Thursday 26 July 2012

In loving memory

On Tuesday I had itchy feet. Not literally of course, but I was bored of my own company and I felt the need to walk. Fortunately, I was also in dire need of clothes hangers owing to having washed multiple things in the next size down in a hope of being able to wear them...

A path through the park...
So my route was set, I knew that Messrs Poundland sold a dozen for a quid and, according to Google maps, was 1.6miles away, hurrah, a chance to squeeze out a few miles. Now the trouble with Google maps is that it tends to take known routes and I could see that it would add little, if nothing if I went the pretty route via Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. A place we pass daily as we march from Contrary Towers to Mile End, but have never been.

I'm glad I went.

The place is simply astonishing. From what I can gather the whole site is, of course, a graveyard, but nature has been allowed to run amok creating the most sublime transition between the stony silence of monuments and the dynamism of life in all its optimistic glory. As birds and insects teem, and crickets do their crickety things, I could be forgiven for feeling I wasn't in Poplar but, given the sudden return of summer, was actually wandering through some forgotten back water of Provence. I felt enveloped by nature.

And forgotten memories of the past.

I was struck, in particular, by one gravestone. It marked the passing of one Olive Lilian Rudge, the daughter of Emily Rudge. She died on the 2nd of August 1929, aged 17. Which, on a personal note, would have made her 100 this year, the same as my beloved grand-mother-in-law. The date struck me. Whilst mourning the death of her daughter, Emily would have then been thrown in to the living trauma of the depression that engulfed the industrialised nations from late October 1929, the Wall Street Crash.

Another thing struck me. There was no mention of a father. Could it be that the Rudge that Emily took her name from had died in the Great War, whilst Olive was still a toddler? A heartbreak that was crystallised when her daughter died in the prime of her life. I am of course making presumptions, and these are based on the next name on the gravestone... Henry Smith, who died at the ripe age of 88 on the 25th of November 1945. He'd survived the war and, maybe, left Emily alone with her memories.

The final name on the gravestone was Emily herself. She died on the 25th of December 1964 aged 77. And at this point I cried. I had no idea who she was, but written on this stone was a slice of sad history. I had no idea whether she had other family around her, or if she simply died alone taking any sadness with her.

And there's the strange thing about dates. The 25th is just another day, yet we apply such value to it and, hence, it is an enormous tragedy if anything happens then. But it's a day like any other. The same could be said of that most innocent of days, the 7th of July, or 11th of September. Or even the 8th of May. Empty little blocks of calendar that suddenly acquire momentous meaning.

For Emily the date would have been the 2nd of August. In the same way for my own father there is the pain and joy of the 15th of December, when his youngest child, my brother, was born exactly a year to the day his mother died.

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