In the last week and a half, I’ve gone home twice. This is unusual for me, as generally I’m a terrible daughter. I let myself be swept up by all-consuming London.
Leafy Suffolk is caught between Summer and Autumn. I’ve carried my coat on many trains. And I’m caught between the old and the new; in my fifth year of living in this city, which often feels like Suffolk’s antithesis.
On Monday, I went to my dear Aunt Josie’s funeral. She wasn’t too old, and I think we were all a little shocked to be sitting there, listening to her brother’s moving words. He described her life. Born in the village, Josie grew up in the village, married a man from the next village over, and convinced him to live in her village with her. They lived there together, across three different houses, for all the 37 years of their marriage. (That day, every time my Uncle said “my wife,” my heart broke.) Josie worked in the village, mainly as a cleaner in the school and in others’ homes, raised her only son in the village, and four years ago tragically laid rest to him in that same church she had married in; that same church I sat in and listened to the words describing her life.
“Why are they making such a fuss?” we were told Josie would be thinking, as we wept and comforted each other in a warm-cold church. We were reminded of her love and warmth; always a cup of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge for whoever called to the door. Always welcoming, interested, full of love. The church burst with bodies, disbelieving that we had lost a soul so full of kindness and care for all of us.
I don’t go home much, but when I do I see Aunts and Uncles I haven’t seen in up to ten years sometimes. They never berate me; never make me feel the guilt I should; they hug me, kiss me, and tell me they are proud of me.
I am proud of them. Leaving the village has been the path of my last ten years, but the village raised me, as it raised Josie, and the village will not forget me, as it will not forget her.
It has been ten years since I left school. The “ten year reunion” was something that filled me with both excitement and dread, and it came the same week as Josie’s funeral.
The oddly familiar faces of Saturday seemed many worlds from the world of Monday. Retracing the steps of our shared childhoods, old annoyances seemed suddenly sharper; old fondnesses equally so. I remembered, as we all might have, the person I was, along with the person I pretended to be – the one who might even have belonged in that cocoon of private school privilege, the prize I so luckily won in an age of assisted places.
I might not ever reconcile the disparate parts of experience that have made me; I might always feel a tension between the world I have come from, which envelopes me without hesitation in my darkest moments, and the world which formed me as part of my education. It takes a village of experience to raise a child; we cannot excuse our influences, and nor should we feel we have to.