Sunday, November 8, 2009

An uncharacteristic attack of thoughtfulness

Back in deepest darkest Cotswolds to be at the mater's home village for the annual uneasy experience of Remembrance. Not that Remembering is uneasy, it's just an unpleasant duty, especially (as is the case now) when one or more of my brothers is on a tour in a hotspot. By remembering the dead of war, you are remembering the living of war, and remembering the ease by which the latter assume to the aspect of the former and it is difficult not to become maudlin.

My mother, contrary to what might be expected given her son's locality, does not become in the least maudlin. Her greatxwhatever grandfather fought in the Civil War - on the wrong side, incidentally, but gallantly the family didn't let that put them off - and they have thrown their young into harm's way every single generation since, generally speaking, on the right side - all of the young of which have sallied forth from, indeed, that very village and several of them have their names up on the war memorial there. Rather than regarding this heritage, and the plaques up in the village church not to mention old schools and university chapels, as a sombre warning from history, my mother and her brothers instead view it as a point of pride. They take part each year - my mother and her elder brother, who is ex-Army, of course - to remember their brother killed, to honour an uncle who is up on the memorial and because they used to take part in the ceremony with their father, when he wasn't off roughing up the one or other of the Colonies. It's such a big family occasion even my father sends a wreath of poppies, even though he hasn't been part of that family, or this village, for twenty years.

So now I go along and I hate it because I'm afraid I'm not thinking of my uncle, or great-uncle or my grandfather or any other of those old soldiers. I'm thinking of my brother in Afghanistan and not liking it much. I'm not a very good soldier's sister. When I was little, my oldest brother served in Northern Ireland - I'm used to it, or should be. But when my brother's current tour started this summer, it was horrible. Whenever my mother calls me unexpectedly and I see her name come up on my mobile I have a moment of little less than utter panic. It isn't the glorious dead that worry me, it's the glorious living and it isn't the remembering of them at the rising or setting sun which is the effort but the forgetting them during the rest of the day.

Frozen to the bone this morning out by the war memorial in a beautiful quintessential southern England village in beautiful quintessential southern English countryside, it occurred to me that, very probably, in twenty years or more my brothers and half-sister and I would still be there, and probably one or more of my little nephews would be off in whatever part of the world will be on fire then, and so the whole sorry cycle continues.

So yes. Current mood: maudlin. Back to London and reality and work tomorrow, and all this to be brushed under the carpet until mum calls me in the middle of the day to tell me the latest gossip of my aunt's and scares me half to death again.



Hi C,
I was touched by your post. Touched by the memory of cold at Remembrance Sunday Parades shivering with the poppies and bugle. Touched by the hideous waiting for loved ones at sea, in danger, and those we have lost. Touched by anger at the powerless inevitability that there will be more losses to come.
I'm angry, yet also touched that the commitment to sacrifice and the expectation of sacrifice still lives within us.

Cordelia said...

Thanks, at the time I felt a bit like I was going all Ashokan farewell -we aren't known for sentimentality in my family. Mostly when my brother goes away I send him off with a pint and a promise of buying him a curry on his return. But it's all a bit different this time around. I'm proud more than angry, I think, although I admit shouting at my youngest brother when he went to Sandhurst. He had two older brothers, a stepfather and an uncle all serving. Weren't we doing enough? But that isn't the question you should ask, I know. I feel very loyal to my brothers, and I like to think even if the absolute worst thing happened, I would stay loyal to their wishes.