Friday afternoon the weather was glorious. An unblemished bright blue sky. Fine weather for a funeral.
The usual merry crowd of paysans waited at the church; weather-beaten and muscly, stout and upright, with calloused hands and checked jackets. Their average age would be about 80 – reduced by the presence of half a dozen great-nieces and nephews.
With his lean face and crew-cut, the priest looked like a man who maybe runs a lot, or cycles. He was wearing a fabulous new cloak, or whatever it is called. A background of bottle green, smothered in golden whirls and twirls and crosses.
He has a beautiful voice. It makes me wonder, as Catholic priests seem to have to do a great deal of singing and chanting, what happens to those who can’t?
He spoke fondly of Maurice, a shy man who never hurried but always arrived on time. A man who knew that a rolling stone gathers no moss. A true man of the land, like his parents. Maurice was lucky to be born in 1929. He was too young to have to fight in WWII, and too old to go to fight in Algeria. So his life was an enviably peaceful one. He was of a generation that understood the rhythm of the land, and knew a seed takes time to develop into a plant and can’t be hurried.
Maurice and his four siblings were born in what is now our living room. For 78 years he lived in this 12-house hamlet, apart from 18 months when he did his national service. Until his mother was taken into a home in the early 1990’s, he had lived in this house with her. When we bought it he moved into a tiny cottage two doors away, where he kept bantams and a vegetable garden, and his beagle Dolly lived chained in the barn.
Most afternoons Maurice sat for a couple of hours behind the barn, watching his bantams scratching about and ignoring Dolly’s whimpers of frustration, until the opening of the hunting season released her from her imprisonment. The two of them wandered, slow and portly, through the fields and lanes. Despite the shotgun slung over his shoulder, I never saw him with any kill.
Four years ago, Dolly died of old age. Not that long afterwards, Maurice collapsed at Madame Grimaud’s kitchen table during one of their weekly card sessions.
He was left disabled, and never recovered sufficiently to be able to care for himself. From hospital he went to a nursing home, and from there into an old people’s home. He didn’t watch the television in his room. He didn’t relate to the other residents. He didn’t read. He didn’t participate in any of the organised entertainment. All he would say was that he wanted go come back to his home.
On Friday, after four years, his wish was finally granted.