’ve told you both morale and energy have been in short supply since the middle of last December. May was passing and people were away in June and . . . I suddenly thought of our twenty-fifth anniversary. We used to celebrate both the 26th of July and the 3rd of January, which was our wedding day, but I think if anything we took the 26th of July more seriously because it was so utterly improbable that what happened did happen, and I’ve been living in England twenty-five years the end of this October and answer (sometimes) to ‘Mrs Dickinson’. I blinked a few times and thought yes. It’s going to be the 26th of July. And I hope people can come, but if they can’t, the interment is still going to be the 26th of July. I’m the widow. I’m pulling rank.
As it turns out it was a good date for nearly everybody. Butterfly-netting the local vicar was a little more demanding because of the way vicars work twenty-six hours a day and rarely answer phone calls. I finally had the critical meeting with the gravedigger yesterday, but at least it happened, and there was a suitable small square hole for a little box of ashes waiting for us today at noon.††
I’ve been obsessing about today increasingly for about the last fortnight and yesterday afternoon decided that I was going to make myself even more entirely crazy and go to early Mass this morning because I needed that sense of the presence of God that the abbey chapel gives me either like a warm eiderdown or a heavy blow to the head, I’ve never quite decided which.††† What a gift somewhere that offers daily Mass is: you have an inconveniently timed crisis? It’s okay. Go to Mass. It’s the spiritual version of kissing and making it better: it doesn’t really, but it does too, somehow. And there’s that wonderful sense of leaning on someone, or Someone, who’s bigger and stronger than you are. Your own griefs and responsibilities don’t go away, but you do get to lean.‡
I’d also decided that if I was going to wedge this in, and still get home in time to eat something‡‡ and hurtle the mob I was going to have to go in my party duds. Which today included sparkly bracelets to the elbows (nearly), a pink cashmere cardigan, the flowered Docs and the Liberty’s rhinestone belt I wore to the memorial service and my old black denim mini. Yes, I’m sixty-four‡‡‡, and I wore my forty-year-old denim mini. This occasional reversion to wild youth§ is getting more and more embarrassing, of course—it became officially embarrassing when I turned fifty which is now a long time ago—AND I DON’T CARE. Peter liked me in my minis§§, and it’s not like I do this often. And 400-denier black tights cover a multitude of the sins of age. But I am not thinking about what the group of little old conservatively dressed people at the abbey on retreat§§§ must have made of this vision in their midst, especially when it sat up front and cried like a river in spring flood through the entire service. Gah.#
So. Well. The little box was lowered into the little hole.## Our local vicar did us proud, entirely without prompting or input from me###, and had put together not only a thoughtful brief ceremony, but printed out programmes with a photostat of Peter’s CITY OF GOLD on the front. And Peter’s brother said a few words too which made me cry harder.~
We all retired to the Questing Beast for lunch~~ which put off the awful moment of coming home to . . . loneliness. With the interment it’s really, really all over, somehow. And I bunged the hellhounds~~~ into the back of Wolfgang and we went off to Warm Upford: I’m not sure if this was misty, romantic remembering or self-torture, but we walked from Montmorency’s Folly to the ridge behind the old house and through the meme field from Peter’s poem—and also, I didn’t think about this until we were already out of the car and hurtling, but we were recreating backwards most of the walk Peter took me on thirty years ago when I visited him and his first wife, which was the proximate cause of his visiting me in Maine five years later.
The hellhounds and I had a lovely walk. Late summer in the glorious Hampshire countryside.=
And then we came home again and I took the hellterror on a long hurtle== by the river, remembering that Peter had brought me through New Arcadia from Heathrow===, on our way to what was soon to be my home too, after our life-exploding weekend in Maine, when I came over for a week to see what I was getting into. . . .
Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. . . .
Maybe I should go to bed.
* * *
************************************ NOTE THAT THIS WOULD HAVE GONE UP OVER AN HOUR AGO IF MY SO CALLED COMPUTER HADN’T GONE INTO FREE FALL.
* Winter is usually fine, if you have four wheel drive and good nerves, but barring March, when everything that has been frozen for the last four or five months melts, and it is not a pretty sight. Or smell. And black fly season. Black fly season is . . . worse than whatever you’re thinking. Zombies and vampires are so overdone. One of these horror writers needs to do something with black flies. Stephen King even lives in Maine.^
^ Although he may have done black flies and I missed it. I’ve only read a few of his books—out of Maine-author solidarity, although I doubt he’s ever heard of me—because they ARE TOO SCARY. And gross. I don’t do gross either.+
+ SUNSHINE’s climax isn’t even close. The only reason it looks yucky is because most people come to it having read BEAUTY or SPINDLE or . . . pretty much anything else I’ve written.
** Aside from the fact that this was not going to appeal to me either. Nor did I have any lawn chairs. Nor any lawn. And my quarter-acre^ was overshadowed almost entirely by the magnificent old maple tree in the front yard and several house-high boulders in the back. And lilac hedges down either side.
^ Which is a TINY plot in Maine and a HUGE garden in southern England. Granted we had two acres at the old house, but here at the cottage my garden is about the size of a four-burner Aga, and the garden at the Lodge is about the size of my hall cupboard in Maine. See below. Or above, depending on how you’re coping with the footnotes.
*** I married him anyway.
† Well, it was a tiny front hall. Two of us standing in it was kind of a feet-and-elbow fest. Now add a cavorting whippet.
†† Yes of course I went round—with hellhounds—last night and checked. I walk through that churchyard two, four, six times a day anyway, because it’s the nearest pleasant bit of grass for the hellmob. We’ll be walking through the churchyard to visit Peter just like we used to . . . like we used to . . . no I’m still not cried out yet.
††† Both St Margaret’s and St Radegund’s, here in New Arcadia, where Peter is now buried, have the presence of God too, but God is, for me, especially vivid and almost tactile at the abbey chapel. I don’t feel thumped in either St Margaret’s or St Radegund’s.
‡ Someone who is better at prayer than I am can of course get the same effect at home. I do pray at home^ and I am aware of God listening, but it’s a lot easier at church, where the church-space supports your tiny personal prayer-space.
‡‡ I can’t face more than tea and apples when I first lurch out of bed in the morning. The next thing on the menu these days is a Green Drink. I will spare you the ghastly details. It’s Very Healthy, and it’s another of those things that as your taste buds change you actually want to drink. Which is kind of frightening. I AM NOT GWYNETH PALTROW. NOT.
‡‡‡ Some of you will remember I start calling myself the age I will turn in November the summer before, so by the time I get to my birthday I’m used to it.
§ Some of you will also remember the black leather mini at Forbidden Planet a few years ago.
§§ Yes, his vision had been deteriorating for a while. And your point would be?
§§§ I say ‘little old’ but they’re probably frelling my age, they’re just doing it with more dignity. Dignity is overrated. And I brought my little cropped black leather jacket^ to drape over my knees. I am not lost to all propriety. Just most of it.
^ Which is about the same vintage as the skirt. Ah, those were the days. I’m so glad they’re over.
# Some of this was sheer relief and gratitude that I got there. On the way, arriving at the turn-off from the main road AND THE ROAD WAS CLOSED. NOOOOOOOOOOO. I NEED TO GET TO MASS AT THE ABBEY! I TOTALLY NEED TO! Fortunately Wolfgang reminded me that we know another way^. We weren’t even late, although we may have been slightly out of breath.
^ There were a few ‘diversion’ signs but they were mostly invisible in the hedgerows, badly placed behind other signs or missing at crucial intersections. More mild entertainment than, you know, directions for an alternate route.
## And had all that deluge earlier cried me out or anything? OF COURSE NOT. I am pleased to say however, that one other of our company at the interment, whom I will not embarrass by naming, is also a weeper, so at least I didn’t have to do the whole soggy thing alone.
### Our local vicar is a sweetie. I feel a bit guilty for belonging to another church five miles away—which is a confounded nuisance on bad-ME days as well—but this is a political decision, and nothing against the vicar here.
~ These began: ‘Here we return these ashes to the quiet earth from which they came. They were formed of star dust and spun for a few short days into a life that dreamed and sang, that loved and wept, and died. . . .’ They’re all writers in this family.
~~ Where there was almost nothing I could eat, of course, but that’s why I needed to eat some of my Funny Food beforehand. And they did have green tea and lettuce.
~~~ Thank you, God, for the hellmob. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
= Full of excellent smells, the hellhounds wish me to point out.
== I anticipate being decaying vegetable matter^ tomorrow. Never mind.
^ Oh, the wormery? Seems to be working fine. I guess. Still rather enigmatic. But it does add that touch of pink to my kitchen décor. One thing however: the bumf that comes with assures you that the worms can’t get out. Wrong. Not many+ and not often, but every two or three days I come downstairs to find a confused worm dawdling across the kitchen floor, or, more likely, under one of the dirt-catcher mats THAT ARE SUPPOSED TO KEEP THE FLOOR CLEAN HA HA HA HA HA HA, which I am learning to check, while I’m waiting for my (green) tea to steep. I think most people keep their wormeries in the garden or this interesting situation would be More Generally Known.
+ Unless they’re congregating under the washing machine, the refrigerator, or one of the hellmob crates, in which case I don’t want to know.
=== Where he had lost the car in the multi-storey car park . . .
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