Tavistock in this case. This is the prompt for our next month's Writers' Group, so I am trying it out on my blog. There are, of course, two distinct meanings to "funny" - funny ha-ha and funny peculiar. I can't imagine why the same word is used for both as there is no similarity that I can see. However - I digress - a very strange thing happened on the way to Tavistock about twenty years ago:
We were holidaying in the glorious Devon countryside, meandering through the pretty little towns, staying in old picturesque pubs overnight and moving on next day. One day, sitting over breakfast looking at the road map and wondering where to go next my husband (who died in 1991) spotted Tavistock and remembered that his ancestors came from there
His ancestry was French and the first one to settle in this country was one, Jean, a soldier in the Napoleonic campaigns who was taken prisoner and put into jail in Exeter. He had been a gardener in the Tuileries in Paris but after the war he decided to become a gardener in England instead of returning to his native land and he got aj ob in Tavistock. While there he met and married a girl called Mary, they raised a family - and the rest as they say - is family history.
My husband remembered that in the research he had done the couple had been married in a small Roman Catholic Church in Tavistock - I think it was called St.Mary's but after all these years I can't be sure. After the wedding they had been befriended by the priest who had, over the years, become a great personal friend.
"Wouldn't it be good to find that church?" I agreed and we set out on our quest. The church was not difficult to find. It was very small and no longer in use as far as we could see. The graveyard at the side of the church was thick with brambles and obviously had gone totally wild.
We decided to take a look, reasoning that the priest may well be buried there, even if Jean and Mary were not.
It was a warm, sunny morning; the air was fresh and full of the smell of the sea as we pushed through the creaky gate and began our search in the undergrowth. After a couple of minutes we found we were being watched by an elderly man who came up and enquired what we were doing. Upon hearing our story he insisted that we go round the back of the church where the priest's house was and where he and his wife now lived.
Like the churchyard, their garden had been allowed to run riot and the house was almost hidden by all kinds of climbing things - roses, clematis, convolvulus - a riot of colour in the Devon summer. The lady came to the door and welcomed us in. She was a tiny, elfin lady as I remember and had such an air of feyness that it was hard to believe that she was real.
The house was old and rather tumbled-down but it was full to bursting with books - they covered every shelf, every flat surface, every chair, every floor - and amongst them well-fed cats slept here and there. We were made so welcome, given tea and cakes and the couple listened eagerly to our story of the family history. They explained that the man (I think the couple were called Mr and Mrs Johns, but it is all a long time ago) had been a master-thatcher and that now, in his sixties, his health was poor and he was waiting for a heart transplant. Mrs Johns seemed older than that but so sprightly, dashing here and there, full of life and such an interesting lady.
When we mentioned that we were looking for the priest's grave they took us to it immediately. It was clear of brambles, well-kept and obviously cared for. Well it would be said Mrs Johns because he was her dearest friend.
Back in the house drinking even more china tea from beautiful porcelain cups she told us that he still lived in the house and that she encountered him on the stairs most evenings, where they had the most wonderful chats. She told us that she confided her worries to him and that he was so helpful in sorting out her problems. Seeing as how he had been dead for a couple of hundred years we were not sure how to respond to this, but she took us up the winding narrow stair to show exactly where they sat and chatted - a small landing with two chairs placed by the window.
We left after a couple of hours although they were such lovely people we could have stayed all day. Only a few weeks later we saw in The Times one day that Mr. Johns had died before he could have his heart transplant. I wrote to his widow and received a charming reply which added that her friend, the Roman Catholic Priest, send his love too. She was apparently getting great comfort from him. We never heard from her again.
She will have been long dead now but I can still see her face as she stood at the door on that lovely Summer day and waved us goodbye. Did I really see a face at the landing window watching us - or was it a trick of the light?