THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT
by Jennifer Ball nee Morgan
This article was originally published in the April 2010 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
Three years ago, having a rather special birthday looming up, I decided that I would treat myself to a rather special birthday present to commemorate the event.
I had known my paternal Great Grandparents grave in the village of Penally in Pembrokeshire for well over half a century. They had both died in the nineteen twenties and the original marker had been made by Fred, the youngest of their twelve children. It was Fred who had taken over his father's business of village carpenter and undertaker as well as his duties as verger. The tall cross and the three little steps it stood upon were formed from concrete as were the edging stones and the whole painted white with black lettering. The plot itself lies behind the east wall of the church of St. Nicholas and St. Teilo, above the road that runs below and overlooking the farm yard, part of the golf course and the sea beyond. Anyone passing could look up and see the cross. All in all a very satisfactory memorial that was admired by the family.
However, over the years the cross had broken off at the base as so often happens and the lettering became indecipherable. Each time I visited I would think about replacing it but could never make up my mind as to how to go about the task. None of the family now lived in the village, many had died. I was really only in regular contact with one of my father's previously numerous cousins. I knew of others still alive and also of some of the many Great Grandchildren of Thomas and Martha like me. Should I try to contact everyone I asked myself and knew it would be impossible. I would be bound to leave someone out and I did not want to offend. I also realised that each person would have different ideas of what would be appropriate. They would think I wanted contributions towards the cost. The more I thought about it the more complicated it got so I did nothing for years.
It was the big birthday looming that made me realise that if I wanted to see the original memorial replaced I had to get on with it without further delay. I spoke to Fred's daughter and explained what I wanted to do and why. I asked her what she thought of the idea. She was all for it but embarrassed because she said she thought that her generation should have done what was now necessary. My opinion was that it did not matter who replaced the memorial as long as it was replaced and we both agreed on that.
Thus encouraged I wrote to the local curate who referred me to the Vicar of Tenby and he in turn kindly gave me permission for the replacement subject to my organising same through a local company who were aware of the rules governing the churchyard. Telephone discussions took place, instructions were put it writing and the work was carried out in due course. The old broken cross and steps were removed along with the edging stones. In many ways it would have been good to repeat the original design but I felt that I needed to replace it with one that would last much longer. A thick black granite stone with a hand carved inscription took its place. It was not that I am fond of black granite but the stone on Fred's grave just behind his parents is black granite and so it linked the two together. I would have chosen gold lettering but was advised that hand carved letters would be better because they would last longer and need no maintenance. I took the opportunity to enlarge the inscription to include my Great Grandfather's service to the church as verger for thirty six years and included the name of his eldest son, my Grandfather. "Faithful unto death" was part of the original inscription from the Family Bible when it was presented to Thomas, then aged twenty six, by the Rev. Harries in 1883 ‘in respect of several years of usefulness in Clarbeston Road Sabbath School.’
I remain pleased with my 70th birthday present. I feel that I have left my Great Grandparents and future generations a memorial that should last for many years to come. There was an unexpected bonus. I had thought that relations did visit the grave when they were in the area and so it proved. Finding the memorial replaced many have got in contact. We have enjoyed meeting, enlarged the details on the family tree, swapped stories and photographs and taken pleasure in just being in each others company. Small wonder that I remain pleased with the present I bought myself.
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