The Autumn Voices Short Memoir Competition is now open to submissions (free). By way of warming up for it and putting us in memoir mood, I asked Lynn’s permission to put online the delightful memoir she read out at the writers’ group I attend. Lynn says of herself:

I’m seventy years of age and I live in a town on the Clyde coast.

I’ve always written for various reasons. Sometime just to get things off my chest, writing can be so cathartic, but mostly for pleasure.

I’m married with one son, a daughter in law and a granddaughter who also, to my great delight, writes.

I enjoy writing ghost stories although I would run a mile if I ever saw one. I also write fiction and memoirs and am at present busy writing a book of those memoirs for my granddaughter in the hope that she will be able to use the places and the people that I have loved in her stories.

‘If I should die before I wake….’

Adults can do the most terrible things to children. Even the most loving of parents can innocently inflict lifelong horrors on their offspring, that the most ardent of medieval torturers would have been hard pushed to achieve.

Take my parents for example, kind and loving? Yes. But aware of the sensitivities of their daughter and her over developed imagination? Most definitely not.

At a very early age they taught me a little night time prayer, just four lines, apart from the ‘God bless’ bit which could be spun out for as long as possible in order to keep my parents by my bedside that bit longer. The prayer goes,

‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.’

So far so good, although I hadn’t a clue what my soul was, there was nothing frightening there. But the next two lines?

‘If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.’

If I should die before I wake? If I should die in my sleep and not know about it? Did this mean it could happen? That I could go to sleep and not waken up and this Lord, whoever he was, would steal my soul, whatever that was? Well, I certainly didn’t like the sound of that.

The anxiety of dying in my sleep led to wakeful nights and worried questions to my mum and dad. We sorted out who the Lord was but unfortunately it didn’t give much comfort. What was die? Where would I go to when I died? To Heaven, was the answer, but where was Heaven. Apparently Heaven was in the sky. But I couldn’t see Heaven in the sky, I could see Glasgow in the distance if I looked out my bedroom window, but no matter how hard I looked I couldn’t see Heaven. It’s far away, well above the clouds, we can’t see it, was the explanation.

I was a bit dubious about that but accepted it, after all my mum and dad knew everything. ‘But will you be there,’ I asked them. I was going nowhere without my mum and dad.

‘Yes,’ they said, ‘we’ll be waiting for you.’

This was getting worse and worse, what did they mean, waiting for me, were they going to die and leave me alone here?

‘We won’t die till we’re old.’ But they were already old. ‘We won’t die till we’re really old, years and years from now.’ They reassured me, but only for a little while.

‘But if I die before I waken up I won’t know I’m dead because when I go to sleep I don’t know anything till I waken up, so if I don’t waken up……’ I think by now they were beginning to realise the error of their ways.

I certainly don’t remember being given an acceptable answer to my questions about death and to date still haven’t received one, even though I plagued my parents for years by asking them on a regular basis if they thought they would die soon.

I thought a lot about God as a child. At school and Sunday school we were told he was a loving father. I wasn’t sure I needed another father, I already had a very satisfactory one, who didn’t go round stealing people’s souls when they were asleep, but I loved the mystique and beauty of the King James bible, even if I didn’t understand what it was all about. I did understand the Christmas story and could imagine the shepherds in the field being frightened by the angel and the three wise men travelling from the east, following the star, with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the baby Jesus. Even though they were on the road to Bethlehem, I always saw them riding through the deep snow,on their camels, dressed in sumptuous, vividly coloured robes.

I knew that in order to get to Heaven, you had to be good or else you went to Hell and the fiery furnace. School and Sunday school had by now introduced me to Hell, but I must confess Hell didn’t bother me much. In my self-satisfied little way, I thought I was quite good. I knew I thought bad things but usually didn’t act on them. My smug little balloon was suddenly punctured one day when I was sitting in church while the minister preached a sermon to the children before letting us go into Sunday school.

‘God knows the secrets of your heart.’

‘What! God knows every thought you have? I thought that was just so unfair, surely God knew you didn’t have any control over your thoughts, that they just popped into your head from nowhere. I couldn’t believe all this. Where was the justice? Surely it wouldn’t be held against you if you didn’t actually do anything, even though you thought it?

I’m afraid that was another question that was never satisfactorily answered. Just another of life’s mysteries I suppose.