It is an odd habit, but one I have had for years, reading the death announcements and obituaries in the local paper, it used to be from a practical business point of view, as the owner of a flower shop I needed to know if the funeral directors were about to throw us any googlies, by changing the times or arrangements.
There can be no surer sign slipping in to middle age than the fact that you start to recognise more of the names, in the main it is parents of friends or acquaintances, some times sadly it is some one who has ‘gone before their time.’ This week I saw the a death announcement of Mr Johnson an old and favourite customer; he was very elderly and until very recently fit and active, it was comforting to see the words ‘died peacefully at home.’
On first meeting him he could appear a little intimidating, tall of a ‘military bearing’ straight backed (to the end) with a large handle bar mustache he was adored by all the staff. He never missed his beloved wife Lillian’s birthday, anniversary or a valentines day, we would carefully prepare his order, usually lemon roses, he would collect the order and then try and squeeze the bouquet in to the basket of his ‘sit up beg’ bike and peddle off up the street.
He was charming and cultured, as Lillian’s health failed he nursed her, they had no children, scant family but many friends. When they needed a little respite he would book a few days in a family owned hotel in the town, the hotel had once been a large Edwardian house which somehow seemed to compliment him perfectly. Here they would enjoy good food and company away from domestic chores. When Lillian died we made the funeral flowers to his specifications, lemon roses of course, but also there must be as Mr Johnson put it ‘rosemary for remembrance’
After Lillian’s death he was still a familiar sight around town, his bike ridding getting ever more precarious, the last time I spoke with him was just before I sold the business, he came to collect a garland of lemon roses and rosemary he had ordered for the anniversary of Lillian’s death, I asked him if that was all he had to do, ‘Is that you done for today?’ ‘No’ he replied ‘ I have a book to take to the bookbinders, it was the first book Lillian bought for me, a book of Shakespeare sonnets, it is a little worn and frayed now I am afraid, I shall get it rebound.’ And off he went on his bike, over the market place to what must be heaven on earth for Mr Johnson, the antique book shop and bookbinders.
The phrase ‘rosemary for remembrance’ has stayed with me since; whenever I pick or smell rosemary, I think of Mr Johnson, I never knew the origin of the phrase till just the other day, when I discovered it is a Shakespearean quote from Hamlet, of course we should have expected nothing less.
In act IV scene v of Hamlet, Ophelia says to Hamlet,
‘There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance, pray you, love, remember’.