Friday, 13 December 2013
As we enter the deep midwinter, with our longest night but a mere week away I am reminded of the story of a couple of elderly Yorkshire parishioners and the fate that so often awaits the old and frail as the cold penetrates their bones and lifts them gently, compassionately, from this veil of tears we call life.
John and Mary were a gentle old pair, raised in the Methodist traditions of thrift and charity and lead a simple, wholesome life together until, sadly, Mary was taken from John’s side one recent winter. Married less than a decade after the Second World War and mindful of the sacrifices others had made that they should be free to do so, they had placed themselves at the service of the parish they had been too young to fight for.
Christmas, Easter, the Harvest Festival; for these celebrations a small army of church-goers helped out with the decorations and swelled the congregation, but week-in, week-out for the rest of many years the simple flower arrangements, bringing god’s bounty into the Wesleyan hall were all the work of Mary, with many of the floral tributes grown in John’s little, lovingly tended back garden.
When Mary passed away a collection was held to help out with the funeral expenses and thus it was that John was visiting the local memorial stonemason. He wanted a simple marble headstone but, what with the casket and the undertaker’s fees, his remaining funds were meagre. Fortunately the stone mason made him an offer that was just within his means; he could have her name and four words of dedication for the money he had available.
John thought for a moment of her devotion to the parish and to the church and to the Lord God himself and decided. “I would like it to read” he paused a moment and gathered himself as his voice caught in his throat… “Lord, she was Thine”. The mason scribbled down the valediction and taking a deposit from John, promised to have the stone ready by Monday. John shook his hand, put on his cap and trudged back home, alone through the snow. The weekend was hard.
Eventually Monday came around and John wrapped himself as warm as he could to make his way back down the lane, past the chapel and onto the little High Street. His old bones felt the cold wind as it tore through him, but he was warmed by knowing that it would not be long before he joined Mary at the Lord’s table. Entering the mason’s showroom he brushed off the few flakes of snow that had clung to his coat sleeves and got out his wallet to pay the balance. The mason removed a cloth cover from the headstone with what John felt was an unnecessarily showy flourish. He gazed at the work.
For a few seconds his silence dominated the room. Then John felt himself tremble, at first with disbelief and then with a rising anger. “Nay lad!” he cried “Ist tha mocking me in my grief? You’ve missed off the ‘e’ you fool” The stonemason blanched as he looked at the polished face of the stone. Sure enough, it read ‘Lord she was thin”. John turned away and fought back tears as the mason, embarrassed, took out his chisel and mallet and set to work. After a few minutes, he tapped John’s shoulder.
RIP, 'H', from Steps
John turned around to inspect the altered engraving. There before him, scored indelibly into the hard granite face of the headstone was the inscription “eeh, she was thin”