October 9, 2003

A Present Giving Kind Of Day

Yesterday we walked over the sand dunes and across the golf course to St. Enodoc Church, a tiny Norman church nestled next to the ninth green. It’s a particularly happy spot for us as we were married there. My grandparents are also buried there, high up in the corner so they could get a view of the sea, and so the place has history for us as well.

On my way out I noticed a particularly pretty gravestone for Sir John Betjeman, England’s poet laureate for many years. He was devoted to this part of Cornwall, and he featured the walks and scenery of this area in many of his poems. He was also our next door neighbor, living one house down from our cottage.

I vividly remember the first time I met Sir John. It was during an Easter vacation, and I was hiding at the bottom of the garden to avoid being caught in some elaborate group game of catch and search. As I recall I was sitting on a log sketching on a piece of slate. “Good morning,” boomed a voice from up above. I looked around trying to locate the disconnected voice. Turning around I spotted an elderly man hanging out of the next door upstairs window. “It’s a lovely day,” he continued,” and I’m giving everyone presents. Would you like a box of chocolates?”

I was momentarily struck dumb. I had never met this man before, didn’t know who he was, and began mentally rehearsing my parents strict instructions never to accept sweets from strangers. Plus his tea-cosy style woolen hat wasn’t doing his credibility any favors. “Hang on a minute, I’ll just ask my Mum,” I replied feeling rather foolish, and ran up the path into the crowd of children waiting to catch me.

“Oh darling, don’t worry,” soothed my mum, “it’s John Betjeman from next door. Go back and be polite. And, if you talk to him again, do ask him to come over for a drink before lunch.” Relieved, and better briefed, I ran back to our next door poet, who didn’t seem to have noticed I was gone, and was now absorbed in the process of lobbing the box of chocolates out of the window. It got caught in the many apple tree branches and disappeared into his garden somewhere. “Oh dear,” he said. “Never mind, I have lots of things to give away.”

I turned from his gravestone and walked back home across the golf course. I no longer remember what he and my parents talked about that day over a glass of sherry, although I’m sure it was erudite and funny. But when I think about Sir John Betjeman, what I remember most of all about this man was his present giving joie-de-vivre, and his happiness at giving what he had to others – no reason or occasion needed, just love.

Then roller into roller curled
And thundered down the rocky bay,
And we were in a water world
Of rain and blizzard, sea and spray,
And one against the other hurled
We struggled round to Greenaway.
Blessed be St. Enodoc, blessed be the wave,
Blessed be the springy turf, we pray, pray to thee,
Ask for our children all happy days you gave
To Ralph, Vasey, Alistair, Biddy, John and me.

from Trebetherick by Sir John Betjeman

– Posted by Rachel

Posted by: Frank @ 11:37 pm — Filed under:

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