Tam Collin’s mum’s funeral was during lockdown. Tam was around the same age as me, so I guess that put her in her eighties. I knew Tam’s son too, Tam junior. They’d the piper walking in front of the funeral car carrying the coffin and stopping at their house in Canberra for a final lament, Flowers of the Forest. Only later, did I find out that Tam had a wee sister, June, and I’d been at her funeral.
We’d been in Primary Seven and Mr Jordan was our teacher and manager of our all- conquering school team. He’d a bush of black hair and the kind of complexion that suggested he needed to shave twice a day, which would have been made more difficult by a dimple the size of a peanut on his chin. His suits were loud and his shirts trendy pale greens and purples that matched his flared trouser and wedged boots.
We dressed more conservatively in our Bay City Roller jumpers and flared trousers. Flashes of tartan had begun to appear like weeds on shirts and even baseball shoes. I found it impossible to imagine that my brother Steven (Sev as he liked to be known) four-year’s older than me, had worn dull grey shorts all the way through Primary school. Dougie, Kevie and Me thought we were adults. We’d even went on strike in Primary Five because Scooby Doo was no longer on BBC telly. If the miners could bring down Heath’s government our playground militancy could bring Hanna Barba to its knees and the BBC to compromise and do what we asked. Donny Osmond’s Puppy Love was the kind of song we liked to be spoon fed, but the Strawbs, ‘You won’t get me, I’m part of the union, till the day I died, till the day I died,’ was how our world worked.
Mr Jordan told instead of morning math, were going to mass. A girl’s funeral, we went to mass all the time, and it wasn’t a big deal to us. In fact it was win-win, because it killed time and afternoons were easier. Our teacher seemed a bit choked, but that didn’t affect us.
June was aged thirteen when she got off the bus on the dual carriageway in Dalmuir West. She’d been to her grannies in Old Kilpatrick to have a bath and spotted her boyfriend across the road. The bus was still parked so she ran in front of the driver’s cab, but a car was overtaking it on the outside lane. She didn’t make it to the island in the middle of the dual carriageway. Her blonde hair, her body and blood, was left lying on the road. Nothing they could do. The drive of the car collapsed and clipped his wing mirror as a policeman at the scene of the accident tried to catch him.
White coffins always seem smaller in the glow of flickering candles at the front of the altar. The choir was up above us and the organ breathed into life. We filed into the back row, smirking. Every pew was filled, with the family at the front, and classes from our school taking up most of the other seats. Parishioners stood behind us and along the walls, breathing in incense. I thought men didn’t cry and I was a man. The priest circling the coffin, the chinking of brass on the thurible, and the incantation of ancient rites. Her poor mother wailing and there was a fire in our grief that only tears could put out. Mr Jordan cried and all the other teachers had hankies to their eyes. I didn’t know the girl, yet she was one of us. She’d have thought only old people, and people in faraway places, and on the news, and in newspapers died. But we were indestructible. We would live forever, but for the first time in my life, I’d experience grief. How quickly I forgot. That’s what being young is. Tam Collin’s mum, she’d never forget, that’s what eternity is. Both gone to that faraway place.