Sunday, 31 October 2010

All Soul's Eve and Hereafter...


I've just retreated upstairs, after running out of sweets for the hordes of little witches knocking on the door this evening. (I thought 60 mini-packets of Haribo would do the trick, but apparently I underestimated the demand).
The candle in the pumpkin is still flickering by the fireplace, beneath one of my favourite pictures of my sister and me in childhood, taken on Halloween. This isn't a shrine to my dead sister -- apart from anything else, she still seems in some sense alive to me, and the photograph has been there for the last few years -- but I feel as if the coincidence is one of the moments that remind me of our shared past, which continues to be present today. Ruth's presence is as fluid as time itself; a narrative that leaps forward and skips backwards; a hopscotch game like those we played together, on the pavement outside our house. I've not scanned the photograph -- it is fixed beneath glass in a picture frame -- but it is vivid in my mind's eye as I write this. Two small girls, beside a kitchen table, eating jelly out of hollowed-out oranges, on All Hallow's Eve.
James George Frazer writes in The Golden Bough: 'Hallowe'en, the night which marks the transition from autumn to winter, seems to have been of old the time of year when the souls of the departed were supposed to revisit their old homes in order to warm themselves by the fire and to comfort themselves with the good cheer provided for them in the kitchen or the parlour by their affectionate kinsfolk. It was, perhaps, a natural thought that the approach of winter should drive the poor shivering hungry ghosts from the bare fields and the leafless woodlands to the shelter of the cottage with its familiar fireside.'

If there are shivering hungry ghosts tonight, then I cannot believe that Ruth is amongst them. Like all those we love, she remains within my heart, cherished as she ever was, although not confined inside there. The dead remain elusive, unbound and unbidden, however powerful the threads that bind us to them; thus they have a life of their own.

No, if anyone seeks the affectionate shelter of home, it is me. The clocks went back last night, and now the darkness has descended; a time of year that I dread more as I get older, although I search for all manner of ways to embrace it... firelight, candles, good cheer. (How can I wish the winter away, when I learnt from my sister's untimely death that every moment is precious?)
But despite the compass that pulls me to the familiar safety of my house (a house that my sister never saw, yet which sees her face on its walls), I really should venture out to watch Clint Eastwood's latest film,Hereafter; for the book that I wrote about my sister's death, If The Spirit Moves You, was one of several sparks that set the screenwriter, Peter Morgan, on his way... Ruth was passionate about movies -- she worked for several film magazines, at the beginning of her career as a journalist -- and I imagine that she'd have been delighted to know that her story is alight on screen in some mysterious way...

12 comments:

kairu said...

I thought that strip of photo-booth images seemed familiar, and it is - it's on the cover of my copy of "If the Spirit Moves You" - and I am picturing in my mind that image of the two of you eating jelly next to a kitchen table. Childhood memories are like snapshots, fixed behind the windowpane of the mind. (There's a line in the movie "In the Mood for Love," where the narrator says something like "the past was like something behind a glass window, which he could see but not touch...").

When I was in middle school, I studied Spanish, and we learned about the Day of the Dead, where people go to the cemeteries to decorate the graves of their dead, leaving masses of flowers - I think marigolds are traditional - and candies and little sculptures. Do you know the novel "Animal Dreams," by Barbara Kingsolver? It is about two sisters, death and loss and grieving, and the life that continues on in spite of it all...

Justine Picardie said...

I haven't read the Barbara Kingsolver book that you mention, but it sounds interesting. Still gripped by Howards End, and wanting to r-read more Forster after I've finished this one.
The strip of photo-booth pictures is the original of the one used on the cover of 'If The Spirit Moves You': and I remember writing in that book about the sense of Ruth being separated from me by a sheet of glass, that I longed to smash open. Since then, the rawness of that grief has been replaced by something more tender... I wish the glass was gone, but know that her picture will not fade.

Lou said...

I look forward to seeing the film,Justine. I think your book had a profound effect on many people(myself included).How lovely to think that someone has used it as inspiration for a film. It's true that our loved ones are always with us, even though mediums and clairvoyants often can't provide us with the answers we are looking for.There is something so comforting about the ethereal images captured in photographs. On the book front, I've just finished reading Agnes Grey for the first time.So like your Forster, Anne Bronte might be my new obsession at the moment...

Karen, Surrey said...

Your memories and thoughts about your sister are lovely. The image of you on Halloween with the jelly oranges is lovely. Sisters share a special bond, that death cannot destroy. You keep her alive by sharing your memories and they are charming.

I manage to get through the November/December dark evenings in the knowledge that each week nearer to Christmas is a week nearer to the turning point of the year. After Christmas the evenings do get lighter, little by little each week. It makes me feel better about it and I do feel through January and February that at least we are on the way out of the dark nights.

enid said...

What wonderful memories and that strip of photos is so reminiscent of going to have those photos taken in the booths with friends and trying to pose in a unique way. It is the first day of summer here so Halloween seems misplaced in the Southern Hemishphere. Thanks for recommending Howards End. I am engrossed and will probably also have a Forster Feast.

Lilacs In May said...

Justine, Ruth is ever present thank you to your beautiful writing, If The Spirit Moves You is a wonderful book, that I reread when I need to.

I so agree about the approach of winter. I was thinking last night about the traditions that will make it bearable - like you say, candles, soup, a rich fruit and nut cake, a crackling fire, sloe gin... But still the evenings will close in, like dark, dampening, enveloping fingers...

So I will plant spring flowering bulbs, make photo albums of my summer holidays, read novels about sunnier climes, and make sure I get a regular dose of comedy.

I look forward to seeing the film, I hope it does justice to your lovely book.

Tania said...

Coincidence is precisely right. I arrived here via goodness knows where, wondering if you were the sister of Ruth, author of the book. I'm not in London spending part of my Sunday mornings with the back page of the Observer magazine anymore. I’m home in Australia, immersed in ordinary and boring and sometimes wonderful life and your book travelled back with me. Funny how familiar that strip photo seems.

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks to everyone for comments, and for the kindness of strangers (not that any of you seem like strangers to me; the world is far too small for that).

kairu said...

I find I am not quite ready to revisit Howards End, so I am turning back to Penelope Lively. It occurs to me that I have not read Moon Tiger since I was in high school; I was fifteen, and now I'm thirty - where did the years go? I found a slightly tattered paperback copy (probably from a thrift store binge) in the uncatalogued part of my library, and reading it feels strangely familiar.

Justine Picardie said...

I read Moon Tiger when I was young -- I remember loving it, but nothing more about it -- so perhaps one to move on to after revisiting Forster.

jaywalker said...

Lovely memories, Justine. I'm an only child and don't, unfortunately, know what it might mean to have a sister.

We're funny creatures. Having spent part of my life in the UK and part in Oz, it's at this time of the year that I get most nostalgic for England - the autumn trees, the 'busyness' of shopping in the gathering dusk, the anticipation of a possible white Christmas. Australian Christmas's are a funny thing. I'm still not convinced it should happen in summer!
Thanks,kairu,for the reminder of Penelope Lively. I read three of her books last year, being a latecomer to them and shall now go straight to amazon for Moon Tiger. It is VERY NAUGHTY of you to cause me to buy so many books!! LOL

Simone said...

What a beautiful post....you write so beautifully and very movingly about your sister...I have followed, and enjoyed, your writing over the years and have never failed to be moved when you talk about her.

I just love the photo....I have an old black and white strip of photos just like that of me aged about 2 with my parents, I love it!