I promise to stop it with the Rita stories after this, but her origin sounds like a work of fiction. If you just want to read that skip the next three paragraphs.
I took the train up to Carlisle on the friday, caught the wending country bus to Ecclefechan, and got a lift to Rita’s cottage at the base of Burnswark, the old Roman fort she built her cottage beneath, a great plateau raised above the lowlands of the Borders. Her son Johnny, an Italian with the thickest cross of a mancunian-italian accent a bollixed linguist could imagine, had appeared and collected her ashes from the crematorium. The physical remains of Rita were contained in a cheap plastic urn, like a large cash tube from a deli. When you shook it, it sounded like dice in a well.
The following morning I wandered around Ecclefechan, the birthplace of Thomas Caryle. He wrote about and there’s nowhere more in need of his thoughts than Ecclefechan; it’s an empty, lonely town with a huge broad central road leading from nowhere to nowhere, a suburb in search of a city. The kids and teenagers stand around the bus-stop with nothing to do, seeing more than a handful of people on the high street must mean it’s a holiday and most people just drive everywhere. I’m sure its soul is warmer than that really, but to an outsider it feels brawer than a collie’s nose.
Anyway, at about 2 O’clock, we all headed up the hill, preceded by the piper blasting away. The farmer brought his quad-bike, with a trailer, and chauffeured the more elderly members up the slope to the stone on the flat top, like Boudiccea in her chariot. The air as we trudged up to the top of the hill was of a ramblers’ outing; we were all glad it was over for her and pleased to see so many people, from such diverse backgrounds, had come a long way to send her off. The wind was rough at the top so we got straight to it. Sir Rupert Buchanan-Jardine (scion of the Opium Warrios) made a little speech, my step-dad Tim read out some poetry he’d heard on Poetry Please, and then Johnny threw what remained of Rita into the wind, where she blew away into the shafts of sunlight over the firth. (apart from the rattley bits that toppled down the hill, where they’ll keep the sheep healthy and confuse future archeologists.
Anyway, Rita’s origins, from what I garnered at the funeral. Turns out I was wrong about her time during the war. Her dad came back to be with her mum as the war broke out, but went off to join the partisans (the anti-Nazi fighters). Her mum’s best friend (as her mum was English and spoke no Italian) was the local dressmaker, the only other Jew in the village. Heavily pregnant, Rita’s mother was walking to the central square where the dressmaker lived, to talk over what they should do as the Germans were coming. Rounding the corner, she sees the dressmaker’s shop has german tanks in front of it, and hears a scream as the dressmaker throws herself out of the first-storey window. Understandably, Rita’s mum faints.
When she comes to, she’s in labour. She crawls off to a relative who looks after her until Rita’s dad and his brothers turn up. They take Rita and her off into the woods, where she tries to give birth. Unfortunately, it’s a breech birth, and the baby dies. Rita’s mother is seriously ill, and bleeding heavily, so Partisan Dad reluctantly takes her to the hospital, sneaking her in and getting a promise from the resident priest not to tell anyone she’s Jewish. The priest, thinking it’s better the Partisans die than innocent villagers are persecuted, shops her to the Germans. (The square where Rita’s mum fainted is now named after that priest, Piazza Luigi Bosco, or so Rita said.) Thankfully, she dies before they get there. Not thankfully, they now know about Rita, who has to go with the partisans to the hills, and hence the cable car and wild child story.
Now, after the war, Rita falls for one of the partisans ‘because he looked like Errol Flynn’, though she didn’t really get on with him. Interestingly, this Errol was one of the partisan leaders, well known in the area, so the Nazis had also come for him. When they couldn’t get him, they’d captured his dad, and told him “Get the word out; either your son hands himself over to us, or we hang you in 24 hours.” The son was up in the mountains and didn’t hear until it was too late, and his father was hanging over the town. So Rita fell for this Errol-alike because of his looks, and the shared loss they had over their parents; They didn’t marry, cos he wasn’t the marrying type, but they did have a child, Johnny. Which is enough about Rita I think.