31.12.2004 | 12:02
Lawrence, 1950 – 1998
Every year my brothers and sister and I make a point of having at least one get-together in Glasgow, travelling from wherever we are, by way of making sure we keep in touch, and by way of remembering who we are and where we came from. We call it the ‘One Foot in the Grave’, from the first time we stood in a ring in a cemetery on the grave of our parents. From a fairly solemn start has grown something that is the highlight of our year, with moments of great humour that are too outrageous to print.
In the gathering for 2004 there was a little extra. It’s been said that the internet makes the world a smaller place. I have, mostly through accident rather than design, found a number ofpeople I’d lost touch with for too long. Some of these renewals have brought news that has been less happy.
My oldest friend, from the days when our ages were in single figures, was Lawrence. There are some people, not many, with whom there is an inaudible click, and a friendship is formed that will last a lifetime, spanning time and space and even absence. I do not know exactly how old we were when that inaudible click happened for us, though from the dates I went to the little school where we were classmates, we were about eight or nine years old. I remember summer days after school collecting leaves from the sycamore trees near his houseto make ‘helicopters’, or out in the backyard at his house ‘fixing’ our bikes, getting totally covered in grease, and his mum putting big dollops of butter on to our palms so that we could rub them clean of the black oily mess. And the time Lawrence bought a fishing rod and we went off fishing, caught nothing at all, and took till after midnight to walk all the way home, tired and dishevelled, but not downhearted. Schooldays passed, and Lawrence went south to England to work, whilst I stayed in Scotland. But we kept up a regular correspondence. More time passed, Lawrence came back to Glasgow, then I married, and moved away, but stillwe kept in regular touch with phone calls and visits, and letters, especially around Christmas. One year, Frances said “That’s odd, Lawrence’s card hasn’t come, his is always the first to arrive.” It was true: Lawrence often sent his card as early as November, just to make sure. I wrote, but there was no reply.
Then, by a complete accident, I found an old school friend, listed in an internet directory in Strathclyde University, whom I hadn’t seen since schooldays. It was an unusual surname, so I wrote to find out if this was the same Gerry I’d gone to school with over thirty years earlier. It was. After re-acquainting ourselves, I asked Gerry if he was in touch with Lawrence. That was when I learned that Lawrence had died. The news was bitterly sad. Lawrence’s father had also passed away, and his mother had suffered from Alzheimer’s for some time before passing away herself, so there had been no one to answer letters to Lawrence. Later, wanting to know where Lawrence’s remains had been laid so that I could go and pay my respects, I wrote to Gerry, only to discover from one of his colleagues at the university that Gerry had suffered a sudden heart attack, and died on New Year’s Day, 2002.
A few months ago, whilst browsing a web site listing pupils at my old school, I saw a name I recognised. Lawrence had an older sister, Patricia, whom I’d never met since she was married and had moved to California in the early sixties. I wrote, introducing myself, and apologising in advance for any intrusion or mistake on my part. It proved to be Lawrence’s sister, returning to Glasgow for a visit with her husband. I told how how I had learned of Lawrence’s death, and how I had wanted to know where he had been buried. She wrote to tell me his ashes had been scattered in the Linn Crematorium, and offered to show me next time I was in Glasgow.
So when the date for this year’s ‘One Foot’ gathering in Glasgow was arranged, I wrote to Patricia again and we arranged to meet for the first time at the crematorium gates. By coincidence, this crematorium is only a short drive from Calum’s house. So on a bright Sunday morning this summer, Calum and I met Patricia and her husband. Lawrence’s ashes are scattered under a tree in a beautiful spot. Patricia brought some photographs, including one of Lawrence taken during our last year at school, when he was seventeen. It was him, so strikingly captured and so much the friend I remembered, that I found myself overcome and unable to speak. And Patricia also brought Lawrence’s handwritten last will and testament. It would make no sense to repeat it here, since it was full of his characteristic dry humour, recognisable to those who knew him; but reading it, I began to smile, and before I knew it, all four of us were laughing under the hot summer sun. It is the only time I have ever found anyone who understood why we laugh so much when we visit the grave of our own parents at Saint Conval’s, for it happens when happy memories and recollections overtake the sense of regret and loss. I left that place, glad that I had come, and knowing that each year, when we return for our ‘One Foot’, I shall also stop by that shady tree and remember my old friend.