14th December, the anniversary of the birth of my grandfather in 1913. He died in 1991, I never really thought about how much he meant to me, until he was gone.
The last time I saw him was when on a visit to England in September 1990. He stood at the back door of his farmhouse as I was leaving and said, “I’ve had a good life. Whenever it comes to an end, I am ready to go.”
It seemed a strange thing for him to have said. When he died, I wondered if he had some sort of prescience. Only recently did I discover that he knew that he was ill and that he knew that he was going to die. These were deliberately chosen parting words.
In the years before his death, I regret that I sometimes only saw him once in a year. By the time I felt that had time and money to travel more often, he was gone. Perhaps I should have found the time and the money. Now, when I am in Somerset, I go to his grave, as if to reach out to some past that is gone beyond recall.
He wasn’t the sort of grandad who played games with us, nor the sort who was full of stories and laughter, instead he was a quietly spoken man, an undemonstrative man, a wise man.
He was grandfather to twenty of us, and he was loved by each of us. He was loved for his always being there for us. When the need arose, he would get into his 1950s Land Rover or his old Rover car and act as a taxi driver. In the summertime, his five-bedroomed farmhouse was a place where grandchildren spent many happy days and nights.
At the funeral, the local vicar insisted on giving the address. His description of my Grandad barely began to capture the man we laid to rest in the soil of the parish that has been home to the Crossman family for centuries and looks set to be the home for centuries more.
When he died in 1991, he was buried with a sheaf of wheat placed on his coffin. It was a sign of his lifelong work as a farmer. It was a sign that he had been gathered in like wheat at the end of the summer. It was a sign that just as the wheat sown in the ground springs up in new life, so we hope that those who are buried will rise again from the dead.
Each time I go to the grave, now, I remember the sheaf of wheat buried there with him and look forward to seeing him again.