Friday, April 16, 2010
'Stop All the Clocks' ....
As all my photo albums and treasured old pictures are now packed ready for the big move, I’ve been pondering over the last few days what I could present for a worthy Sepia Saturday offering. Then a little incident I witnessed yesterday recalled to me an old photo I had stuck inside my jewellery box. I discovered it under my dressing table where it must have escaped when I was packing all my pictures. This photo was one of a shoe box full given to me by my mother after my twin Great Aunts, Lucille and Claire, died last summer, three weeks apart, at the age of ninety-five.
The photo is of a funeral procession. The writing on the back offers very little information about the occasion. It merely states 'Ralph 1936', and it appears to be in Pembroke. The Great Aunts would have been twenty-two at that time. Claire didn’t marry until her thirties, considered old for wedlock in those days. Apparently, Lucille did have a love interest when she was a young woman, but the fellow died. My mother remembers this being spoken of only very occasionally, and then always in hushed tones and out of Aunt Lucille's hearing. It is a mystery as to why this particular photo, amongst dozens of old family ones, was kept for so many years.
The twins lived their entire lives in Pembroke, Ontario ... my mother’s family homestead. Great Aunt Lucille never married and devoted her life in equal portions to the Catholic Church and to the Ontario phone system. She worked as one of the very first switch operators from the age of fourteen until she retired at sixty-five years old. Great Aunt Claire did marry, but she and Uncle Mel never had any children. After he died some thirty years ago, Aunt Lucille moved in with Aunt Claire. These non-identical twins, one short and plump, the other short and thin, enjoyed interrupting, contradicting, and bickering with each other on a daily basis, but they loved and cared for one another devotedly.
Yesterday, I was parked downtown and as I came out of a shop, I saw a funeral procession go by. An old man was standing at the curb, and as the procession drove by, he took off his hat and held it against his heart. He didn't put his hat back on when the cars were past him, either. He kept it off until they were out of sight. The old gentleman saw me watching and told me that back in the day, all the men would remove their hats when a funeral went by. Cars would pull over to the side of the road and people would stop what they were doing. He looked at me with the sentient eyes which have long since pierced through cloud cover. He radiated the kind of genuine peace which can only come from inner steadfastness.
Little unnamed emotions loosened and flowed within me as I viewed this gentle stranger. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to see everyone stop, to see the hats come off one by one, to see the women hush their children. Just for a moment, the whole world would stop, like you think it should when a loved one dies. I remember experiencing this feeling so strongly when my beloved brother died.
It seems things are different now. We are in a hurry. Life is more complicated and seemingly can’t stop. That’s too bad. Perhaps the nicest thing you can do for someone who has lost a part of their world, is let your own world stop, if only for a moment. This pithy lesson was brought home to me quietly, softly, by a small, stooped, elderly man with his head bent reverently, holding his hat over his heart.
Stop All the Clocks - W.H. Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one:
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods:
For nothing now can ever come to any good.