I'm getting ready to go to the funeral of someone who was quite important to me as I was growing up. Some families are issued with an instruction book which contains details of the how to's of child rearing, getting on in life, sensible money management and so on. I think my family had an instruction book but it was largely written in cuneiform script. The family that lived over the road, however, had the English version which was well-thumbed and regularly consulted.
I spent most of my spare time over there escaping from the chaos, cold and relentlessness of our unbounded lives at home. I think my friend's parents semi-adopted me as a sort of charity project but I was also a good friend and sort of sibling for their only daughter who is still my friend some half century later. It is her mother who has died.
When the father died twenty years ago I was inconsolable at his funeral. My friend pulled me onto the front pew to sit next to her and I just broke down whilst she and her mother sat bolt upright like statues. My own father had fled when I was six and this kind man had not replaced him exactly, but had shown me extraordinary kindness and given me some of those instructions I was so badly lacking.
The mother I was a little afraid of. She was made of that stern Victorian stuff that so many of my school teachers seem to be stitched out of too; although she wasn't a teacher, she'd been a chemist and was now a housewife. My lucky friend had a whole person dedicated to her care and I hung around the periphery soaking up the left overs. My own mother was out much of the time cleaning, or later at college trying to bring up the three of us without the benefit of alimony.
At times I hated my friend's mother. She disliked long hair thinking it dirty and I had long, thick and rather knotted tresses. I would have to endure hours of painful combing before I was allowed to get on and play whilst listening to rants about hippies, especially Tiny Tim for whom she nurtured a special horror. She was openly critical of my mum and horrified at how little I ate. I couldn't stomach the difference in the diet, their's was so much reliant on stodge and the servings were bigger. I remember having to tackle her cheese scones and pretend I was enjoying it between sips of orange squash. I did have my own table napkin and carved wooden ring in the shape of a parrot. A thing of wonder to me more because it was mine to use and mine alone, except when I had to share it with an aunt. I'm hoping my friend kept the parrot and it will find it's way back to me somehow.