The late summer sunshine and the mild nights have prompted growth in the garden, particularly growth among the weeds. Weeds between paving slabs are always the most challenging, difficult to hoe and not easily pulled. The temptation is to scuff them away, to knock the tops off, leaving the root and stem still in place, able to grow again as the weather permits.
Auntie Shirley would look disapprovingly at scuffing. Eighty last month, Auntie Shirley has always been methodical and thorough in all she does.
Auntie Shirley always cared for my grandmother’s garden, a small, neat enclosure at the front of Rose Cottage. A monkey puzzle tree stands at one corner, a path made from large stone slabs leads to the garden gate which opens out onto the road.
The rural location of the farm must have been the reason why the antique iron gate and railings were not taken during the Second World War, to be melted down for use in the munitions industry. (The war years were a time when Stanley Baldwin, the former prime minister, had faced criticism that the ornamental gates and railings of his home were judged to be of artistic merit and were not cut down and taken away. As it transpired, much of the metal gathered around the country proved to be inappropriate for the manufacture of tanks and aircraft).
Auntie Shirley would have regularly painted the ironwork, kept the flower beds in neat order, and weeded the garden path. The garden path demanded particular attention, kneeling down on the stones with an old table knife, Auntie Shirley would carefully have removed all traces of weeds.
The image of Auntie Shirley working a knife between the paving stones to dislodge even the tiniest of weeds is one that evokes a sense of absolute security. Perhaps it is because it is associated with childhood years and the irrational exuberance that would have filled the heart of a young boy. Perhaps it is because it was the path to the farmhouse which was a place of welcome and happiness, a place where uncles and aunts and cousins would gather in summertime and where there would be happy teas in the kitchen. Perhaps it is because there is a feeling of timelessness about Auntie Shirley being in the garden; Crossmans have been in the parish for at least four hundred years, new generations of them will carry the name forward for years to come.
Whatever the reason, the weeds between the paving stones seemed a thing of happiness.