The sun shone on the day of the funeral in a brilliant blue cloudless sky. The temperature had soared, prompting an outbreak of handkerchiefs mopping brows as a crowd congregated outside the church to pay their final respects. Amongst the masses Vi had easily picked out Clem Barrass and they stood awkwardly together picking out people they had known at school. Vi hated funerals, they never got any easier, and each one brought Hugh’s back to her.
The Chalet School was well represented at the funeral, as were all other walks of Mary-Lou’s life. She had touched so many people throughout her life. Amidst the crowd Abigail felt lost and confused, hearing all the voices around her saying what a wonderful woman her mother had been. Abigail’s thoughts kept churning back to the same one ‘my mother abandoned me’. Robert kept a protective arm around his daughter’s shoulder, shielding her from the looks of the strangers around her, shielding her from the strangers themselves. He could hear snatches of their conversations, the rumours, the accusations which floated between the people present. Deep down he wanted Abigail to understand what a wonderful person her mother had been, but like Abigail’s thoughts Robert’s churned back to the same one ‘her mother abandoned her.’
Eleven figures all clad in black lined the graveside as the coffin was lowered in. They were the fragments of ‘The Gang’, Mary-Lou’s greatest friends from school, who had made their way to the funeral, united in their loss. Viola Lucy, Lesley Malcolm, Hilary Bennett, Catriona Watson, Christine Vincent, Josette Russell, Jo Scott, Jessica Wayne, Nina Rutherford, Clare Kennedy, Doris Hill. Verity stood a way in front being comforted by her husband. A gentle breeze blew gently ruffling the hemlines of the row of knee length black skirts, but none of them felt it; they remained focused on the last movements of their once great friend. In an instinctive reaction to the grief Vi reached for Lesley’s hand; the show of emotion caught on, the eleven in their line, hands clasped one in the other, a final show of solidarity, a final united front.
I often wondered what my funeral would be like when they first told me about the cancer. I wondered who would come, who would be there to bid me my final farewell. It seemed so unfair knowing I would die so young, it just wasn’t right; I still had so much to do, so much to achieve. Now the chance of the life I wanted was being snatched away from me before my eyes, like the child being told ‘no’. It’s so easy to say that you don’t want grieving at your funeral, that you want it to be a celebration of your life, but you know that in reality you can’t stop people being upset, you can’t stop the hurt that they are feeling no matter how much you want to stop it. When I was told my father had died I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel, I was only ten after all and I could barely remember him. With Gran and mother it was different, they were people who had played such an indescribably huge role in my life that without them I felt lost and abandoned. I knew they’d suffered so much in the end that they were glad to go; but all the same, and I knew it was selfish, I didn’t want them to go, I wanted to keep them forever. I promised Gran that I wouldn’t fuss, and I didn’t, but deep down my heart was breaking and I missed her so much I could have never even begun to talk about it. When mother died I became aware of how alone I was in the world. I knew that I had friends, very good friends, but nothing can ever take the place of a mother. All my life after that I knew that there were certain situations I would find myself in which only she could have comforted me in or helped me through and that hurt. I wouldn’t have wished the pain and suffering she went through towards the end on her all over again but, just like a small child, there were times when I simply wanted my mother.
Vi turned round as a hand was laid carefully on her arm. “Robert,” she replied softly.
Their eyes met for a moment, it had been a good eight years since they had last spoken. Vi had remained in touch after Mary-Lou had left them feeling that she owed that much to Abigail at least. She’d fallen out of touch with Mary-Lou before Robert. Vi had never understood why she’d walked out on Robert and Abigail; it had made the situation with Mary-Lou difficult to the extent that it had ruined their friendship and caused the final break between the pair. She had never been sure why she had drifted out of touch with Robert and Abigail; she supposed it had just been one of those things.
“Here on your own?” he asked. Vi nodded in reply. “Where’s Hugh?”
Vi swallowed hard. “Hugh died five years ago.”
The silence between the pair became awkward. Robert’s eyes scanned the room unable to meet Vi’s as he searched for Abigail amidst the throng of people. He spotted her on the far side of the room with Verity, Vi’s gaze followed Robert’s.
“That’s some girl you’ve got,” she said.
“Abby? She’s my world.”
Vi smiled knowingly, she’d said the same thing about her own daughters when Hugh had died. Ruth, Tacy, Cathlin, Livia and Alexis, each formed their own part of her world and each had brought her comfort in their own way.
Abigail turned and caught her father’s eye. The woman he was talking to looked familiar somehow, but she couldn’t quite place her finger on it. The day had been an unusual one for her, hearing so much about the mother she had never known had surprised her. Her father didn’t really like to talk about her and over the years they’d drifted apart from anyone who had known her, with the exception of Verity, so she’d been left to formulate her own opinions. Although her mother’s absence hadn’t really bothered her, she’d still kept a secret dream to herself in which her mother came back home to her father to be with him and be her mother, to be there when she needed her. Quite often she’d been jealous of her friends and the relationships they had with their mothers; it didn’t seem quite fair that she was the one to be missing out. It would have been different if her mother had died, but she hadn’t, she’d abandoned her.
Verity’s silvery voice cut through Abigail’s thoughts and she suddenly realised that she hadn’t heard a word her Aunt had been saying to her for the last few minutes. She became aware of another woman standing with her, tall and slim in her mid sixties with long dark hair streaked with grey wrapped up in great plaits around her ears. Abigail stared, this was another face that meant something somewhere from her early years, but again she couldn’t place it.
“Abby, this is Jo Maynard. She…”
“I knew you mother from when she was younger than you,” put in Jo. The pieces in Abigail’s mind fell into place and she politely held out her hand. Jo examined Abigail carefully as she took her hand. “Yes,” she said with a small sigh. “You look just like her.”
I first encountered the Maynards when I was ten years old when I moved with mother and Gran from Devon to Armishire, more specifically to Howells village into Carn Beg the house which would be my home for so many years. I first met the triplets, Helena, Constance and Margaret, or Len, Con and Margot as they were more affectionately known, who were two years younger than myself, and the eldest two boys, Stephen and Charles who were a few years younger again. My first recollection of them was that they seemed so happy and carefree; I was still somewhat sore from the removal from Devon and guessed they’d never known anything like what I was going through. Their mother, Auntie Jo as she came to be, would soon begin to play an important role in my life. She was someone I could go to for advice and guidance. She had a wonderful gift of understanding people and being able to get right under their skin and figure out just exactly what made them tick. So many people said I had inherited her mantle but I was never so sure; I didn’t think that I could ever quite reach them in the same way that she could. Auntie Jo was always there for me through the hardest times in my early life, the death of my father, of Gran, of my stepfather, and my mother. She was always able to point me in the right direction and help me see things clearly when I simply didn’t know what to do. As I grew older we drifted somewhat, we both had such differing outlooks on life. I don’t think she ever understood the need that I felt to be free, to not be tied down. She thought Robert was perfect, I don’t feel that she ever pushed me into marrying him, but she certainly encouraged me in that direction. We never spoke after I left, she couldn’t understand why I chose to walk out on my daughter and I couldn’t explain. I regretted the split bitterly, without Auntie Jo in my life I’d lost the one person I could truly relate to and turn to in times of need.
Abigail simply blinked and stared at the older woman before her. No one had ever said that she looked like her mother before; people had often commented in passing that she bore a resemblance to her, but it had never been pointed out so blatantly.
“I…” she faltered.
Jo reached out and lifted the golden brown hair that fell straight as a yard stick to her shoulders. “Your mother’s hair was as straight as a ram rod like this; that was before the accident of course.” Abigail looked at Jo quizzically, she’d never heard about this accident, but it did explain why in all the pictures she’d ever seen of her mother she had curly hair. Jo looked back at Abigail in almost disbelief. “You’ve never heard about the accident?” she asked in a shocked tone. Abigail shook her head. “Abigail, how much do you know about your mother?”
Abigail shrugged. “Not much,” she mumbled nonchalantly.
“Robert doesn’t really like…” began Verity.
“Rot to that,” retorted Jo. “Abigail has every right to know about her mother. I know we didn’t part on the best of terms but no matter how much Robert tries to deny it, she is Mary-Lou’s daughter. I remember when the news came that Mary-Lou’s father had been killed on the Murray-Cameron expedition and I was the one who broke it to her. I told her then that she was part her mother and part her father and that she had inherited things from her father, which was why people said that she took after him. It’s the same for you Abigail. You are half your mother and you do take after your mother as well as your father, and so you have a right to know about your mother.”
Abigail stared at Jo. No one had ever put it in those terms to her. People had always pitied her, the poor child whose mother had abandoned her, she obviously wouldn’t want to know anything about her; it would be too hard on her. And now here was someone telling her that she had every right to know about her mother; for the first time in her life Abigail felt truly curious about her mother.
“Tell me about her,” she said carefully avoiding the cautious gaze of Verity. “There’s so much I want to know.”
Time it was and what a time it was, a time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago it must be, I have a photograph, preserve your memory. That’s all that’s left here.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Additional lyrics courtest of Simon & Garfunkel