Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: REMEMBER (10/19/17)
- TITLE: A Candle, a Camera and Elsie Bannerman’s Grave
By Melanie Kerr
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I’m older now and it’s not a dare but homework for Religious Education. Not homework as such. More a one off challenge that could earn Lisa a house point. She’s not a high flyer, is my Lisa. She tells me it’s an easy house point. Nothing to do with test results, arriving on time every morning or good behaviour for a whole term. Rewards for these kinds of things are not within reach of my little girl.
“All Saint’s Day, Mum,” she tells me. That’s the day after Halloween. Lisa has decided not to trick or treat this year. She tells me that Miss Johnston will be in her house with all the lights turned off, under the duvet with a torch and a book. She doesn’t approve of all the ghost stuff. Lisa worships the ground Miss Johnston walks on and what I haven’t been told about her is not worth knowing. By all accounts, All Saint’s Day could be named after her.
Lisa needs a picture of herself and a candle standing next to the grave of a relative who died.
“It’s about remembering and celebrating that person’s life,” she tells me.
The trouble is we don’t have any relatives buried nearby. We have not lived here that long and our relatives are buried in that same cemetery where the gravestone moved. A small village on the Northamptonshire border. The living relatives still live there. They didn’t inherit my father’s wanderlust spirit.
“Let’s just pick a gravestone, light the candle and take the picture,” says Lisa. Miss Johnston, it would seem, is not all seeing. She will never know that Elsie Bannerman…wife of Angus…mother to Jennifer and Elisabeth, is not related to us.
There’s a line of poetry inscribed on the bottom of the gravestone. Lisa reads the words, her finger touching the letters.
“So,” I say, trying to enter into the spirit of All Saint’s Day, “What do you remember about Elsie just in case you’re asked. We need to get our story straight.”
I fumble in my pocket for the candle and a lighter. I imagine that Elsie might be the kind of woman who frowned when I smoked a cigarette standing just outside the backdoor. I am trying to kick the habit.
I light the candle and pass it over to Lisa. She hands me her mobile phone. All she needs to do is to show Miss Johnston the picture on the phone to get the house point.
We begin to weave the story of Elsie’s life. A keen knitter, perhaps. Baby clothes, of course, and the occasional Shetland jumper. She baked the best ever cakes and always let you run a finger around the bowl at the end. Stiff back and an even stiffer upper lip. Not one for elaborate shows of emotion.
“She fell over on the ice one time,” says Lisa. “She made me promise not to tell anyone. Certainly not you. You would have gotten an ambulance or something. They would have put her in a home. She wanted to stay in her house.”
The words have a ring of truth about them. We’re not talking about the mysterious Elsie any more. We’re talking about my mother, Lisa’s grandmother. I try to regret moving from the village but the smallness of it stifled me. I should have lived nearer. When we visited, mum was on her best behaviour. We never saw her during her worst moments as the others did. We thought…I thought…she was stronger than she was. Lisa knew better.
Since the funeral we’ve never really talked about her, Lisa and I.
Now we talk. Words tumble out. And tears too. We recount the stories we have told before and tell each other new ones.
All Saints Day. We remember and celebrate the life of Ellen Elaine Radcliffe as we sit beside the grave of a stranger.
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