Ever since she was a young girl, Granny Faye, as we used to call her, had been fascinated with butterflies. As a child she would walk in the water meadows alongside the river and butterflies of all sorts would flock around her. There is an old black and white photograph in our family album which shows Granny Faye sat on a rug at the bottom of the garden at her parent’s house near Highclere in Berkshire; around her head is a halo of butterflies, some of which had settled on her young shoulders like the tresses of curly hair. “My Butterfly Angel” her mother had written in white ink underneath the crinkle-edged picture on the black card of the page.
I remember that whenever Granny Faye came to stay at our house, if the weather was fine, she would insist on taking us down to the bottom of our garden where the thistles grew tall and the undergrowth was tangled into an almost impenetrable blanket beneath the hedge, and she would sit us down on the ground or a log and talk to us about her favourite subject – butterflies.
In springtime, Granny Faye would walk us through the garden and show us the Tortoiseshell on the ivy-covered wall of the potting shed, just after they had emerged from their chrysalis, if the Blue Tits hadn’t already fed them to their young.
Granny Faye would never take us to museums to look at the collections of dead butterflies from the far reaching corners of the world which had been captured and murdered, as she put it, by unthinking collectors, with nothing more on their mind than fame and fortune.
We would look at photographs in nature books and, on one special occasion, Mummy’s birthday I think, she asked a friend to bring along his Kodak cinematographic machine which projected moving coloured images onto our dining room wall. They showed the story of his safari into the depths of Central America, which he most eloquently narrated for us, telling and showing examples of a myriad of forest wild-life and in particular many, many beautiful moths and butterflies. He showed us images of a large bush with pale yellow leaves which, when disturbed turned into a cloud of flitting, dancing butterflies. We were spell-bound.
Over the days, months and years, there were so many interesting insects to see and hear about, and I am sure that we never realised that we were actually learning all the time. It was just lovely to be with Granny Faye and hear her tales and descriptions. Without a doubt her favourite butterfly was the magnificent Peacock. Although this was not an uncommon species, she loved it for its rich colours and huge false eyes on the upper surface of its wings which would be flashed at any potential predator to warn them off. Granny Faye had a favourite saying with which she would tease us; she said, “Those beautify butterflies carry my eyes so that I can see if you are behaving well. When I die I will come back as a Peacock and visit you on your special days so that I can continue to keep my eyes on you!”
I was nearly fifteen when Granny Faye died. It was a sad day for us all and I cried a lot. She had been staying with us for Christmas and shortly after the New Year’s celebrations she faded away, very peacefully, in her sleep and with a satisfied smile on her face. She was eighty-nine. We all attended her funeral; it was an overcast day which seemed to reflect the mood that we all shared, a bit grey and heavy.
I was with Mummy; Daddy had been lost in the war somewhere in France doing something that we weren’t supposed to ask about. My elder brother Edward and his lovely wife, now my aunt Emma, sat beside my sister Charlotte and her young man Philip.
We were all dressed in black. Mummy, Aunty Emma and Charlotte all wore hats with lace covering their faces; I was too young for a hat, but I wore a black silk scarf draped over my hair. Mummy held my hand tight as we walked down the aisle towards Granny Faye’s coffin which sat on the polished black marble slab surrounded by burgundy coloured curtains and soft blue carpet, behind a shiny polished rail.
We had decided to place a small but meaningful bouquet in the shape of a butterfly on the coffin; it was from all of us; she would have appreciated that. The cremation service was simple but beautiful and whilst we were singing the final verse of “Abide with me”, the most perfect specimen of a Peacock butterfly immerged from the bouquet, spread its wings and flew up into a beam of bright coloured light filtering through the stained glass window above the alter.
The beautiful butterfly continued its climb until it disappeared though a small gap in the window where a fragment of the coloured glass had been lost. We were all so spellbound by the unexpected sight of the butterfly that none of us noticed that the deep red curtains had closed around the coffin and that Granny Faye had begun yet another voyage of discovery – or had she?
Six months later it was Edward’s thirtieth birthday party. A family bar-b-q, which had been set out in the garden but at the last minutes was rained off, causing us to retreat to the dry and comfort of the conservatory whilst the steaks, chops, sausages and burgers were cooked in the kitchen oven. We sat and stood around chatting with glasses of lemonade, wine or beer in our hands, talking of this and that, and generally putting the world right. Eventually the conversation moved onto Granny Faye and her infamous knowledge of all things natural and butterflies in particular.
“Well, where is she?” Edward asked, a little tipsy by this time. “She said that she would be with us on our special days – well this is special isn’t it? I’m not thirty every day y’know!”
At that moment the downpour stopped and a beam of light shone down onto our waterlogged garden and there on the outside of the conservatory window was a lovely Peacock butterfly.
“My god” Edward breathed, “She came!” He stumbled to his feet, opened the sliding glass door and stepped out onto the wet paving of the patio, whereupon the butterfly took flight, flew around in a circle above him, then to everyone’s surprise, not least Edward, it landed on his head for just a second or two, then took off and flew away again, to spiral upwards until it was lost from sight against the brilliance of the clearing sky.
The following Easter, at Charlotte’s wedding to Philip, a Peacock butterfly landed on the wedding cake just as they were about to cut it with his sword – we have photographs to prove it. Then when Adam, my nephew was born to Edward and Emma, a Peacock butterfly was seen sitting on the curtain rail which surrounded the bed in which she was confined.
There have been so many instances since Granny Faye passed on when we are sure that she has kept her promise to “keep her eyes on us”. Was it a coincidence? Who knows, but we always looked for her whenever there was a special family day and she hasn’t disappointed us yet.