A Rose for Mary Matilda
GARY SAUNDERS email@example.com @Saltwirenetwork Gary Saunders is a retired forester/naturalist who writes to understand and share.
One Sunday when I was eight or nine and the Bay was flat calm I was down by the landwash dreamily skipping flat rocks as Newfoundland boys have always done. You try to make them hop as far as possible before they turn, tilt and sink. It takes practice. And Sundays back then, with no boats stirring, were perfect for that. Suddenly a woman's voice whispered in my ear, so close it made me jump: “Do you know that every rock you throw on Sunday must be picked up in the next life?” “No-o,” I stammered, craning to see her face. “'Tis true,” said Grandma Saunders with a sigh, as she took the next rock from my hand. “You're old enough now to know better.” “I--I'M sorry Grandma,” I said, slinking away. For by then I must have slung hundreds. It was to be the first of her many attempts to save my immortal soul. 'Twasn't that she was hard-hearted or legalistic. On the contrary, she was generous and fun-loving. In my earliest memory I see her beckoning for my cousin Frank and me, busy digging a snow cave outside her kitchen window, to come in for ‘lassy’ buns hot from the oven. No; except for her Sunday policing she was the best of grandmothers, much more fun than her husband, Grandpa Frank. She teased us, she told funny stories, she made up funny songs. I can see her now, above average height with mirthful brown eyes behind roundrimmed spectacles, her oval face framed by bobbed graying hair. I hear the soft accents of her Poole ancestors – “winder” for window, “medder” for meadow - her cadences informed by years of reading the 1611 King James Bible, her speech salted with the homely Anglosaxon words of Bishop Thomas Cranmer's even older Book of Common Prayer, words still recited at weddings and funerals across diverse Protestant faiths: “With this ring I thee wed…ashes to ashes, dust to dust...and there is no health in us.” All of which begged the question—why me? Why did I do or not do to make her fret so for my spiritual welfare? I wasn't even her first grandson. That was my brother, seven years older. Was I really that bad? Well, yes and no. Boys will be boys; she knew that, having raised four of her own. But when my brother was little, her two youngest were still at home, keeping her busy. By the time I arrived she had more leisure, time to milk her cow, tend her rose garden, do church work, watch over me. “The Devil finds work for idle hands,” she always said. It wasn't meddling. It was her duty as my only living grandmother. Well she might. One day when no one was about I climbed up on the wood box and stole some matches from behind the stove. They weren't safety matches, but the colourful strike-anywhere sort. I'd often watched my parents light the morning fire and I had a plan. By the time Mom found me in the woodshed beside our house, I had a nice little fire of shavings going on a workbench. With a terrifying screech she yanked me away and beat out the flame with her apron. It was a near, near thing. We could have lost not only the shed and our winter's firewood but the house as well. I got a lacing - a few stinging swipes about the legs with an alder switch - and never stole matches again. Decades later, to honour her death in 1979 at 97, I transplanted an English rose from her neglected Gander Bay garden to our then summer place on Twillingate Island. It still blooms.