Sad news

At 4:20 pm I pushed open the front door of 61, took off my jacket and hung it on the big cloakroom hook above the letter slot on the back of the door. My sister Coral, now in class one in the girls’ section of Lawson Secondary Modern, sat at the kitchen table and my dad in the easy chair in front of the fire. The ‘queen’s chair’, opposite was empty. My older brother Tommy would not get home from work until Uncle Ronnie dropped him off at 5:30pm.

Dad turned to face me. The look on his face told the story. “Granddad died this morning son.”

Dad always added ‘son’ to the conversation when he wanted to display affection or comfort.

“Your Mam is there now, you’d better go ‘round.”

Without a word I retrieved my coat and stepped out into the darkening street. Thrusting my hands into my trouser pockets I trudged forlornly up Charles Street, past Norman Gill’s house, then left into Trinity Terrace. I wondered what I would encounter when I got there. Crossing over James Street, I passed Smelly Layton’s on the opposite corner to the Crown and Mitre, and entered Harrison Street.

I glanced in the windows of Aunty Myra’s and Aunty Vangie’s as I proceeded, and three minutes after leaving home I arrived at number 34, next door to Uncle Teddy and Aunty Edie’s. I hesitated, let out a resigned sigh and opened the door.

Grandad had been very ill for some time and I’d sat with him upstairs on a number of occasions while other pressing chores needed attention by Mam and Aunty. Often the old man was delirious and I was thankful when my duty was relieved. Now he was gone.

The room was full of people, mostly family. Mam gave me a hug and told me that Granddad was upstairs being washed and dressed before the Co-op funeral directors came with the coffin. After a brief stay I said my goodbyes and went back home. Never having encountered a death before, I tried to imagine what was happening at my grandparents’ home. I dreaded having to return to Gran’s that evening to go to bed and delayed the inevitable for as long as I could.

“You’d better get to bed or you won’t get up for school,” Dad gently offered.

When I walked in I got a shock to see the open coffin under the window. I quickly walked past, averting my eyes, afraid of what I might see.

My Aunt, seeing my discomfort, hugged me. “He wouldn’t hurt you when he was alive, so he certainly won’t hurt you now,” she whispered quietly.

I nodded, said goodnight and headed up the stairs. As I lay in bed that night before drifting off to sleep, I recalled with affection and sadness the many times I spent with Granddad at home or at his beloved allotment.

Tommy’s recollections:

‘When I got round Gran’s, all the great aunts were there talking and protecting Grandad in the open coffin. I stayed up with them for a while. In the morning I got ready and went downstairs and just before I left I had another look at Grandad and he had a cloth over his face so I made myself lift it up and saw that he looked ok, but his mouth was twisted a bit. We all went to school or work and knew nothing about the funeral.’

I woke about seven as usual and peered out of the window to check the time on the church clock. Tommy had already left for work. It was still quite dark and the house was deathly silent. Gran and Aunty Freda were still asleep. I knew that I would have to pass the open coffin to leave the house. I dressed, went downstairs and crossed the room, staring at the floor the whole time. The lid of the coffin was leaning against the wall between the coffin and the front door. There was a shiny metal plaque on the lid and I paused to read it. ‘James Turner, 72 years’.

I forced myself not to look into the casket. I opened the door and stepped out into the deserted street. I loved my Granddad, but did not shed one tear.

“I wish I’d been brave enough to say goodbye,” I later confided to Mam.

Fats Domino – ‘Valley of Tears’ 1957
Spend the rest of my days without any cares
Everyone understands me in the valley of tears

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