A young boy about 7 or 8 walks with his little brother as they follow the tall man into the garage to see what waits inside. Watching intently, he listens as his cousin seventeen years his senior explains patiently and carefully that the boat they’re standing in front of is a varnished, clinker built, sailing dinghy. The boy has never seen one this close before, but he knows from the excitement in his cousin’s voice that this is very special to him. He listens and tries to remember as this kind man takes time to explain the purpose and names of the riggings and fittings. His little brother fidgets beside him too young to absorb much of what is being said. Only 3, his brother won’t remember this day, but later he’ll help his older brother as they build the first of two dinghies when they are only 9 and 13. When they’re grown men, they’ll each buy their own sailboats, but still sail together at times, as they explore the Cornish coastline not too from the Bristol Channel where they first rowed the dinghy they built together as children.
It’s this early childhood memory that John will recall 6o years later when he stands before about 30 or so of his cousin Michael’s family and friends as they gather together to share stories of this erudite man whose sense of humor generally made him the life and soul of any party. After his memorial service, they’ll all gather round to look at the photographs that various people will bring to share. Most will contain images of Michael, some from 50 years ago like the one below when he served as best man at the marriage of John Collins and his late wife.
After sharing his childhood memory of Michael, John will listen with great interest as John Collins, the groom above tells him how he met Michael when they were architecture students and how together with another friend they’d bought the dinghy that Michael had shown the boys in the garage all those years ago. John Collins will say he was interested to hear the dinghy mentioned during the memorial service and he how he can’t quite remember what happened to it. He’ll also add how it came to be in that particular garage when the three of them owned it jointly. Being students still, Michael was the only one with a place to store it and so it was there… tucked in the garage of Michael’s parents, Auntie Millie and Uncle Horace when John and his brother David visited the Bench family around 1948.
This picture probably more than any other reminds me of the day and how in the end what remains are the memories and stories we share. Michael was well loved and there were many conversations as we talked and talked lingering even as we moved towards our cars reluctant to have the day be at an end. Mary was not really interested in being photographed as so many of us are particularly as we get older, but this sweet photograph of her alone is one I just had to share because with her brother Michael’s recent death and the loss of their younger brother two years ago, in their circle of three, she is what remains now.