I sincerely apologise for the length of this story, but believe me it was necessary, thank you for your indulgence. ~
I sat staring blankly at the television screen, just me, the TV and a chair. I had sat there now for some little time, a lump in my throat, my emotions just ripping away at my insides as I tried to summon up enough courage to turn the damn thing on! I was angry, I was an empty vessel, yet my feelings ran rampant. I longed so much not to believe the tape, a tape I had yet to watch, even though the dreaded content I knew already. ~
The Christmas card had arrived well in time, as it always had when the family sent them over from the old country. My youngest brother now held the reigns for that annual chore, ever since Mom passed away a few years back, God I still miss her so much.
No more those welcome phone calls, the unmistaken English accent, and who could forget the incredulous questions each time?
“Hello. Is that Eric? Is that Canada? “
The almost disbelief in her voice like that of a child, that you really were not standing in the next room, but indeed 3000 miles away. ~ She never did get used to the magic of the telephone.
Then Ron took over the cards & ocassional phone calls, the greeting there being,
“Hi there Our Kid!” a pause, “Are you doin alright then?”
A favorite phrase that somehow had attached itself to me from Ron. Both the call and the card were very special that year, for they became the very last I would receive.
A couple of weeks later Ron collapsed and died, no apparent warning. ~
I was angry at myself for not being there and worse, not being able to travel such distances now, because of my own health problems. ~
One of the in-laws promised me that the whole funeral & service would be filmed on tape for me. ~
I pressed the TV remote on/play button. ~
The dark screen sprang to life, as swiftly, figures appeared scurrying past the camera in an effort to get seen and be heard. The sounds of “Hi,” “Hi Eric” fell on my ears, with the odd waving hand slipping by, belonging to only who knows who. The camera scanned the church as people moved down the aisles to find a seat, I strained to see if there was anyone I recognised. Quite frankly I was amazed at the numbers of people present, some sad, others chatting away among themselves as they waited for things to settle down and the service to start. I never realized that so many even knew Ron. Tentatively I looked down at the front of the church aisle towards the alter, I was looking for the coffin.
With none in sight it looked more like a turnout for a wedding, with a moderately jovial crowd.
Quietly, I sat looking through my own personal window, protected from the crowd I could see and waited. Sobbing silently as with a flurry of activity, two ushers wheeled in the coffin on a covered trolley, the lump took a violent jump.
A guttural sound forced its way out of my throat, as tears started to flow onto my cheeks. In my mind I was crying out “Ron No!” and the tears became a deluge. Elizabeth came over and hugged me, her own tears falling over my face.
Settling down a little I rewound the couple of minutes of tape I’d missed. At that point the Vicar entered and made his way to the alter, went through his ritual, then turned to address the congregation. I sat there staring, hardly hearing most of the first words he uttered, these were mostly of the routine kind anyway and he had a musically accending voice that was difficult at best.
It had been decided by me prior, that I would furnish the Eulogy, to be read by the vicar on my behalf. ~ He proceeded to move along in that direction, after spending what seemed like an eternity voicing accolades over Ron and his life. ~
Finally my turn arrived as the vicar picking up the eulogy, started reading. He read with a reverance and pride, maybe the most impactive speech he had done in a long while. His reading and voice reflecting to me, that maybe he had practised this before the service began, I just swallowed hard, only to have another lump lodge in my throat. ~
I come to you today, tho’ conspicuous in my absence, to join with you, both relatives and friends in a celebration of life, for my brother Ron.
Dear Ron, my heart, tho’ full of love for you is also so heavy with grief at your departure.
For some time now you have been on my mind, I guess getting cards from you over Christmas will do that to a person. Of course at times like that, I usually dig out any photographs that I have of the family and reminisce about how I wish I wasn’t so far away, for I have missed you so much.
Not so amazing is how now, at a time like this memories come flooding back to me.
Always foremost in my mind, was always your strength of purpose as you bounded through whatever life threw at you. Many times in my life I have envied you your strength of character, something I wished I had had more of.
But I also remember, your apparent fragile state when as a child of two, you fell off the second stair from the bottom and apparently broke your arm, an accident that soon lost its sense of pain after the crying stopped, for now you had a nice clean cast to show everyone and of course be made a fuss of.
I remember as a child the time before the war and our evacuation to Blackpool, when we had to go in the Sunday school "Manchester Walk" one Easter Sunday I believe, you holding my left hand and Harold holding my right. I have never forgotten that day, for we had to wear little velvet suits that our Mom had made for the occasion, I remember mine was a light Blue.
Even later your excitement at owning your first motorbike, a BSA if I remember correctly. I was left feeling quite humble, for I just had a bicycle although that was my choice. As time went on, the apprehension or excitement at having to go into the army like our brother Harold did under national conscription or as I did as a regular and then you got the cushy job as cinema projectionist for your army service. I still have the photo of you guzzling back a beer on a nice sunny day.
There are so many memories of those years of our growing up, good times, rough times and a few good battles on the golden mile after a few beers, when the ‘Valentines’ took on all comers, I guess in those days we had quite the reputation. Like the three musketeers, it was always "all for one and one for all" with us. I think of those days often and still get a wry smile on my face.
I remember too, all the good times at the clubs, such great friends and friendly camaraderie, as we played our games of darts, cards and domino’s, we did pretty good in those days.
In more recent years since our parents and Harry passed on, we seemed to get even closer you and I. I can still hear your voice when you picked up the phone and uttered those now famous words ‘Hi there our kid’, such a term of endearment from you, one that I shall never forget. I love you Ron, it breaks my heart to realize I will never hear those words again over the phone, or receive the cards you always picked out to send me with such caring and love. I will always love and remember you Ron and all the members of the family no longer here. I dedicate this poem to you that I wrote in my grief.
See you ‘Our kid’ Your loving brother Eric.
Warm moisture feel I on my face
Lips tremble tears abound,
My arms around you in embrace.
In sadness, I cradle you.
Misted thoughts do crowd the space,
In my endless swirling mind
Of better times, or better place
But of this you’re not aware.
I grieve for your reality,
Yet celebrate the freedom of your soul.
As silently away you slip,
From the realm of my reality, into
The memory pastures of my mind.
Eric Valentine ©