Tonight I remembered Aberfan. Not sure why. I’d had a couple of beers, some meatloaf and laughs with the in-laws and then came home mad. It’s been like that since I was a kid, except for the beers that is. It’s a grim wisdom, finally coming to terms with never being really happy, despite everything, even surrounded by abundance, and love and beauty.
Simon was screaming, fighting sleep after snoozing through the meatloaf, when I remembered the date. Forty years ago this week in a mining town in South Wales an entire school of kids was wiped out when a 40′ tidal wave of coal sludge slid down a mountainside into the town of Aberfan. Over 116 kids died. I visited the site two years ago. I was looking for the grave of my grandfather’s brother and was taken en route by my guide to a serene park with ruddy low stone walls. The guide said we were standing in the old Aberfan school, the bits of wall were all that remained. We met a withered caretaker there, pruning brittle apple trees. He spoke in whispers and avoided eye contact. Turns out he was late for school that day and he still can’t forgive himself for being spared.
Just up the road is the cemetery where all the childen are buried. It’s an excruciatingly sad place with an incredible view. Rusty rolling hills stripped of trees shelter what remains of the valley mining towns. Row after row of little head stones are etched in anger and grief for lost little nine and ten year olds. Those kids would be starting to turn 50 this year. An entire generation, gone.
Grandpa’s brother Idloes is there too, down the hill a bit next to the chapel in the older part of the cemetery. He died in an accident at 6. His mom, my great grandmother, accidentally spilled a pot of boiling water on him. In 1913. Before antibiotics. He lived for three weeks. Great Gram never forgave herself, or her kids who followed who were never quite as good. My Grandfather was conceived just a year after Idloes died, conceived in grief.
And so here we are. Is it possible to inherit grief? How can sad be made OK? I’m not sure. It seems that no one really knows.