I will never forget the day when Miss Webster was going to show us the snowdrops growing in the little three- cornered garden outside the school keeper's house, where we weren't allowed to go. All through that winter, I remember Miss Webster saying, that the snowdrops had been asleep under the ground, but then they were up, and growing in the garden. I remember a frank speaking with Garath. He was telling me how he had imagined the snowdrops, but all he could imagine was one flake of the falling snow, bitterly frail and white, and nothing like a flower.
I recall that morning being very cold.
I remember leaning against the kitchen table, I remember because I had put my brother, Geraint, who was three at the time, in the armchair in front of the fireplace. That morning my mum realised the time and began to shout, "Hurry up or you'll never get to school." God rest her soul, she only past away a year ago. I remember I replied "Miss Webster is going to show is the snowdrops today!"
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I was so excited.
My mum just looked at me and smiled, the rest is a bit fuzzy.
But I do remember my mother wondering where my father was, and suddenly he entered the room.
My father was a big man; every time he entered the room he filled the room with bigness. He stood in front of the fire because it was cold in the yard, and all I could see was a faint light each side of my father's wide body.
I remember this next moment vividly, my father said, "it's a cold wind, I can't remember a colder march. My father turned around and faced my mum and I, smiling because I think he had just realised that he was much warmer and the cold March wind was trapped outside the house.
"You're a big boy for six," he said to me, "and it's all because you eat your breakfast up."
This was a joke my father always said, and part of it was for me to just look and smile, all the time all I could think about were the snowdrops. Then, I remember thinking that it might be too cold to go and see them. Or perhaps Miss Webster would only take the boys, I confirmed to myself, because we were stronger, and the girls could stay in school out of the cold.
"The Meredith boy is being buried this afternoon" I overheard my father saying to my mother. I don't remember exactly what my father said but I remember my father saying that he couldn't go. And my mother replying, "How old was he?"
"Twenty," my father answered.
"Twenty last January, silly little fool. That bike was too powerful for him- well, to go at that speed on wet, dark night." I'll never forget the anger yet sadness on my fathers face, as he continued to talk to my mother.
"Over seventy, the police said, straight into the back of a stationary truck, a terrible mess."
"He was a nice looking boy too." My mother added. "All the Meredith's' are," replied my father. "This one was very friendly with the young teacher up at the school, Webber is it? Something like that."
I remember turning around in shock thinking that it couldn't be Miss Webster or could it? But at that age I didn't really understand, all I could think was if my father was talking about Miss Webster, what did that mean?
Then suddenly my mother coughed and looked at me sharply.
"Oh?" said my father, "of course I should have remembered. Come on, David, or you'll be late."
The next moment is a bit hazy, but all I recall is it being much warmer when I got to school, and Edmund telling me a joke about Europe. I recall not seeing Miss Webster for some time of the morning, so we had to go into Miss Lewis's class. My memory fails me on what happened next, but I do reminisce to Edmund playing a trick on Gerald Davis by tying his shoelaces together.
I can recall asking Edmund "Do you wish that Miss Webster will take us to see the flowers when play is over?" Edmund responded "I don't care, because I've seen some already growing in my aunt's garden."
The rest of the morning is a blur, except for when I drew a robin. After that I just remember asking Miss Webster "shall we be going to see the snowdrops this afternoon?"
"Yes", she replied, "if Miss Lewis will allow us, we'll go and see them this afternoon."
I bring to mind eating my lunch quietly, while thinking in my head of a story about a wizard who could change himself into anything at all. It was a good story, but something always seemed to happen before I got to the end of it. Sometimes I began it at night in bed, only to fall asleep long before the really exciting part.
Now my mother was talking to me.
"Was Miss Webster in school this morning?" she asked me, "Yes, but she came late. She didn't arrive until playtime."
"Poor girl," my mother said as she shook her head. I thought about this for a long time, and then recalled back to earlier that morning.
I continued "She's got a bad hand," I said. "She caught her finger in the cupboard door and her hand was bleeding. She's got a bandage on it today, she'll never be able to bend her finger again, and that's what Edmund Jenkins said." I remember her looking at me and shaking her head while saying "Oh, you and Edmund Jenkins."
As many of my memories, I only recall a few moments of me running back to school to see the snowdrops. However when I got back there was nobody about, except some girls skipping and giggling just inside the school yard, as I made my way inside the building. Everybody was sitting very quietly inside the classroom.
We were allowed to go in early because it was very cold. Normally we would have stayed outside however wet and cold it was, but today it seemed that they all wanted to sit quietly with Miss Webster, close to the cast- iron shove that had the figure of the tortoise on top.
At two o'clock Miss Webster marked her register and then began to tell us a story. It was a good story, about a dragon who guarded a hoard of treasure in his den underground, where the snowdrops slept all through the winter. But as time went on, I noticed Miss Webster continually turned around to look at the big clock in the hall. I realised she could see it through the top half of the classroom door, which I distinctly remember having four panes of glass in it. Also her voice seemed to be hoarser than usual, at the time I assumed she had a cold, which was fine when she read the dragon bits, but not good for the knight nor the princess. Unexpectedly, she shut the book with a sharp and stood up; she hadn't even finished the story. And till this day I always wonder how the story ended, but I could never remember the title.
She then announced, "Now we'll go to see the snowdrops" she said. "I want the girls to go quietly to the cloakroom and put on their coats. When they are ready, I'll come along with the boys, everybody must wear a coat. If you have difficulty with buttons, please stand in front and I'll fasten them for you."
I stood up with a sudden lightning of heart. I had known all the time that Miss Webster would not forget, and at last she was taking me to see the miraculous flowers, pale and fragile as the falling snow. I looked at Miss Webster with pure gratitude. I remember her eyes being as bright as frost, and she was making sure the girls walked nicely through the door. Just as we were about to leave, Edmund Jenkins waved at me and that was funny, because Edmund had his black gloves on with a hole in a place he could push his finger through. Edmund waved his finger like a fat white worm in the middle of his dark hand.
We all walked through the playground, in two rows holding hands, and I hold Edmund's hand as we gave a little ship together every three steps. It didn't take long to get to the garden. We all bent down, four at a time, to look at the little clump of snowdrops as Miss Webster told us what to look at. I and Edmund would be last to look. When the other children had finished, the other children went down to the garden gate which opened onto the road. I remember it being a big gate, with iron bars and your head could almost poke through. Somewhere a long way off I could hear men singing. They sang softly, mournfully, the words carried gently on the air over the school wall, but I could not hear what they were singing.
"It's a funeral," Edmund assured me. "My father's there and my uncle Jim. It's a boy who was killed on a motorbike." I nodded. Funerals often passed the school on their way to the cemetery at the top of the valley. All the men wore black suits and they walked slowly. Sometimes they sang.
I squatted down to look at the snowdrops. I felt a slow, sad disappointment. I looked around for Miss Webster to explain these simple flowers to me, but she had gone down to the gate and was staring through, looking up the road. Her back was as hard as stone. I turned again to the snowdrops, concentrating, willing them to turn marvellous in front of my eyes. They hung down their four petalled heads in front of me, the white tinged with a minute green, the little green ball sturdily holding the petals, the greyish leaves standing up like miniature spears. I began to see their fragility.
I saw them blow in a sudden gust of the cold March wind, shake, and straighten gallantly. I imagined them standing all night in the dark garden, holding bravely to their specks of whiteness. I put out a finger to touch the nearest flower, knowing now what snowdrops were. I lifted my face to tell Miss Webster, but she was standing right at the gate, holding the iron bars with her hands. I could see her shoulders shaking, at that time I didn't realise that Miss Webster wasn't shaking because of the cold, she was shaking because she was scared.
*Mor ddedwydd yw y rhai trwy ffydd s'yn mynd o blith y byw...*
Sang the men as they filed solemnly past the school. I knew it was welsh because of my grandmother, and it was sad and beautiful, at the same time.
After a while we couldn't hear the singing anymore, but Miss Webster continued to cry aloud in the midst of the cold March wind. As in her own personal way, she said goodbye to her sweetheart.
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