I went to the funeral of a dear man this week who was my next-door neighbour for many years, and, as these occasions are wont to do, it made me rethink the value and purpose of our lives and what we leave behind.
Listening to the heartfelt words of his children and grandchildren I was reminded of the saying, “people may not remember what you did or said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
Not one of them mentioned a gift he had bought them or how much pocket money they had received if any. They didn’t mention his house or his décor, his car or his clothes. They didn’t mention his looks or his job. What they all mentioned was that he was kind; always there for them, would do anything for them, and that they had fun with him.
He was an ‘ordinary’ man, one of 9 children in the 1940s, when large families were more common. He was a happy rascal as a little boy, playing truant from school to hunt for rabbits in the countryside. He met his wife to be when he was 15 and she was 14. They married at 19 and have been happy together ever since.
He grew up at a time when it was possible to get a job for life in a large, local company. He worked hard, enjoyed the job, was on friendly terms with all his fellow workers, and stayed there for 40 years.
Apart from his family, the love of his life was his garden. We always used to look after and water each other’s gardens whenever either of us was away. His garden was a delight but his passion was such that he eventually took on 2 allotments as well. There he grew all the fruit and vegetables you can imagine, for eating, and to brew his home-made beer, wine and cordial.
Gardening was so important to him that this lovely poem was recited at his funeral.
The Glory of the Garden by Rudyard Kipling
Our England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.
For where the old thick laurels grow, along the thin red wall,
You will find the tool- and potting-sheds which are the heart of all ;
The cold-frames and the hot-houses, the dungpits and the tanks:
The rollers, carts and drain-pipes, with the barrows and the planks.
And there you’ll see the gardeners, the men and ‘prentice boys
Told off to do as they are bid and do it without noise;
For, except when seeds are planted and we shout to scare the birds,
The Glory of the Garden it abideth not in words.
And some can pot begonias and some can bud a rose,
And some are hardly fit to trust with anything that grows;
But they can roll and trim the lawns and sift the sand and loam,
For the Glory of the Garden occupieth all who come.
Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing: – “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade,
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives
There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick.
But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.
Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner in the Glory of the Garden.
Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hand and pray
For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!
And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away!
And it reaffirmed in me the knowledge that wealth, position and possessions, ultimately mean nothing to the people who truly love you. They remember your smile, your kindness, and how you made them feel.
Although the funeral made me sad and thoughtful, this poem comforted me. For, like the glory of the garden, this dear man’s goodness will live on, in his widow, his children and grandchildren. His life had inestimable value to them and to all who knew him.
In memory of my neighbour I will give you a photographic guided tour of the Rococo Gardens in Painswick which at the moment is aglow with snowdrops and hellebores.