Pic of the Spanish chestnut tree in Walsall Arboretum planted in memory of my friend Charo Rivera.
A few years ago I was in France in the autumn and observed their ‘Halloween’ traditions. As you’d expect (being France) it’s a day off work and school, families gather and everyone takes pots of chrysanthemums to place at the graves of their ancestors. So, first the shop frontages, and then the graveyards, are a sea of spicy autumn colours- gold through to red and purple. Everyone is out and about and there is an air of warm and respectful celebration. Very different from the gaudy, gory, commercialised American version, or the macabre and riotous Mexican Day of the Dead.
Halloween descends from our Celtic festival Samhain which recognises the turning of the year. On its eve the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead were thought to break down. So, when there was a power cut between 4.30 and 5.15 last night, it felt appropriate to remember my Dad who died 28 years ago and was, for all his working life, an employee of the Central Electricity Generating Board. I gave him a little wave in the wee small hours this morning. The family will all be gathering this weekend for my Mum’s 90th birthday so he will be with us then too. Mum has spent these past 28 years as a widow, most of them coping with ill-health and impairment from Parkinson’s Disease, which she has borne with resilience and good cheer (most of the time anyway).
I’ve just finished Volume 2 of the Jane Smiley Hundred Years American family saga so am immersed in the looping dramas of successive generations framed by swirling history (1919-2019) and no less intense interpersonal dynamics. It’s a satisfyingly long perspective on the human condition and I keep playing with slotting me and my family into the structure- the story of a complex and expanding family told in 100 chapters of about 20 pages, one for each year. I saw Jane Smiley speak (about these books and US politics) at last year’s Ilkley Literature Festival. She is formidable and funny, around the same age as me and with similar attitudes, values, doubts and confusions.
It’s been marvellous to have time for these books and for Thinking. Highly underrated these days- increasingly squeezed out (for me anyway) by electronic chatter. Also, I’ve had no alcohol for a couple of weeks now and think that has helped with the thinking. Apart from greater clarity I can see how my depressive turn of mind before the op twisted so many of my thoughts, memories and ideas seemed to twist into something negative and mournful, disturbing. Now I’m lying here chewing over the same material, the mental landscape of stories, coincidences, connections that make up ‘me’. And, overwhelmingly, they make me feel happy and grateful.
So this has brought to mind another beautiful person who died 17 years ago, my dear friend Charo, who used to describe my expansive and interesting life, as she saw it, as my ‘web’, another nice echo of Halloween. I miss her still. And all the others- Pete, Barry, Mary, Daisy, Ken, Phyll, Fred, Ruth, Tommy, Edna, Lily, Pearson, Molly, Norman, lots more. Good to bring them back in remembering.
I hope this isn’t maudlin. It doesn’t feel it.
In terms of the hip, healing and recovery, I’m much better. Had a scare about my leg swelling up but checked it out and it’s OK- uncomfortable but just one of those things, apparently. Everything else is still improving. I keep setting off to walk around the house forgetting my crutches- it’s a miracle.