Some will find it passing strange, but I have always preferred (most) funerals and memorial services to (most) weddings, largely because people are more human, more reflective at the former.
And my unified field theory was confirmed in spades today when we drove across to Little Rissington and then to nearby Icomb for the memorial service for Bunny Palmer.
Held in the exquisitely dressed St Mary’s Church, with a huge bumblebee droning back and forward across the flowers and celebrants (Pat said later that, in her experience, funerals often attract bumbles, although I wonder if it’s the flowers), we remembered and gave heartfelt thanks for Bunny (aka Vanda Ianthe Millicent) Palmer.
One of the most wonderful women I have met. And hovering somewhere overhead throughout, her husband (Judge) Jack Palmer, who died perhaps 25 years ago. Without him no them – and without them no Guys Farm as we have known it.
Raised in the sugar cane region of Queensland, Australia, Bunny’s was an extraordinary story, brilliantly captured by her son Nigel – who paid moving tribute to his sisters Cally (Feichtinger) and Debby (Plexico), who did so much to care for Bunny in her waning years.
Conducted by the Reverend Richard Rendall and with an address by Timothy Royle, the service open with Cally’s son Daniel reading Psalm 23 and then came All Things Bright and Beautiful. (If only Christianity had embraced Nature throughout as the hymn suggests it should have done.)
Always beautiful, bright and caring, Bunny was forever and always a joy to know, to talk to, to be with.
Part way through the service, Ave Maria was sung from the back of the church – with Ave a term used to express wishes on meeting or, as in this case, parting.
Though no Christian, I found the hymn Lord of the Dance moving. If the Internet is to be believed, it was composed as recently as 1963. Cally’s career in ballet and choreology came to mind as the congregation sang the words, “I danced in the morning when the world was begun, And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun …”
As Elaine and I walked back to Guys Farm from the church after the service, I spotted beehives through a neighbour’s window. Asking him how the bees were doing, he said he had lost both hives in the recent cold weather.
So was he going to buy new colonies? No, he said, not when it might cost £200 per hive – instead, he was planning to wait until a swarm turned up somewhere like a local school playground. He then planned to race across and scoop it up.
A reminder of a very different Icomb – and a very different world. A world where most people in the village worked on nearby farms, in the post office or school.
As we drove across from Little Rissington to Icomb, we passed the hilltop house in which the Hanks family once lived – and where I first met Jane Keay (now Davenport), around Christmas of what I suspect was 1963. The very year, it seems, that Lord of the Dance was composed.
Jane still dances a wonderful Charleston in memory while, at the time and not much of a dancer me, I sat, watched and recovered from a very recent appendisectomy. I was perhaps 14, she 16. Love at first sight, at least for me – and a true delight that she and Elaine have long been close friends.
Jane’s brother, Ian, and our Jesus-haired best man when Elaine I married in 1973, had flown in from San Francisco for the thanksgiving service. Others who were there today, and who played key parts in those halcyon days, were Emma Parsons, Stephanie Judson, Mark Watson and Irene Lopez-Cardoso (as was).
Through the Keays we would quickly meet the Palmers: the matriarchs, Bunny and Diana, were sisters. Like the Elkingtons, the Keays and Palmers had moved around the world as the Empire waned, backgrounds that probably helped us bond.
Yet, at least in my case, multiple homes in early life also drove a process of deracination. And, in retrospect, that made the anchoring of worlds in Hill House (Elkingtons), The Lawn (Keays) and Guys Farm (Palmers) even more important. Homes from home.
As became abundantly clear during the day, Bunny was an ever-warm heart of that inter-familial dance. Non-judgemental, as Nigel put it in his honouring of his mother, and always fascinated to hear more about whatever it was that you were up to.
As the hymn says, “It’s hard to dance with the Devil on your back,” but there were a fair few much older people there today, wrestling with the indignities of age. Among them, Tim – yet somehow in his element, surrounded by the surviving generation of beautiful, bright, loving women.
I just wish that Pat, in bed at home with Caroline riding shotgun, could have been there to say goodbye to her much loved friend. Images of the two of them sitting in their gardens quietly chatting over cups of tea swirl through the mind. The chink of china, the laughter.
And all about us the next generation tripped, chattered and danced across lawns and flowerscapes that Bunny had conjured over the decades.
Thank you Bunny – and thank you all.