Today is Valentine’s Day, something that my parents never celebrated, for ideological reasons; there are no Valentine’s cards amongst my collection of their greetings cards to each other. Like Mother’s or Father’s Day, they saw it as just another example of commercialism, that capitalist trick of persuading people to spend money they don’t need to spend (and I’m with them there: I have always found spontaneous expressions of love, gifts bestowed for no prescribed reason, much more meaningful). Mum and Dad had plenty of romance their 40-year marriage without the need for such public demonstration. Yet today I can’t help being reminded of Mum’s story of her first love, David McCormack, and how that relationship ended. I’ve already written about that here, but I recently discovered further evidence of it amongst the books at Brother 1’s house:
I had no idea Mum had this keepsake until I found it in a bookcase after her death, when we were rummaging around looking for suitable material for her funeral service. The book, an anthology of verse and prose entitled Wisdom of the Ages, must have been on that bookshelf all my life and I had never opened it. Leafing through it at that time of deep grief, I was struck by how much David must have once meant to her. Then this verse, attributed (wrongly) to King Charles I, stood out the moment my gaze rested on it:
Close thine eyes and sleep secure,
Thy soul is safe, thy body sure;
He that guards thee, he that keeps
Never slumbers, never sleeps;
A quiet conscience in the breast
Has only peace, has only rest;
The music and the mirth of kings
Are out of tune, unless she sings.
Then close thine eyes in peace and sleep secure;
No sleep so sweet as thine, no rest so sure.
For my mother, who had lived such a good and ethical life dedicated to the welfare of others, it was perfect. I read it at her funeral at Barnes Methodist Church, from this very book (standing at the same pulpit from which I had often given Bible readings during my teenage Christian phase). I’m sure that young David McCormack, when he gave this book to his girlfriend that Christmas in 1941, would never have imagined how, 60 years later, his gift would mark her passing.