Friday, 8 April 2011

Ὄτι ἐγενήθην ως ἀσκος ἐν πάχυη

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My dad
Phone calls that come after midnight worry me but there's a line in the Greek Orthodox funeral service - a prayer of St John of Damascus - Ήχος α´ ποία τοῦ βίου τρυχφή διαμένει λύπης ἀμέτοχος´; Where is the pleasure of life that is unmixed with sorrow? I was in a log cabin on the outskirts of Ann Arbor when the phone rang in that different and distinctive American way. It was 1972 before tailored ring tones. It was at 1.35 in the morning when my half-sister, Dorothy, phoning round the world from his home in Dorset told me Dad had just died. Many years later she, the only one with him when he went,  said in passing (how she’s always said serious things) “Don’t ever get to thinking death is anything but very unpleasant.” In the same vein on another occasion (the only other time she referred to it) she muttered “Dad was so concerned not to give anything way,  he refused painkillers.” The two remarks made sense. The prolonged agony of death from stomach cancer, diagnosed a year earlier. The courage to ensure that drugged he imparted no intelligence, even to a beloved daughter. It was not until one mid-summer weekend in the 1980s, when visiting my stepfather who also lived in Dorset, hardly twenty miles away, that I dropped in on the farmhouse next to a small Saxon church; a village with a ‘worth’ in it’s name. I strolled up a short lane to the house. Someone in a floppy hat, gardening, greeted me. “I recognized you. You are so like your father.’ I hadn’t realised the new owner knew Dad. Though I’d arrived without warning, he invited me in for some tea. His family were out. Later he asked “Would you like to see the room where your father died?” He led me up a narrow winding staircase to a small bedroom that opened through a leaded mullion window overlooking a close cut irregular lawn fringed by banks of cottage flowers merging into a dappled meadow that became a shadowed orchard, with gaps for sunbeams in which butterflies sparred. “I did wonder if you were in the same line of work as your father.” “No I’m not.” He smiled. “No really” I said. Later in the churchyard I found a small commemorative stone, hardly larger than an upright brick, Dad’s name inscribed, almost hidden in the grass, where his ashes lay. Ὄτι ἐγενήθην ως ἀσκος ἐν πάχυη For I am become as a bottle in the frost."  In 2005 when my Greek stepmother, Maria died, these were brought to Kensal Green Cemetery to be buried beside her and we, my sisters and brother, with our children, had become the elders.
Maria, Simon and John Baddeley

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