A few weeks ago I attended the funeral in the village of an old man whom I had met only a very few times, a man who once astonished me by telling me that he remembered me in his prayers each night. Jim was born in this village and lived here for over 90 years. His family has long associations with the area. Deep roots and spreading branches.
His funeral was held in the Baptist Meeting, an early 18th century stone chapel at the top of the hill, where Jim had worshipped all his life. I've always loved this building. It stands four-square though quite small, full of soft pine pews polished for nearly three hundred years by the seats of woollen trousers. Like many non-conformist places of worship, it has an upper balconied storey, keeping the congregation close and cosy. When the minister stretched up his arm from the pulpit below, I could almost have touched his hand.
The minister knew Jim and his family well and conducted the service with great affection. There was a bit of a muddle with the order of the hymns and he graciously suffered a fairly robust reprimand from the organist - herself 90 years old, deaf as a post and clearly not one to stand any nonsense.
Although I was only in Jim's company on a handful of occasions, he unfailingly told me the same old story. His wife would roll her eyes, affectionately. But I cherish the story and he always held my hand during the telling. Hold my hand. Here's the story.
Jim was the youngest of a large family and on the day that he was born his father had been out toiling in the fields all day. When he arrived home he bounded upstairs to their cottage bedroom to greet his wife and asked, "Well, girl, what have you given me this time?" "I've given you a little cherub", she replied.