It was my granddad’s funeral, the one I wasn’t supposed to like on account of what he did. I remember the front room, my grandparents’ front room, being full of people, mostly strangers, and it being dark. I thought it was odd to have the curtains drawn and the lights off when it was bright outside, but we did it out of respect, my mum said, ‘though he didn’t deserve it’, I heard her mumble. My grandmother looked old and drawn, quiet, maybe a little confused, maybe she didn’t know everyone either. She sat in her normal chair by the fire, which wasn’t lit. It was strange to see it so dark and cold. It was normally lit even through the summer with each lump of coal being positioned in exactly the right place to ensure it burned properly. My granddad knew about coal.
I remember us all just kind of sitting there in the awkward quiet, or standing if there was no room to sit, staring at the floor not quite knowing what to do or say until one guy, standing with his hands in his pockets, no idea who he was, suddenly said to no-one in particular, ‘You know, I’ll really miss his chips’. The room sighed, parts of it laughed and a smile spread across my face.
His chips were amazing. Potatoes had to be individually selected, peeled and cut properly before being deep fried in an old pan seasoned over decades of use. He really was upset if he caught you cutting potatoes the wrong way, ‘That’ll never make a decent chip’, he’d say, and he’d be right.
He grew his own potatoes of course. Most of the ex-miners in the long row of cottages had a small garden plot at the back where they grew their own vegetables, and perhaps kept the odd chicken. I remember my granddad, the one I wasn’t supposed to like on account of what he did, showing me peas in their pods growing in a wee patch of jumbled canes, greenery and damp earth that got under your nails. We city boys didn’t know how to shell peas, obviously, so he showed me how to remove the stem end, peel the stringy fibre and gently prize the pod apart. It took just a second. Inside, the peas were firm, bright, and tasted like no pea had ever tasted to me.
They were great cooked as well, of course, and we had them with chips, and beetroot. We always had beetroot with our chips at Granddad’s. And we wiped our plates clean with buttered bread and laughed at how Granny wasn’t going to have to clean the dishes as we’d wiped up every trace of food.
My uncle pressed a card into my hand and I looked at it, not knowing what it was. My brothers also had one as did my cousin. I was number 4. I kept it tight in my pocket as we walked down to the graveyard, a procession of quiet jumbling feet interspersed with thick accents I could barely understand.
At the graveyard, at the side of the grave where the coffin was already in place resting on a couple of planks of wood, my number was called and I was told to stand near the foot, just to one side. The crumpled bit of paper was handed over to someone and in return I was presented with an end of a bit of rope. I really wasn’t sure what was going on but I worked out, by careful observation, that after the planks were removed the coffin was being lowered into the ground by a few guys using rough, old tattered rope while we, we had nice rope with a big knot and frilly ends. We didn’t hold the weight of my granddad, the one I wasn’t supposed to like on account of what he did, but it looked like it was us lowering him into his final resting place.
And then I remember us all walking away from the hole, slowly being filled in behind us. I remember my dad, not usually one for showing any kind of emotion, putting his arm around my mum and she leaning in to him. I remember her saying, ‘I don’t want to cook tonight’, and her turning round to us, me and my brothers, and smiling, saying, ‘Shall we get chips on the way home?’