Back at Imbolc/First Spring (yes, three weeks ago, more or less), when I was baking my Bride’s meditation Snake Bread (oh, all right, the Phallic Turd Loaves), I was given the nudge that taking one down to the cemetery and leaving it as an offering for Maman Brigitte would be a GOOD IDEA. So I wrapped the second one in tinfoil, shoved it in the fridge, and planned my trip (had to be a school day, or a day I could leave the Witchlets in the capable hands of The Hubster). I’d take along silver coins to pay my way in, take the snowdrops I’d brought in for Bride’s altar to plant by The Old Man’s Grave, share a cigar with him, offer him some Blackcurrant Hooch and then tentatively introduce myself to Maman Brigitte.
The Old Hag’s blanket of snow and then half term put paid to any prompt visits, so MB’s bread went in the freezer. Once the Witchlets were back at school, I had time to visit. Now the cemetery is only a couple of miles away, so I always walk there. I guess I could go on the bus - if I could get on a bus without having a panic attack and puking on anyone sitting next to me - but part of the whole ritual of cemetery visits is the walk there, rucksack on, one step at a time, deep in thought. Only this time I was probably slightly too deep in thought - I nearly stepped out in front of a bus, and tripped over the uneven pavement twice (honestly, you would think putting one foot in front of the other would be something I’d have mastered over the last forty-two years) so I gave myself a bit of a shake, stopped thinking deeply and carried on.
The walk is pretty much all past residential houses, and most of them were originally temporary structures put up in the sixties to cope with housing needed for the mining community - pre-fab houses. They’ve since become permanent homes; bought and sold and mortgaged. They are cheap, and not so cheerful. But there are many now with beautiful gardens, lovingly tended, the pre-fab structures painted, conservatories put up, double glazing put in, walls, hedges and fences painted, clipped and maintained. Some others have just been left with the gardens full of rubble, old toys, dog shit and rubbish. Others were once nice, but now have overgrown pathways, shrubs clambered over by brambles and bindweed, peeling paint on the walls and cigarette stained net curtains. It makes me wonder what people think of our house, with the gravel drive, dodgy rendering and (currently) dirty front door and windows. I made a mental note to get outside and clean the front door, sweep the step and clean the lounge window.
At the top of the hill past the houses I turned on to the playing fields, walking the path that runs alongside them until I got to the Victorian Park. I love this place. The planting is so different to what would be done now. Monkey puzzle trees grow near twisted hazel trees thirty foot high. Rose gardens and perennial borders, bowling greens and rockeries. Huge horse-chestnuts, Japanese Acers, juniper, beech, silver birch and ash. A young oak tree, planted by the Royal British Legion to remember those killed in action. A rowan tree, planted by grieving parents for a baby boy “born asleep”. It reminds me of my own seedling trees, a rowan, a walnut and a holly, all grown from berry and seed, planted in memory of my lost Witchlets (all planted by their big brother with a very green thumb!)
I got to the back of the park and clambered over the back wall. My heels were hurting, but not so much that it bothers me; the new boots had been comfortable all last week.
I leave a silver coin on the wall. This time I go straight to the grave the Old Man pointed out to me last time. I brush some fallen oak leaves from the granite, and perch beside the grave. I’ve brought the blackcurrant hooch again (it looks like blood when I pour it on the granite; dark and slightly thick), and I light a cigar. The Old Man is so much more formal here; none of the joking and poking fun. He still laughs; but he shows his serious side here. We talk. I ask questions. I get some answers, and some admonitions to work harder. Doubt never creeps in here. Here I feel at peace, I feel whole, refreshed, assured of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. I re-light his cigar; I light one of my own. As I breathe in the smoke, I remember the laughter of my Dad and Grandad, related only by marriage, but bonded by being the son/father each never had, having cigars and whisky at Christmas. A sense of well-being and protection surrounds me. I’m a small child again; the only child in a room full of adults who love me. I have no fear, no worries, just the sense of being in the moment when everyone is happy, everyone is loving, everyone loves ME.
I’m a little shocked to hear the words so clearly, but he’s right. Sometimes I forget how good my early childhood was. I mustn’t. They gave me that security; it was only circumstance that took it away. It wasn’t their fault. Illness took it away. My mother’s, then my Nana’s. And without learning to fend for myself, I wouldn’t have survived much that came my way later.
I finish the cigar, dousing both mine and his in blackcurrant hooch. I watch the deep coloured liquid soak into the granite. I’ve brought the snowdrops from Bride’s altar - snowdrops originally transplanted from my Dad’s garden, and before that, from my Grandad’s. I prepare a space next to the headstone, and plant them. The ivy wreath that surrounded the pot is placed on the grave. A movement catches my eye. A solitary ladybird walks past the snowdrops. The Old Man approves.
I ask him for an introduction to Maman B. I’m nervous; I’ve not approached her before. I lay the second meditation snake bread next to the tree. The wind blows, and the trees whisper. I introduce myself. I listen. Can you hear a nod? I don’t know, but something has happened. The Old Man seems happy.
I do. I decide to take a wander around the cemetery before leaving. There is a new headstone on an old grave, put up by the grand-children and the great-grandchildren. It’s new and tended; I will not photograph it. Cemetery etiquette - I do not photograph or tend any grave that looks like it has visitors. Only those hidden, old, forgotten, unadorned are permitted. You tread carefully around grief. I get to the bottom of the hill, and I realise my heels are hurting, hurting very badly indeed. I take off my boots. Blisters on my heels. I’m at the furthest point of my wandering, dammit. I put the boots back on, and start the trip home.
I leave another silver coin on the wall.
I stopped by the juniper tree; one can never have enough juniper berries, in my opinion. Wonder if I plant any, whether they will grow. Might ask Witchlet One to plant them; he’s never failed!
By the time I got home, the torn skin of my heels was bloody and stuck to my socks. Blisters the size of fifty pence pieces, deep, bloody and painful. So be it; I wrap them in sterile dressings before heading up to the school to claim my Witchlets. I put on my old trainers and leave the boots on the shoe rack. I’ll rescue my old boots from the bin, and apologise to them. Profusely.