Our Victorian forebears were rather taken with the language of flowers and could semaphore their feelings through a careful choice of blooms in a posy. Hence the pansy, or pensée in French, signalled, ‘you are in my thoughts.’
Mrs T and I visited Chartham village with Abel. After he had played on the roundabouts at the village green, we wandered into the churchyard for lunch under the trees.
Our Victorian forebears, if they could afford it, erected finely carved stones over their loved-one’s graves. Without much effort at all we found these three carved with passionflowers which represent the saving death of Jesus. There are ten petals for the ten apostles who did not deny him – leaving out Peter and Judas. There are five stamens representing the five wounds; three stigma for the nails, and the fringe of filaments around the flower stands for the crown of thorns.
All this suffering somehow mirrored in a beautiful flower. And by carving this flower over their dear ones’ graves, the three families were proclaiming belief that the dead would rise again with Christ. A good thought and prayer for November and All Souls.
In Saint Mildred’s churchyard in Canterbury, across from the L’Arche garden, there is a solitary standard rose; it was looking quite shabby with suckers at the base and lots of blackspot on the leaves. Beside it is a plaque telling that it was planted in memory of Elizabeth Hover, who was married in this church in 1948 and died in Australia.
One day this spring I could bear it no longer and pruned the flowering stems hard, removed the suckers and sprayed for blackspot.
There have been three flushes of flowers since then. I was pleased about that. But one Friday I heard more. Elizabeth’s husband Albert had paid for the rose from Australia. When he came back to visit Canterbury after her death, he met one of the ladies who now run the coffee mornings where L’Arche are regular customers, including Abel when he’s around.
She knew the returning native straight away. ‘I said, “You’re Albert Hover that went to Australia.”‘ His wife had the most beautiful golden hair, she reminded him, not auburn but pure gold. ‘Well, after that he kept in touch though now he’s 91. He was only on the phone yesterday, asking, “How’s Elizabeth’s rose?” Now I can tell him. Thank you for taking it on. ‘
So there we are. You don’t know what ripples may come from a random act of something like kindness; and often enough you may never know. But it was worth pruning the rose for its own sake. Laudato si!
A version of this post appears on Agnellusmirror.wordpress.com
Mrs T and I went to London to help George extract a tree stump and lay down a lawn.
Just across the road was a gateway into an urban woodland, a cemetery abandoned for half a century. No time to do more than take a quick peek but the trees were starting into leaf and blossom, the bluebells and other Spring flowers were inviting smiles from the walkers and cyclists enjoying the woods.
One rooted cutting of Mrs O’s Veilchenblau has moved half a mile to the Franciscan International Study Centre in Canterbury; Sam and Richard are deliberating where to plant it beside their new woodland walk.
Another has gone to my mother, who says it is thriving; one will go to my brother and one to the dear friend whose willow tree I wrote about a while back. A little joy that will last for years; if Mrs O knew – and I’m not convinced she doesn’t – she would be pleased.
This afternoon I met B, a neighbour, looking for a rosemary bush to raid for her roast lamb. It was more than a little joy to me when I was able to give her a rooted cutting, grown in Mrs O’s greenhouse. B and her family were good friends to Mrs O, so that cutting will truly be ‘Rosemary for Remembrance’.
We buried our friend Mrs O a few days ago. She had a good send-off, the church comfortably full. I was comforted an hour earlier, to see a rainbow, arched over her house as the rain drifted away into the North Sea. A promise that she will not perish! And the thrush and blackbird were singing.
‘Safe’ by Mary Webb.
Under a blossoming tree
Let me lie down,
With one blackbird to sing to me
In the evenings brown.
Safe from the world’s long importunity –
The endless talk, the critical, sly stare,
The trifling social days – and unaware
Of all the bitter thoughts they have of me,
Low in the grass, deep in the daisies,
I shall sleep sound, safe from their blames and praises.
That is one of Mrs Turnstone’s favourite poems.
This particular rainbow over Mrs O’s house occurred a few years ago.