As the evenings draw in, the thermostat activates the central heating. As the equinox approaches the shortening of the days accelerates. On such a chill September evening, we scattered Frank’s ashes.
News of Frank’s death had reached me in a phone box at Hourtin, outside of Bordeaux. I had been talking with a neighbour when her husband had come in to say that Frank had been found. Walking across his yard with a bale of straw, he had just collapsed and gone.
I never knew what age Frank was. He was never fond of forms or offices or taxes, and, although well past retirement age, I wasn’t sure he even drew a pension. He was certainly too independent a man to look for grants from anyone, his farmhouse had no tap in the kitchen; water came from a pump in the yard.
Frank was a story book character. He was incredibly strong, but with the tenderness that goes with a life lived close to the richness of nature. There had been a “understanding” with a lady for years. “It’s a good thing we never married, we’d have been divorced three times.”
Frank left instructions that he was to be cremated and his ashes to be scattered in the meadow on rising ground to the back of his house. At thirty-four years old, I was still young enough to be troubled by an edict from the bishops explicitly forbidding the scattering of ashes. (The passing years would teach that ecclesiastical authorities would pronounce forcibly on such matters and ignore the weight issues of justice and peace).
The funeral was past by the time I had got home from France, the issue of the ashes to be resolved. I phoned my colleague in the neighbouring parish, a wise man whose word always carried weight. Frank had left instructions in his will regarding the disposal of his ashes, no letter from a bishop could countermand the intention of his executors to fulfil Frank’s wishes. My colleague pointed out that whether I was there or not, the ashes would be scattered in the meadow.
So it was on an evening in early September that a dozen or so of us walked up into the middle of a field. I read from the Bible and then we had some prayers and then Frank’s final remains joined the land he had loved so much. Anyone driving down the road would have wondered at the circle of people in a meadow as the light was fading.
September chill brings memories of Frank – and memories of defying pomposity.