There was one more thing to do, before leaving the lovely little cottage and lovely little village which had cared for us for three years.
The lovely little church...
How often, over those years, I had dreaded the big farewell from Shaun’s employing church. Invited up to the front, before hundreds. Given a cheque from everyone, for more hundreds. I didn’t want to be there.
In the event, Shaun’s church never said goodbye to us at all. Other than that night, at the Manor House, in a manilla envelope: enough goodbye to put down on a home of our own.
Ironic, that our homelessness would lead to our very first own home.
On Easter Day we went to the tiny church, whose electoral roll we had swelled by half again. Where we had sung in the choir and read the lesson and organised Easter egg hunts for the children. (Where we had even recorded Sunday Worship for Radio 4, when I was asked to preach and free to name my church.)
Towards the end of the service the vicar announced a special goodbye. We looked around.
Someone else asked us up to step up to the front. All seven of us, Shaun down to Rosie. Presented us with a beautiful biscuit-barrel, full; a teacosy; and enough teabags to last a normal family months... or, as they said, us for a few days; and our removal team.
A pink rucksack for Rosie, crayons and a colouring book. For her new school.
And their love. Their kind and supportive and priceless love, for those three years.
“Say something,” I whispered to Shaun.
He shook his head. He couldn’t speak. His eyes were too full.
It felt bad that his employing church didn’t say goodbye. Not fair on all those many decent Christian people, who had been so good to us. Not right.
We would invite them to a tea party at our cottage. For the few who might want to come.
And afterwards, when they’d gone, a party for all our own friends, at the Manor House.
We invited the bishop and his wife to the evening party. A good hundred there; a surprise choir, friends of Ben’s from London, ’specially for me; folk from the village; mates from Oxford.
The bishop stared.
“Are these all members of...” and he named Shaun’s church.
“Almost none,” I said.
“Then… I don’t understand... How do you know them all?”
Well there you are. Senior bishop in the CofE. And he’d never heard of friends and neighbours.
(He was surprised and relieved to hear Shaun had a new post. “So the church didn’t need to give you any money, after all!”
Oh yes, I assured him. It did.
I didn’t add, because we had Mark Jones. And the church… well, didn’t.)
Our last day. Saturday 18th April.
Removal vans all full and gone.
Last packing and cleaning and clearing.
I looked out over the garden. Someone – Ben, Shaun? – had lit a bonfire at the bottom, the last of the rubbish.
Rosie, in dungarees. All alone. Her small profile drifting in the smoke, a garden stick in her hand, prodding the fire.
Not quite six.
Staring into her past in the ashes.
She had spent half her life in that cottage. I had been chafing impatiently all that time. She had been very happy. We had all made very sure she was.
Losing all she knew...
Leave her be. Sad is all right. She will be all right.
(She has long discarded her pink rucksack. Taller than me now, and fifteen.
But if you call for tea you will still get the same teacosy. And biscuit barrel.)