The frost clung to the surroundings as I made my way down the old crooked path. It was early morning and the sun was attempting to wedge its way through the clouds: it remained ice cold. There was little life to be seen - most animals were hidden away from the dangers and cruelty of winter. They had collected their food and were snuggled away ready to sleep the months through. At that moment I wished I could join them. Why couldn’t I run away and hide until I was ready to face life again? As I trod over the cold granite with the fellow mourners I could see nothing of happiness. Everything hung in dismay as if even nature knew this was a wretched and lonely place. I imagined the gloomy individuals walking this route over the decades. It was a path that had to be travelled but very few were ready or willing to face its destination. Instead we all hoped something would suddenly change and that our fate would be reversed. The daunting doors appeared ahead and I made my way inside along with the others – all of us coated in black. I shivered, no longer because of the temperature but rather fear, as I made my way inside the thick stone walls. The mighty roof towered over me shadowy and oppressive.
I found my pew and sat down alone to wait. The tranquilising smell of burning incense combined with my tired state almost lulled me to unconsciousness but a stern voice suddenly called for the beginning of the service and I turned to face the altar. It was covered in a white cloth which hung loosely over the sides clearly too big. A cross made up the centrepiece and a candle stood on either side. I’d never been to a church before but I knew granddad had. I imagined him looking at this cross and, like me, wondering why life had to happen the way it did.
The music sounded and they began to enter - the robed man and the six friends of my grandfather. I only knew one of them. They had gone to school together and granddad would always tell stories of their misbehaving - tricking the teacher and missing classes. I saw his friend dim with dread no longer a schoolboy with a future of brightness ahead. His head hung low as he made his way down the aisle. The lid of the coffin was lifted and his face tightened as he saw his friend for the last time. Granddad’s face was withered and frail, his lips rose pink and dry. They had dressed him in his favourite suit especially for the occasion. His body lay stiff, fragile and delicate – but strangely imposing. This was not how I remembered him. Vulnerability and helplessness had overcome him. His intelligent being was hidden - deposed by death.
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It was a spring morning and the lake glistened in the sun. Not a ripple disturbed the perfect reflections. The smell of freshly painted wood hung in the air as the boat entered the water. Its green body caused it to appear like a lily-pad against the still expanse. I was trembling with excitement: I had never been on a boat before. We lived in the town where buildings filled the landscape. It was only when I came here on holiday that I got to see the amazing aspects of nature so forgotten in cities where cars and buses have taken over. First grandfather gave me a rod. He smiled as I looked at this alien object with uncertain eyes. He loaded the reel, explained how to make a blot knot, stuck on the tiny squirming pinkie and cast into the distance. He stressed the importance of doing this properly so as to avoid whipping your neighbour or startling the surrounding fish. Looking at granddad I stared intently at the thick folds throughout his face, his hunched over body and the shadows beneath his eyes. As he cautiously scanned the horizon he noticed my attention had wavered and stared right into my soul seemingly extracting my thoughts.
“Ethan, old age is nothing to fear but something to grasp with open arms and imagine the life past and still to come. You must remember that. This moment will pass but the memory remains forever and that’s what we hold on to even when death arrives.”
I turned away not sure what he meant and focused back on my fishing.
My line went taut and I was pulled back to the present. The fish wriggled desperately trying to free itself from the cruel spike threatening its life. It was helpless against my strong grasp. My determination to impress granddad and the weak power of the fish enabled me to reel the rod all the way in. I had caught a fish – a trout! It was avocado green speckled pink. I knew little of the types of fish but granddad told me it was a Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout native to this area. He smiled proud of what I had gained.
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I wept bitter with regret as the pastor began to talk of grandfather’s life in such a dispassionate way. He knew nothing of the love I felt for him, of the kindness grandfather showed or of the suffering he endured in his last years. I wished I could have stood up and conjured up something which may have done him justice rather than this monatomic drone of weddings, birthdays and jobs. This was not all that my grandfather was. He was more than this. The room silenced as the pastor took to his seat. The roof of the coffin was replaced and the congregation bowed their heads remembering the man in their own way. I saw, not the cold lifeless face that had been laid before me this morning but the bright and warm-hearted glow from that fishing day. I saw him in his heaven with doves fluttering above a crystal ocean full of the most beautiful creatures.
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