Do you remember that Susan Glaspell play Trifles??
Also written as the short story A Jury of Her Peers, but today I prefer Trifles for the way it demonstrates that it is often the seemingly insignificant things, readily dismissed as of little import, that prove to be of the greatest relevance in a person's life.
Now I'm sure many of you will have had to do this, and perhaps you will agree that is one of the hardest bits...the sorting out of possessions after someone you love has died. Second to registering a death and organising a funeral I doubt there can be a tougher task in the aftermath of a bereavement, but something has to be done; it has to be faced eventually.
So we have been steadily sorting the Tinker's little home and his 'things'.
He was very clear about it all beforehand, along the lines of 'just get on with it' and 'don't leave it too long' in much the same way he had dealt with things after my mum died. So each day I would head through the hall door into Tinker's Cott and open another drawer, or cupboard and find things, or look at a window-sill of ornaments and then try to decide what to keep and what to part with. It was only as I was doing it that I realised this wasn't just my dad's things, this was my mum and dad's things and with lots of reminders of my brother woven in, so I felt incredibly close to my dear old family as I sorted.
The first thing to start me off was, talking of trifles, the trifle bowl and dishes and I've had to start making trifle again just because.
Don't ask me how many 1950's trifles were served from this. Jelly poured over sponge fingers and tinned peaches, topped with custard when set, and on a special occasion whipped cream (done with the hand whisk) and hundreds and thousands.
A lot of time has been spent sitting and looking through albums...the holiday in Italy in 1976, camping in Wales in 1977, trip to Australia in 1980...it was all there because my mum was a meticulous chronicler of it all, places and names underneath photographs. menus from restaurants, tickets, even the Bon Voyage card that Bookhound had drawn for that trip to Oz, and which we had completely forgotten about. I can't be the one to throw all that away so it's gone in mouse-proof boxes in the loft and the next generation can decide what to do with it when we are gone.
Then there was a box of old letters. I definitely hadn't seen these before, all the cards and letters of congratulations my mum and dad received after I was born....and they had all been kept. Apparently everyone was very pleased I was a girl though it would seem a miracle that my grandmother's letter arrived from Liverpool at all...
and then this...
There had been a surfeit of boy cousins, I was definitely well-received, and now the doll and the precious doll's clothes explained, and which of course I still have...
Mostly I knew what I was looking at, and knew its significance, I mean bless my mum and dad for keeping every single gift I ever brought them back from every single holiday I ever went on, and how on earth I got that miniature spinning wheel back from Yugoslavia in one piece is anyone's guess.
But every so often something would floor me completely like little bookshelf that I know my dad had made in woodwork at Rowan Road school in Mitcham...
and the little drawer inside the little bookshelf when I opened it lined with my bedroom wallpaper circa late 1960's.
Bright yellow flowers which I adored, and my mum would buy me something perfumy by Kiku (which came in bright yellow containers) for my dressing table. But inside this drawer my dad had clearly collected a little stash of things that reminded him of my brother and I in our youth, amongst them Malcolm's Liverpool football badge and his wristwatch, and a very gnarled old capo off my guitar. A week before my O Levels started my dad had taken me to a second-hand shop in Sutton High street and bought me the guitar in the window that I had been coveting for weeks. Heavens, I must have driven everyone mad because I never stopped playing the thing to the point where I had just about worn my fingerprints away...but there it was, in the drawer, the red elastic capo.
But also in the drawer was a very carefully coiled piece of string.
So what was that all about. Well perhaps my dad just picked it up and put it in there for a place to put it, except I can't help thinking it might be a special piece of string, who can know, so I'd better keep it.
Anyway I worked my way through, 'keepings' and 'partings', and Bookhound came home with empty boxes from the supermarket and I filled them with 'partings' for the charity shops; things that must have meant something to my mum and dad, but the memory and the meaning hadn't been passed onto me. So off they went until finally I arrived at the last drawer, the one underneath the big bookcase, and obviously this was for things like instruction manuals and glue and sellotape and pens and pencils.
Now can you bear with me a minute, I quickly need to go back forty years.
1975, the summer after my brother had died at the Surrey Marsden, we were sent as student nurses to some lectures at the Royal Marsden in London. I was a bit wary but went along clutching my precious blue Paper Mate biro, one of my brother's last presents to me the Christmas before he died. It had the logo of two hearts on the clip and I loved that, and had invested an extraordinary amount of talisman-like remembrance into this pen, so I settled down to take notes as the lecture with slideshow started. To be honest I think it was quite brave of me to walk into the place. I was twenty-two, raw to the bone with grief , trying my best to be a competent nurse, holding it together when I needed to and falling apart when I knew it was safe to do so, but to my horror I could see exactly where the lecture was leading... leukaemia...bone marrow transplants...pictures of the new Bud Flanagan Unit at the Surrey Marsden....patients in the state of the art barrier nursing rooms. My brother had been one of the first patients to be treated at the Bud Flanagan when the unit opened, immediately heading into three months isolation while he had what was then very new chemotherapy, and, convinced there was going to be a picture of his smiling face on the next slide I upped and fled much to the astonishment of the nurse tutor. Out of the room, out of the hospital and I wandered around London on my own for the rest of the day (probably used it as a good excuse to go to Laura Ashley ) but in my fleeing I had dropped the blue Paper Mate biro never to be seen again, and distraught doesn't come close.
It was never found, and I tried...rang the School of Nursing to apologise for fleeing, begged them to go and look in the room for me, went back and looked myself the next day, retraced my steps, but to no avail. I can't tell you how often this seeming trifle has come into my mind down the years, and how much I have seriously missed that biro.
So there I am rummaging through the final drawer, wondering why my dad needed so much super glue, and duck tape, and velcro sticky things, and heavens all these pens, when suddenly something caught my eye.. and there it was.
The identical blue Paper Mate biro in the identical box, unopened and unused, and I can only think that my brother might have bought my dad and I one each for that last Christmas.
Initially dumbstruck I couldn't quite believe it, and sat on the floor and just stared at it, but in an instant I got the message, it definitely felt like the three of them were looking down on me and sending a gift, and all would be well.
So does any of this sound familiar to you I wonder...the sorting, the finding, the deciding, the parting, the keeping...