I am called to remember today that, amid the furore and drama of the COVID-crisis, human life continues – and in some cases stops. Children are born, people are getting ill (unrelated) others are dying (sometimes also unrelated).
It’s come to pass in my family.
My parents have been gone a long time. Mam passed away five years ago. Dad went in ‘91,
They were youngsters at the end of WW2 – passionate, resilient, optimistic.
Mam’s family had moved into the Swansea valleys from a country background ‘down west’.
Dad, Ron, had been raised in the Rhondda. His father Emrys supported a family of five (siblings and mother) aged 13. He gained a mining degree in night-school; became a colliery manager and a freelance trouble shooter – South Wales’ Red Adare some have said (they also claimed he was the first in the Rhondda to own a car, though I find that hard to believe). He told my dad he’d given him his chance by allowing him to go to Grammar school, which he did between appointments on the rugby fields and snooker halls.
It was some years before Ron was to meet his wife to be. But at school he was in class with Bron.
She was stunning. Voluptuous, flirtatious and fun. And she loved to tell a story.
At mam’s funeral Bron told me a story about her school days with Dad. She said he had been quite a catch. She claimed the girls used to pay a shilling, for him to accompany them to the ‘pictures’ – nice work if you can get it!
I don’t think Ron and Bron were ever an item, but she did become my aunt, marrying Dad’s older brother Keith, when the boys had finished National Service.
Ron married Min in the same year. The years rolled by and children came. My older brother Huw first, then cousin Nigel, cousin Yvonne and eventually me.
Keith followed Emrys into the mines. He also studied at night school, was among the first with a shovel when Aberfan wiped out a generation; became a colliery manager, retiring from Taff Merthyr when I was in my teens.
Dad couldn’t get far enough away from mining. He went into the law, initially as a policemen, then studying the subject at Aberystwyth and joining the Health and Safety Executive, retiring as principle inspector of factories. “I’m neither civil, nor subservient, but I am a civil servant” he was fond of saying.
Keith stayed in the Rhondda, we made our home in the Vale of Glamorgan, where Min taught in the primary school in Cowbridge.
Of course, it was a generation of smokers, certainly the men. And, too young, we started to lose them. Keith first, aged 63. Ron, 18 months later, at the same age.
Mam moved back to West Wales, to be close to my brother’s family, just 10 miles from where she lived as a young girl.
With Keith and Ron both dead and grandchildren to take the attention the two sides of the family drifted further apart. Min spending more time with her sister than with Dad’s sister in law. We’d only gather for weddings and funerals and christenings.
Now, Auntie Bron has set off to re-unite the gang. She is the last of the four. She died quietly this week. Cousin Nigel told me the death certificate stated “Cause of death – Old Age” – how refreshing to hear that in these times.
She won’t lie in state in her chapel in Maes-y-cwmer. She won’t be cremated in her finery, as she may have wanted and her funeral will be a very private, family, affair.
But at least she has gone in dignity, not ripped from us by some invisible, headline grabbing thief.
With Bron gone and a generation exited, we who remain ponder: “who’s next?”