It’s been at least 20 years since I visited Winston Churchill’s grave in the small English village a stone’s throw from Blenheim Palace, the ancestral seat of Churchill’s uncle, the Duke of Marlborough, where the Prime historical minister.
I like to visit the graves of those I admire and pay homage. I reflect on the good of their life and how my life has benefited from theirs. Then I pray.
So it was that I was kneeling at Churchill’s obscure burial site which lies with perhaps around 40 other graves – including his wife, Clementine – behind the 12th century stone parish church of St. Martin to Bladen.
Head down, eyes closed, I became aware of a din. I opened my eyes, looked beyond the cemetery to see a blond woman in a checkered overcoat on the cold, gray day of January 24 – the anniversary of Churchill’s death in 1965 – holding a leash and running, a little backward, to catch the dog that had escaped.
A white, jowly, portly bulldog deliberately ran towards me, stopped, and approached closely. I was petting him when his owner finally caught up to me.
“Please forgive me. It’s completely irrelevant to him. He never does…” She stopped when she saw the name on the tombstone, then jumped back.
“Oh, my,” she whispered. “That’s something, isn’t it?” »
During the war, Winston Churchill was sometimes caricatured as a bulldog due to his toughness and portly physical resemblance to this unadorned animal. He was affectionately named British Bulldog.
It’s the only time I’ve ever seen a bulldog while visiting England.
Ever since Alabama writer and storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham passed away a few years ago, I’ve wanted to see her grave to close our story. Unlike Churchill, I knew her. Although briefly.
Throughout the South, great storytelling festivals are held where people stand up and tell a story. A good storyteller will have a following.
I was in Williamsburg, Virginia on business when I saw a flyer for a storytelling event that night. So many people showed up that the city marshals department closed the door. They allowed me to get up to listen to some stories. At the concessions booth, I asked, “Who’s the best storyteller?”
Kathryn Tucker Windham. Without question.”
I bought her CDs and quickly discovered that they were right: she was excellent. When I first met her, she was around 88 years old. She called me to thank me for a story I had written about her, then invited me to her little wooden house in Selmer, Alabama.
“Now you’re not from the highfalutin side of town,” she said over the phone. “Know that before you get here.”
It was the most beautiful afternoon. She later pointed to the shed behind her house, nonchalantly remarking, “That’s where I keep the handmade coffin I’m going to be buried in.”
When she died, a few days before she was 93, she was indeed put in this pine crate, loaded into a friend’s van and carried to her grave. It took a lot of searching to find his grave and honestly didn’t feel too safe mid-day at New Live Oak Cemetery, although it is historic, with majestic monuments and towering magnolia trees covered in moss Spanish.
She is buried next to her husband, Amasa, who died more than 50 years before Miss Kathryn. Another girl is nearby. Miss Kathryn is buried in a place similar to where she lived: simple, without fantasy.
When I visited her, she, despite living a difficult life, kept saying, “I am so blessed. Isn’t life wonderful? Just wonderful!” That sounded best in her lyrical drawl.
“She was blessed twice. She was happy and she knew it.
What beautiful words to close the book on his life.
Ronda Rich is the bestselling author of There’s A Better Day A-Comin’. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for their weekly newsletter.