For the purpose of illustration and impact, this week’s reflection starts with ‘The Story’, and in compliance with current Safeguarding and Health and Safety legislation, this story has been awarded a rating certificate somewhere between ‘PG’ and ‘X’ according to the standards of the British Film Institute. Those who are self-indoctrinating need to read it before they decide the rating certificate to their liking, but I start on a happy note.
It was made absolutely clear by the number of cards and phone calls I received this week that Thursday 18th June is now universally recognised as a commemoration of the day of my birth in 1941. The cards, especially the ‘witty’ ones [which are too witty to be displayed on the Church notice boards in the Narthex] were generous in love and affection, and the phone calls warmed one’s heart. The truth about who I am, and what I am, will only be known after I have left this mortal coil, and in my mind I can hear comments such as ‘Was he really like that??!! He did what?????! I keep saying to those who have an opinion of me that is unwarranted ‘You don’t know me!’ which is the truth and it’s just as well so few people do.
Anyway, it has been a lovely week, and I feel blessed to be one of your wonderful community. Thank you!
Historically, the 18th June commemorates the ‘Battle of Waterloo’ which was fought near Waterloo in Belgium. A French army under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by two armies of the Seventh Coalition; a British led coalition, consisting of units from the UK, the Netherlands, Hanover, Brunswick and Nassau under the command of the Duke of Wellington (an Anglo-Allied army) and a Prussian army under the command of Field Marshall von Blücher, referred also as Blücher’s Army. The battle marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Such battles are as clear cut as a battle can be: and the right and wrongs of the separate causes which necessitated the battle are easily distinguished and understood. Such battles [albeit not so violent - hopefully] happen in families, and today’s story is about a family battle that occurred on the 18th June 1947, my 6th birthday. [NOTE: The facts of this story have been corroborated by my big sister Justine. Not only does she have a good memory, but she was able to add a number of historical facts which were unknow to me].
So that the story may be better understood it is necessary to give character portraits, and this was the cast of players on that historic day.
Our Mother: gregarious, generous, warm hearted, welcoming, kept an open house, invited all and sundry to our home, especially those she had met after Sunday Mass.
Aunt Sadie: a courtesy title, old enough to one of our grandmothers, if not older. She and her sister Mary, both single ladies, had been Nannies in the United States to a branch of the Rothschild family. Sadie Conway was autocratic, strict as a Sergeant-Major, obviously kept the children under her charge in a straight-jacket, a stickler for manners of any sort, and quite frankly, frightened me to death. It was earlier that year that we children had been taken to see the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and Aunt Sadie reminded me of ‘The Wicked Witch of the West’ in the film, who also frightened me to death! Apparently my father said that I spent the whole film hiding behind the cinema seat. The only good part of that cinema excursion was the ‘B’ movie that accompanied the main film. It was a love story, and it would seem that it was far more to my liking! I am still frightened of horror films!
Aunt Mary: Sister to Sadie. A completely different kettle of fish, but sadly I can’t remember her. My sister told me that Mary reminded her of a rather plump fairy godmother in a Disney film. She was everything that one would expect a nanny to be, but in real life played second fiddle to her sister Sadie.
Justine: My big sister by nearly two years. Had her finger on the pulse when it came to a who’s who of mothers’ guests. She knew their names, their profile, listened to their conversations, and most importantly could remember everything that was said. I am convinced MI5 missed out on a good operative in not employing Justine.
Louis: [me] The victim, innocent, obedient, trusting and not up to the machinations of grown-ups.
Desmond: At that stage in life he was my younger brother, the 3rd in the Trinity, and if his luck held out, would be three years old in October …… IF his luck held out! Desmond was famous, among other things, for climbing the poplar trees in the garden, and swearing at the dustmen as they went about their daily task of emptying the dust-bins. If they could have caught him he would have been ‘BINNED’, but fortunately for him, the only course of action they could take was to complain to mother, who always managed to pacify them.
And so the story unfolds on this famille verité scene:
All the characters are seated at the table in the dining room. The table was set with all the goodies on display for my birthday tea, and the centre-piece was my birthday cake. The only difference from other birthday cakes was that this birthday cake was made not by mother, who was a fabulous baker, but by the ‘Wicked Witch of the West’! Aunt Sadie. To her credit she had used her own food coupons to purchase the ingredients for this cake which was generous, because eggs, butter, flour, sugar, icing sugar etc. were all rationed, and every adult and child had their own Ration Book.
The cake-cutting ceremony was the climax of the feast, and Aunt Sadie stood, long sharp knife in hand to divvy up the treat. The first cut! clean and crumb-less, …. nothing wasted, but then to my puzzlement, it appeared to me that she inserted the knife into the same cut she had just made, but no……. she hadn’t! …..
As if by magic she extricated from the cake the thinnest slice of cake the world had ever seen. It was so thin, one could read a comic through it! If there was such an animal as a translucent cake, this was it. It was my cake, and the celebrated slice I was offered would have offended a starving ant! I can’t remember what I said, but immediately I was sent out of the room, summarily dismissed from my own birthday tea! I was incandescent with indignity, I might even have borrowed one of Des’ swear words to give vent to my anger.
Within a short time, I was joined by my sister, and together we planned our revenge. What to do!? It was abundantly clear that a battle plan was in order, and for justice to be served, nothing less than a resounding victory was demanded. Obviously Aunt Sadie had to be obliterated, but the big question was how to achieve this coup de grâce. Mercy was not the objective …. justice was!
However, before we had time even to formulate a plan of action, Desmond rushed past us and headed for the dining room. Justine and I were so engrossed by our plotting, that we had been unaware of his presence further up the stairs, listening to everything that was said. He must have left the table when trouble had started brewing to avoid being either associated or implicated with the offensive attitude of his big brother towards Aunt Sadie.
However, within the blink of an eye, Desmond had entered the dining room and we heard him splutter ‘Justine and Louis are going to kill Aunt Sadie’!!!!
In truth, I cannot remember how the incident was concluded or the matter resolved, but the experience of that fateful event was to stand me in good stead for other similarly embarrassing occasions during my life when death seemed the best option.
I think the words of Jeremiah in this Sunday's First Reading are fairly appropriate when he said: 'I hear so many disparaging me, "Terror from every side!" Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
Perhaps the final words should be those from Matthew's gospel: ‘For everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear.’ ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul!’
Monday 22nd June. Today we celebrate the feast of Saints John Fisher, Bishop, and Thomas More, Martyrs, men, in character, as different as chalk and cheese.
Reading the history of their lives, I think the Prayer after Communion from today’s mass worth contemplation. ‘Renew us, Lord, we pray, with this food from heaven, and strengthen us by the example and prayers of your martyrs Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, so that, always following the voice of conscience, we may ever be your good servants.’
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