Snippets of Downshire Life – Eastertide – Good Friday
The Finchbottom Vale nestles comfortably between the Ancient Dancingdean Forest to the south and the rolling Pepperstock Hills in the north, and to the east 15 miles inland from Sharpington-By-Sea, equidistant between the seaside resort and Pepperstock Green was the rambling village of Brookley and at its heart was St Mildred’s Church.
The villager’s spiritual needs were met by its vicar Rev Cecil Payne who lived at the adjacent vicarage with his wife Lily and their six unmarried daughters, Chrissie, Daniela, Hazel, Heather, Katie and Elise.
Cecil and Lily loved their children very much but as they reached the time in their lives when they were nearing their sixties and they had expectations for their daughters.
For Lily her hopes involved the grandchildren that were not forthcoming whereas Cecil just wanted them to spread their wings, but as Easter loomed, there was no sign of either of them getting their wish, but the power of prayer was a wonderful thing and both parents prayed for their daughters.
They would perhaps have been slightly encouraged by the fact that the second eldest of the brood, Daniela, already had someone in her sights, and that was George Parnait, the verger.
She had been carrying a torch for him since Christmas, but she hadn’t made any progress, despite the fact that she had volunteered for every church event, meeting and service that she knew he would be at.
Daniela was well placed to do that because she was employed by the church in an administration role and one of her duties was to manage the schedules and rotas and she cherry picked the dates to match those of George, it was unethical and unprofessional, but she reconciled it that with the fact that it was in a good cause.
On Good Friday they were to be working together preparing for the service.
It was an important day in the church calendar and could either be at noon or in the evening but at St Mildred’s it was the latter.
Which meant they had all day to get ready and she had arranged it that way as it was important for her to have him to herself for most of it.
On the morning of Good Friday, she was in the family bathroom at the vicarage making the final adjustments to her appearance and she was at the mirror pinning the final errant strands of hair into place.
Her straight honey blonde hair was tied in bun at the back, but she always wore a fringe.
When she worked in the office she normally often wore gold rimmed half-moon spectacles, but they were only for reading and she often just peered over the top of them rather than keep taking them off.
But there was no need for them in the church so as she stood before the mirror there was nothing obscuring her pleasant unblemished face, a face that turned to pretty when she smiled.
Daniela stepped backwards so she could get a better look at the rest of her.
The Blue patterned dress with contrasting navy collar and cuffs was tailored to fit and defined her figure exquisitely.
She turned sideways to get another view and scanned herself from top to bottom.
She was not unhappy with the overall appearance, she was a little broader in the beam than she would have liked, her legs were good, she liked her legs even in thick black tights and sensible shoes they were nice.
“Not bad” she said and nodded at her reflection to acknowledge she had passed muster.
“Not a bad looking woman eh?” she was thinking as she walked across to church, then she frowned, “so why am I still living at home?”
She often wondered that, the problem was when she worked at the church and worked so hard in the Church community she found it difficult to have a social life and meet new people who weren’t already part of her church family.
But though she often wondered why she was alone she wasn’t unhappy, she didn’t feel diminished by her circumstances, and would have remained content had it not been for the arrival in the village of the new Verger.
However, her mother was not content with her and her sisters remaining unattached and unwed and kept telling her and her older sister that their biological clocks were ticking.
But she was not interested in George Parnait because of her mother’s nagging or a feeling that she was in a race against time she really wanted him, and she hadn’t felt like that since she was still at school.
So, she had woken that morning in a particularly determined frame of mind, so she said to herself
“Well if you’re going to do something, do it today”
As she entered the Church the just after 8 am she found it was a hive of industry, with a team of parishioners, among other things, dusting, polishing and mopping,
Emily Sanders, who she worked with in the office gestured her over
“Morning” she said
“Hi Emily” she said and handed her a folder “here is the list of who’s doing what, I’m going to work with George to unpack the paraments”
“I thought you might be” Emily said and giggled which made Daniela blush and made Emily giggle again.
All though Daniela had mentioned paraments specifically, on Good Friday it is preferable that there are no paraments, banners, flowers, or decorations except, for a representation of the way of the cross.
The Lord's table, pulpit, and other furnishings, normally adorned, were to be bare of cloth, candles, and anything not actually used in the service.
Her next move was to win George over with her carefully rehearsed charm offensive and she found him standing by the dais, he was a tall upright man a few years her senior with slightly thinning hair and the beginnings of a paunch, and when he turned around she noticed that in his arms he carried, the baby Jesus.
And her charm offensive fell at the first hurdle when she exclaimed
“Why are you holding the Christ child? We are supposed to be depicting the way to Golgotha, not the nativity”
“We have the wrong boxes or at least one wrong box” he replied
“Oh no” Daniela winced “What are we missing?”
“The cloths” he replied
The cloths were crucial to the Good Friday service, as the cross was to remain visible, but the figure on it and all the other permanently fixed images of Christ had to be veiled by scarlet coloured cloth as by partly concealing the cross, the veil also calls attention to it.
“Well that won’t do” she said and took out her mobile phone and walked to one side.
She was phoning Wellham Farm, where the church rented one of the Wellham Barns as a storage facility.
It was about four miles from the village and they stored a variety of things there, Santa’s Grotto, all the stalls for Fete’s and Bazaars, processional items, the nativity scene and costumes of all shapes sizes and uses.
Five minutes later she returned to find George still cradling the divine infant.
“They’ve found the missing box” she announced and smiled when she noticed he was still holding the babe “it’s at Wellham Barns”.
“Great give me directions and I’ll go and get it”
Daniela was about to agree and then she remembered the other item on her agenda, so she relied
“You’ll never find it with my directions, we’ll both go, you can drive and I’ll nav”
“That’s settled then, now pop the little fella back in his box, and well return him to the stable” she said and laughed at her joke
The journey to the farm was a quiet one, on Georges part because he was trying to take in as many landmarks as he could which he would remember for next time and for Daniela because her mind went blank.
Once they reached the farm George got the errant box from the boot while she went in search of its replacement.
Sam Wellham, who managed the storage side of the farms business handed Daniela the advice notes, one for the box that they were taking and one for the box they had returned, then she handed it back and said goodbye as she got back into the car.
On the return journey she was struggling to find a way to start the conversation which she hoped would lead to him asking her out, but she drew a blank but then George suddenly asked.
“So, are you involved in the Holy Saturday Vigil?”
“No, no I’m not” she replied with relief and added hopefully “I’m free all day”
“What about you?” she added already knowing the answer as she had made sure they were both off.
“No, I’m spending the day with my son” he replied proudly
“I didn’t know you had a son, how old?” she asked
“He doesn’t live with you then?” she said
“No, he’s staying with my Parents in Purplemere” he explained
“Not with his mum?” she asked wondering where she might be lurking
“His mum died last year” he replied sadly “A car accident”
“I’m sorry” she said and then waited for him to unburdened himself with the tale about the accident.
She had been for a birthday treat to Tipton Spa with her sister and were on the way home.
The accident happened just as the sun was setting behind them and a car came around the bend on the wrong side of the road and hit them head on.
The car rolled several times and ended up on its side in a ditch.
“That’s awful” she said
“The two of them and the other driver died instantly” he said and after a brief pause he added
“I blame myself of course”
“That’s silly” she said
“Is it?” George contradicted her “I bought her that Spa break”
“You feel guilty because you lived, but that isn’t the same thing as blame” she insisted
“Just guilt then?” he asked
“Yes” she said “and that’s in the past, you have your son and he is the present and the future”
“What kind of future without his mother?” he said bitterly
“The future has infinite possibilities, but the past is only ever the past” Daniela said
“That’s very profound” he said
“What for a Vicars daughter you mean?” she said
“No, I mean it, it was very profound” he said and gave the weakest of smiles
“Well I’m very deep” she said
“So why is he living with your parents?” she asked “He must miss you”
“I miss him too, but we thought it best if he stayed at the same school with all his friends until they break for the summer holidays then he’ll be starting big school and he’ll be the new boy along with everybody else”
“Do you talk to him about his mum?” she asked, and he nodded
“All the time”
“Yes, it is” he responded positively
“You’re a very positive person Daniela” he said
“Well I do always look for a positive in any situation” she said, and he thought for a moment before he responded
“Well if it hadn’t been for the wrong box being delivered to the church and our having to drive to Wellham to swap it we wouldn’t have had this chance to talk, so that’s something of a positive”
“There you are then” Daniella said
When they got to the St Mildred’s he parked the car and retrieved the box from the boot but before they reached the Church steps he said
“I really enjoyed our little mission today, and as I’m not driving to Purplemere until the morning, I was wondering if you’d like to go for a meal after the service, if you don’t have already have plans that is”
“I’d like that very much” she replied “I’ll have to go home and change first, but yes that would be lovely”
Well the operation hadn’t gone according to plan in anyway shape or form, but the outcome was much better than she could possibly have imagined
“Thank you, God, for your divine intervention” she said to herself and smiled.