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Feather's Miscellany: Funeral Romance

It takes a couple of funerals to bring this love story by John Waddingtton-Feather to a happy conclusion.

Her brothers and sisters always thought Maggie Bradley would never wed; as a result because she lived with their parents, they expected her to look after them when they grew old. She did indeed look after both of them to the end, especially her mother who lived to a ripe old age. As a result, poor Maggie was put on and had no life of her own and was severely handicapped in the marriage stakes.

When she was younger, Maggie had done a bit of courting with Tom Birtwhistle, who worked with her in the bank; but both his and her parents had clamped the dampers on their budding love. By the time both of them were in their forties, the flames of love which had once burned bright, now were much dimmer. They merely glowed and Tom’s being an only child, doted on by his mother who clung to him like a limpet, didn’t help keep those flames burning. In the end Tom and Maggie just had to stand by and watch their love wither on the bough.

They did try, however, to keep it alive, for deep down they were very much in love. They met at social functions organised by the bank and at chapel. They also met at the parties of mutual friends, but these became fewer and fewer as their friends married and had families. So by the time they were forty, Maggie and Tom felt they’d passed their sell-by date and were resigned to living single the rest of their lives. Then fate – or good fortune – stepped in.

It so happened that their mothers died within a day of each other, and Tom and Maggie had to make all the funeral arrangements. Unknown to each other, they arranged for their mothers to have their funerals on the same day but thankfully, as it transpired, at different times.

As usual, Maggie’s siblings did nothing to help, and as Maggie sorted through her mother’s belongings, she thought of the past: how her mother had outwardly supported her through school and college then later, but she now realised more and more just how much her mother had taken over her life. Maggie wasn’t bitter, she felt only a sense of her life being unfulfilled – utterly empty now her mother had gone.

She still loved Tom Birtwhistle, as he did her, and as she sorted though her mother’s stuff, it also slowly dawned that the barriers keeping them from each other had gone. They were free at last to court and the embers of love inside her began to glow again.

All their lives Tom and Maggie had attended different chapels built opposite each other across the main road in the village, Silegsdene, about four miles out of Keighworth. And there had always been an element of rivalry between the two chapels. The Prims were considered a notch down the social order by the Wesleyans, who thought themselves decidedly upper-crustian – almost Anglican, fact.

To make matters worse, Tom’s family had always looked down on Maggie. Her dad worked for the council as a driver; whereas Tom’s father was the manager at the Keighworth Ironworks. He was a man of iron character and dominated his family as he dominated his underlings at work.

Tom had had no say in what he wanted to be when he left school. He was immediately put into the bank where, as a clerk, he had prestigious and safe job. In other words, working in a bank made him somebody in Keighworth from the start; and because he was somebody he attended the Wesleyan Chapel.

On the other hand, Maggie was in a lower pecking-order in the Birtwhistles’ eyes and her family went to the Prims. But Maggie was bright and won a place at the Girls’ Grammar School where she did well and joined Tom in the bank though as a junior typist after she left school.

There’d been much friction between the two chapels in the past. So much so, that a few years before, during a very rainy summer when the chapels had held their annual anniversary charity days on adjacent Saturdays, the Sunday following the Wesleyans’ anniversary, when the collection was well down, their minister had said during prayers: “O Lord, we thank Thee that while our takings yesterday were poor, they were a lot worse off at t’Prims last week.”

It didn’t go down at all well at the Prims when they heard about it and the next Sunday their minister had prayed for the Wesleyans to show more Christian charity. However, by the time Maggie’s mother died many years later, a national unification had taken place between the two factions and the chapels had healed their differences; so they had now only one minister who took services alternate Sundays at each chapel.

Now, as I said, Tom had few relatives and had to arrange his mother’s funeral all by himself. His mother had done all the organising during her life, so what with the grief of her death and his meetings with the undertaker and family lawyer, Tom became somewhat muddled. On the day of Mrs Bradley’s funeral at the Primitive Methodist Chapel, as Maggie was standing outside the main door awaiting the hearse, she suddenly found Tom Birtwhistle by her side saying: “Oh, Maggie, I’m so glad you’ve turned up. I was dreading facing my mother’s funeral alone.”

Maggie turned and stared at him. He looked broken and was very tearful, clinging to her for support. Then it clicked what had happened and Maggie got the giggles. Puzzled, Tom stopped blubbing and look up. She’d covered her face with her hands and hoped the rest of them there would think she was weeping, her shoulders were shaking so. But she wasn’t weeping at all. Far from it. She was giggling uncontrollably, and the looks of sympathy from her siblings and the minister made it worse. It took her all her time not to burst out laughing.

“What’s the matter, Maggie?” whispered Tom, confounded.

“You’ve got the wrong time and the wrong funeral,” she managed behind her hands. “This is my mother’s funeral; not yours!”

Tom looked bewildered, then it dawned and he walked side by side with her behind the coffin as she hid her face in her hankie, still giggling. He sat with her right through the service and escorted her to the grave where her mother was buried. Then went to the funeral tea afterwards, by which time she was in full control again.

Fortunately, Mrs Birtwhistles’ funeral wasn’t till much later, at the Wesleyan Chapel across the road. Maggie walked with him at that funeral, too, and at the funeral tea, seated by themselves, he quietly proposed to her and she accepted. A year later, they were married at the Prims. A couple of years after that they had their first child, and eighteen months later their second. Both were baptised Birtwhistle at the Wesleyan Chapel.

John Waddington-Feather ©

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