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Not very long ago one of our great-grandchildren asked her great-grandmother a question that intrigued me. She said “Nanny” (after all if you are very young the word great-grandmother is quite formidable) -“Nanny, did you live in the olden days?”

I think there is something rather romantic having someone ask you that. Don’t you? The expression, the olden days - has a ring to it. Like "once upon a time". Don’t you think that? I do. After all, I am a doughty old great-grandfather and even I have difficulty getting around the word great-grandfather sometimes. 

Anyway, be that as it may... now, come to think of it, there’s another nice old phrase - "be that as it may".  I must stop bringing up old phrases because I want to tell you a couple of things from the olden days of our very first parish. They are not hard to discover you simply go and have a cup of tea with some of your oldest parishioners. You discover things about the past that will never appear in the official record of the parish, believe me. 

I was in my first country parish for only a few weeks when a very elderly parishioner took me back to when he himself was a small boy. That long-ago winter his dad had been rector’s warden. He told me of one occasion when as a small boy he accompanied his dad when the latter had some business at the rectory. It was January, the snow, as with dear old King Wenceslas, was indeed “deep, crisp and even.”

Readying the horse and sleigh they set off. When they got to the rectory the rector’s wife told them that he was on his way home from a funeral so they should come in and wait.  

As soon as they heard the sound of the horse and sleigh they all headed to the back kitchen where they knew the rector would come in after stabling the horse. In he came, a tall, bearded figure, made enormous in the room by his travelling furs, snow cascading from everything as he took things off. To drag off his boots his wife gave him a hand. She had something warm in a glass for him. Taking it from her, he led them all back into the warmth of the kitchen, put his glass down, went over to the fire, stretched his hands out and rubbing them together briskly said with considerable heartiness, “Well, a couple more funerals like that and this will be a great parish.” Reaching out for his glass he lifted it, took a swig and sat down.  

The rector was not halfway through his toast when his wife had shot from her chair grasped the hand of her child visitor to whisk him out of earshot, hastily opened a drawer where the cookies were kept, gave him two, and told the lad in no uncertain terms to stay there until the adults had finished their business conversation. He of course obeyed implicitly.

As has been memorably said, “The past is another country. They do things differently there.” Eventually, their hostess and his father came, and they prepared to leave for home. The visit to the rectory was never spoken of again. It lay in an aging memory, waiting to be recalled.


Early 20th century village with a church in the snow iStock-1463474083

Credit: George Robinson