By Joan M Crossley, Oswaldtwistle
The Angels gathered in the still, frost-filled air. Festive flowers and plants grew in abundance, along with the holly. The laying geese enjoyed a well-earned rest. Out with the old and in with the new. Yet another Christmas was forthcoming…
Albert sat in his favourite rocking chair, holding the framed wedding photo. With a sigh of contentment he gently traced the image of his late wife Nora. What a proud man he’d been that day, shortly after World War Two had ended; married in the village church, surrounded by family and farming friends from the community. He and his bride dressed suitably, but not extravagantly, as the austerity of the war years dictated.
Albert’s gnarled index finger fell across the black and white image of Nora’s round smiling face. Oh! How Nora had altered his life for the better. Albert had been so despondent during the war years. He’d lost pals from school, or seen them return home with injuries, while he’d been ploughing fields and attending to the animals on his late father’s farm. Nora had been a land army girl, working on a very large neighbouring farm. She had been so positive and proud to become his wife; she assuaged his guilt at not being able to join the forces.
“The country depends on you, Albert!” she’d exclaimed on one of their long walks to check Albert’s sheep. Time off was a premium in those years, and walking was the only pastime available to them. Nora was so brave, having lost her parents in a bombing raid, but she appreciated and adored her new mother in-law Mary, who taught her the finearts of baking, crochet and knitting.
Albert clutched the photo and struggled with the aid of his wheeled walker to reach the polished dresser, thinking about Christmas when he was a child. He just loved school holidays. He’d run miles and miles. Freedom from teaching was all he craved. Just couldn’t wait to get back to the land and help milk the cows, perhaps pick some holly on the way to give to his hard-working mother, who’d be busy making tarts and delicious smelling cakes.
Albert now at last reached his rocking chair again, settling down to the pleasing silence, only relieved by the loud ticktock sounds coming from the ancient grandfather clock, situated in the corner of the sitting room.
He’d realised a few months ago that his legs wouldn’t hold him upright for much longer. Soon it would be a heelchair. Not for him, he thought, with a vigorous shake of his head. His rheumy eyes watered against his spectacles as he tried to read the time on the clock. Ten o’clock chimes soon, he thought, waiting for the phone call. He fiddled in the top pocket of his pyjamas, retrieving the mobile in readiness for a call from his granddaughter Bella or his daughter Noreen.
Oh! What a marvellous family he and Nora had produced. Three sons and a daughter named after their mother. When Albert had inherited the farm they’d had to sell acres of land, but at Nora’s suggestion a thriving business was born.
They produced vegetables, herbs, flowers, plants, and sold fresh hen, duck and goose eggs. Recently, the old dairy, which was attached to the farm house, had been converted to a comfortable bedsit for Albert.
No longer able to get to the second floor, the family worrying that even with the chair lift, it wasn’t safe for Albert at night. Oh! How he longed to sleep just once more in the comfy bed that he and Nora had shared for so many decades, but Nora had been taken more than eight years now, and Albert realised that at the age of 96, many physical changes had occurred.
Once wiry legs wouldn’t bend, large capable hands were now thin and weak. How he longed to be able to walk the wild moors accompanied by one of the working dogs that he’d loved over the many years. Just to be able to bend, plant, dig, or even pick up some freshlylaid hen’s eggs during the warmer months, feel the joy at holding a large goose egg. Nora had been an expert at baking custard tarts with them, sprinkled with fresh nutmeg, or shouting, “Breakfast time, Albert! Freshly scrambled eggs on crispy toast!” Albert listened to the ticking of the clock, turning his hearing aid to full volume. He often did this when the family were around. Hard to believe that his married sons and daughter were all past retirement age themselves now. But fortunately they all continued working the family business along with some of Albert’s grandchildren.
He had heard Noreen and Bella talking quietly in the kitchen the other day. “I don’t think granddad is sleeping in his bed, Mum, and there have been some hard frosts lately. He’ll get cold.”
“But Bella, his room is beautiful and the bed is so comfortable for his joints,” Noreen had replied anxiously, her voice sounding so like Nora’s.
“Well, seeing as I’m granddad’s main carer, I do notice obvious facts, Mum. The sheets are still as pristine as when you do the laundry. I think granddad tries to ruffle them, but wanders into the sitting room to sleep in that ancient chair.”
“Perhaps I’ll have a word with the staff at the Day Care Centre, Bella. See if they have any concerns,” Noreen commented, noticing Bella’s worried frown.
“He enjoys socialising, Mum, and a good lunch, but he can no longer play the piano for their pre-Christmas functions,” Bella had added sadly.
Albert’s eyes filled as he recalled that conversation. He waited for the chimes on the clock, whispering: “Bella’s right, Nora. It’s so hard just witnessing events, my fingers itch just to play my favourite Christmas carols, ‘Silent Night’ or ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter.’ Bella will make such a good nurse. She’ll get the chance after I’ve gone. She can take the full training then.”
The grandfather clock began to chime, startling Albert out of his reverie, just as his mobile shrilled. His eyes lit up on hearing Bella’s confident caring voice, “Are you safely tucked up in bed, Granddad Albert?”
“Course I am, Bella. And yes, I’ve enjoyed the custard tart and milky cocoa you left at the side of my bed, love. It was all delicious,” he lied, crossing his fingers behind his back.
“Love you loads, Granddad Albert. I’ll be round in the morning about seven, and dad will come later to help with your shower, too.”
“Thank you, Bella. You are an absolute angel. And the Christmas roses you picked for me just smell lovely. They were Grandma Nora’s favourite too.” Albert replaced the phone, realising his cover had been blown! The vase of roses was in the sitting room, and Bella would have brought them into his bedsit in the morning.
Albert listened to the comforting tick-tock sound resonating from the corner of the room. He could now see his mother’s image in front of the clock. She was waving, as she had been doing for some weeks now. Alongside her was his father and his brother, and some of his old school pals. Then suddenly there she was! A wonderful vision; his darling wife Nora. She was beckoning to him, her face radiant. Nora had joined them. It’s time!
Albert took a deep, deep breath, knowing they could find him, sitting so peacefully in the rocking chair tomorrow morning. He would have a smile on his face. He’d been seeing these pleasing visions most evenings, helping him through the long cold, lonely nights. He just hoped the family would soon find the box in the loft. It contained a small knitted collection of puppies, lambs, and calves all made by Nora when their babies were born, along with knitted shawls, Christening outfits, and tiny hand-made angels for the Christmas tree. A perfect inheritance for their great-grandchildren.
Albert waved back to Nora with a contented smile. The time was right now. For his family of angels were enveloping him with their love and peace…