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Thursday, June 13, 2024
EditorialsUpFront 02/22

UpFront 02/22

In the village where I grew up, some of the local businessmen and women dabbled in more than one activity. It was a small population and therefore not an enormous local economy. In my father’s case, as well as a hospitality business, he was also the village undertaker. I spent a lot of my early days playing amongst coffins, shrouds, plaques, and other funeral paraphernalia. It wasn’t rare to see him at the end of the kitchen table putting a name on a brass plaque with what seemed to be an unwieldy hand-held engraving machine. So listening to and highlighting Seth Dellow’s audio interview with willow coffin maker Sophia Campbell this month brought back many memories. I don’t recall ever being allowed into the hearse that for a long time lived in our garage, nor do I remember helping to carry coffins down from the loft to be used in a local homestead. And although I knew the local gravediggers from their visits to our house, I also doubt that I ever helped with a shovel. But I do remember being on the edge of the many conversations about death, and more often about the lives of those that had passed on. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I have spent over twenty years trying to highlight people’s lives in this magazine. I’ve always found it sad that we only learn about people through a eulogy. But these memories made it all the more striking to hear Sophia talking about the people that sometimes come to help weave a coffin with her for a loved one. The process of helping to prepare a final resting place for someone that shared one’s life is obviously poignant, and as Sophia explained, it is not an everyday experience. In her own case, the most heartrending commission she talks about is making a coffin for her sister whose body has never been recovered from where she died. The coffin was to be used as a prop in a theatre performance in Spain about her sister’s life and death. And although it looks unlikely that it will ever be used for its usual purpose, Sophia found making it an enormous privilege. Stories such as this, and the countless other interviews on these pages over so many years, are sometimes such profound and captivating pictures of the rich tapestry of local life, that recording and relaying them has also been an immense privilege.

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