This is a lovely true story about a sweet old dear and her daffodils it made me cry, enjoy.
Nelly and her Daffs
Spring was in the air and Easter just around the corner. The year was spinning out of control and Christmas was just a distant blur. The bright, tough little daffodils were out and braving the high winds that were bashing England. Plants that had lain dormant in the cold soil and silently monitored the passing of winter, were awakening. When the time was right they would rush forward with a surge of energy. Like a young teenager with a rash of hormones.
I had called on a regular customer and, while we were talking about the spring flowers, she reminded me of her mother who used to look after the church flowers for a village called Ninfield.
In Ninfield, a small rural village in the heart of East Sussex, there is a sweet church called St Mary’s. It was built in the 13th century, a couple of hundred years after the Norman invasion. That’s when nasty Normans came, beat up the locals and built much of the magnificent architecture in our country. Then, a few hundred years later they took the Stena Line ferry back to France for some more baguettes and Brie. The pretty church has a fantastic feature inside, a musician’s or minstrel’s gallery high up in the roof. It was added in the time of King Charles I, and you can only get to it by ladder. This means every time they had a service, the musicians would have to clamber up the ladder, passing up all their musical instruments. I would love to have been at one of the old services to have seen them in action.
Outside the church, just around the corner on The Green almost on the main road, are the village stocks – made of iron from one of the many old foundries in the area. This is where the local troublemakers would have spent their weekends after getting drunk or causing an affray. The most popular time to lock up a disturber of the peace in the stocks, was on market day. On that day you would be shackled up and totally humiliated by village youngsters, often having old rotten vegetables thrown at you. I bet that would work wonders with some of our young hooligans today.
Nelly Simmons was the woman who looked after the flowers at the church for 60 years. In springtime, as Easter drew close she would keep a close eye on the daffodils – or lent lilies. They had to be just right for the Easter Service. In all the years that Nelly looked after the church flowers she said that the daffodils never got it right. They were either too early or too late. Often she would round up the village boys and make them all rush out and pick the daffodils. Then keep them warm to bring the blossoms out, just right for the special day. What a sight the church must have been, all bright and beautiful for Easter.
Nelly was not one to be messed with. She was a local girl who was born only a few miles up the road in Herstmonceux. When flowers needed picking for the church she would grab anyone to help her. She even accosted the choirboys during their singing practice. One spring, when snow was in the air and there was a possibility that the flowers would be damaged, she rushed into the church, stopped the vicar and choirboys in mid song, then dragged them out and made them run up and down the village banks, picking the wild flowers. Nelly was one of the colourful village girls that had carried on the same practice that many had done for centuries before her.
One of Nelly’s favourite flower arrangements for the Easter Service was a cross, made of wild primroses. Primroses still grow in profusion along the old, twisty lanes around Ninfield and they made a beautiful display in St Mary’s, all along the aisles.
Can you just see it now? A lovely old church with bright spring sunshine pouring through the stained glass windows throwing a rainbow of colours onto the church floor. The whole village, lined up along ancient wooden pews, singing hymns. The vicar standing before his flock, singing his heart out, leading the choir in rejoicing – and all around are Nelly’s beautiful wild flowers. Ah, how spring really is the time of rebirth! What a great time to be alive. Spring just fills you so full of hope. When things in this world are sometimes so bad and frightening; something as simple as a bank of daffodils can fill you up with enthusiasm and hope for the future.
Nelly said goodbye to this world on her 96th birthday. For her service, the whole village picked the wild flowers for the church. Her service was said to be the most beautiful anyone at the church could remember. Her ashes were scattered in her garden where, they say, she still tends to her flowers. When Nelly would pick the wild flowers she would say to people. “They are God’s flowers and they are going to God’s house.”
I just thought I would share this little story with you as the sun is shining and spring bursting out all over. At Ninfield the banks are full of the flowers that Nelly picked for St Mary’s. She would have been proud of their display this year, as they look a picture. Mind you they are way too early, so she would be telling those daffodils that they have got it wrong again.
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If you would like to read more stories like this they are in my Random Threads trilogy.
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