Many years ago, when I was a young girl, I had a close friend called Margaret. We were friends for quite a few years, losing touch when I moved, with my parents, to another village about 15 miles away. There was quite a group of us really, her sister, my cousin and other children of neighbours and we were all of a similar age. We went for walks, played together in each other's gardens, sat in the darkness of sheds and told each other ghost stories, you know the sort of thing! The usual childhood activities. Margaret and I were the same age and just seemed to click. As far I can remember all this took place between the years 1952-56.
Her parents had 5 children and were very hard working, her father was a chef at a local hotel and her mother worked as well. Margaret and her older sister were expected to help out at home and because we were such friends I used to stay and help her. To eke out their income her father used to bake pasties and pies at home, in short crust and flaky pastry, which became very popular with the local villagers who would buy them. This little business did very well so that they began a delivery service which meant Margaret taking a wicker basket of the freshly baked pies, covered with a cloth, to those of the local folk who had placed an order. Again, because of our friendship I would sometimes accompany her, also with a basket and we would walk a couple of miles to deliver the goods. To this day I can still remember the delicious aroma of the pies and pasties.
As I said, we lost touch when we were about 12-13 years old and eventually, after I had married, I moved about 100 miles away from my home town. I thought of her from time to time and always on her birthday - 1 December - as I knew this was the same date as my uncle's birthday; a fact often mentioned by my mother on that particular day.
One day about 30 years ago when I was shopping in the next town to where I live now, just as I was about to leave the department store I was in a woman of about my own age approached me. She said my name and when I just looked at her said "it is Anne isn't it, I recognised you instantly". I must have looked completely blank because she then said "it's Margaret". As much as I looked at her there was no recognition at all. I just couldn't see the girl who had been such a friend, although I had always remembered exactly how she had looked. Yet she had known me immediately. I felt dreadful and apologised, of course. We chatted for a while and learned that we were both living in the same area, about 20 miles apart. She was married with 2 children and so was I. Both busy mums. We didn't exchange telephone numbers or addresses. A missed opportunity or just not to be but when we parted that was the last time I would see her.
Last year on 1 December, once again my mother and I spoke of her, remembering her birthday. A couple of days later I thought I would try to look for her on Facebook but because I don't get on with it very well and because there were a lot of Margaret ***'s, I soon gave up.
On 10 December my cousin telephoned me. "I thought you would want to know" she said, "I saw Margaret's mum today and she told me that Margaret died a few days ago". She had had cancer and died following a very short illness, 3 days after her 66th birthday. Her funeral was to take place the following Monday. We spoke of her for a while, both fondly remembering all the happy times we had shared. The next day I managed to find her death announcement by looking on-line and decided I would attend her funeral a couple of days later.
And so I went to pay my last respects. The little chapel was packed, some mourners having to stand at the sides and at the back. Her son gave the Eulogy, paying a wonderful tribute to his loving and much loved mum. I learned a little about the life she had led and felt priviliged to be amongst her family and all those people who had known the adult Margaret so well.
Afterwards I introduced myself to her husband and I also spoke to her mother and sisters and they seemed to be touched that I was there.
While I was waiting to speak to Margeret's family the undertaker brought out a huge, enlarged photo of Margaret and placed it close to the flowers. And while I stood in line I looked across at her now 66 year old image and there she was. I was so glad I could see her at the last.
The thin end of the wedge
3 days ago