Turning into Wakelyns drive signs saying simply Ann began. Not this way, not Wakelyns, just Ann. Written in her clear italic hand, as if. Encapsulating all. Yellow ribbon tied to hemp string lined both sides, guiding us to the field. Juan, in a hat whose price label he’d cut off from the shop, and I, guided a woman we’d met on the road, lost and looking for Wakelyns. We introduced ourselves once parked, her name was Ewa, (‘I was going to be called Rachel, and so would have had a more sophisticated life, but my parents decided on a family name, Ewa), who at 85 was alert and sprightly, although walking with a stick, and, attracted both by her vibrant spirit and aged frailty, I found myself escorting her throughout.
On Ann she said: ’She was the most beautiful and best English woman I have ever met’, she accentuated the word English. Ewa was Swedish. She’d met Ann in Cambridge, at the school for teaching English as a foreign language, where she’d promoted her to a head of department.
We walked the short distance into the farm yard, to the gentle but full gathering of those already gathered.
Martin, on Ann’s tramper, drove Ann in her wicker coffin – wicker woven with Wakelyns willow – on the trailer behind. Passing us all, he drove to the great oak, where in a semi circle of chairs we all sat beholding the great oak. Toby, Martin and Ann’s son, led the ceremony in Martin’s easy fashion. David, Ann’s son through John, was in at the side co-ordinating the sound. It was all beautiful, fitting, unusual, unconventional, family. Her grandchildren began, with words from poetry, books, and songs, an opera Handsel and Grettle soared, in easy grace. Ann’s daughter from LA read some words, and emptied a bottle, the last bottle, of water from their trip to Glastonbury. Martin summarised her life, his life with her through their different geographies of Cambridge, Switzerland, Wakelyns, including Metfield Stores, to her last 15 years of Parkinsons.
As they lowered the wicker basket containing her thin body into the Suffolk clay earth, Meg led the Heart beat singers in a robust enlivening African song. Beside me, her last carers, Liza, Ann, and Flora held each others hands and wept.
The barn, once full of apples for apple day and farm machinery, now empty but for chairs, the big barn doors closed, and we saw a series of photographs and movies of Ann’s life, starting from the now back to her birth in Birmingham. Most were of the family gatherings, the parties by the fire, Ann often at the quiet centre. Bathing the grandchildren with Martin ‘Anyone would think you never had children;, she gently chastised him. A movie of Ann with a hoe moving cut corn from around the trees they planted. The landscape was flat, the trees small – a dramatic contrast to today, with the alleys of Italian alder and hazel. They lived their ambition, showed us how it was possible to farm in this agro dynamic way. The two of them, and she was the steel girder. One of Metfield Stores.
Outside in the sunshine, we gathered around a huge BBQ, and ate locally produced pork and beef, mixed salads from Wakelyns, local Suffolk Gold cheese. All the food Ann championed. Steven and Pam, watched, relaxing on one of lounges made of spent pallets lined with astro turf. They’d met the Wolfs through me and Apple Days, coming to each one, October 21st. Pam singing with the harpist, who sang songs from Albania. Meanwhile, Marion and a friend played their recorders sitting on chairs at the entrance to the great oak field. Emily and Frank, dressed in vibrant greens and blues.
I didn’t meat Toby and spoke only briefly to David:
‘I will be a dog in the manger’, Ann had said to him. ‘Do you know what this means?’ he asked. ‘Yes, she was compassionate, but also steely strong.’
I asked him about the film of his father that he’d been involved in.
‘I am not for bio-pics or family indulgences, it was not my film, I was clear about this.’
I did not stay long after. Unwittingly, I represented a troubled time, and left for this memory to leave too.
There was a moment, somewhere sitting amongst it all, where I felt, yes, this is where I belong too, amongst these good people, in this Suffolk landscape.