Tuesday, 25 August 2009

41: Cornish generosity, talking gravestones and Granny Curnow

Issue 41, spring 2005

They say that those who have the least give the most.

Well, Cornwall may not be the richest part of the world financially but its people are rich in generosity.

More than £2 million was raised by people in Cornwall to help victims of the recent tsunami disaster in Asia and the total is still rising.

Although the Cornish call themselves cousins to each other, we all are cousins in relation to humanity, so we help our cousins whatever their race or creed when in times of need.
I have lots of cousins, most of whom I don’t know or ever will know.

Each year I live I come across a few more.
The lady in St Buryan village store recently told me we were cousins, a man called Bill Curnow from Florida emailed me to say we were cousins.

The Cornish like to know who their cousins are and take a great deal of time and care in tracking them down. When newly found Cornish cousins meet, there are always lots to say and the friendships borne of these meetings never fade.
There are three places where I can go where I can find lots of cousins; Zennor Churchyard, St Buryan Churchyard and Sithney Churchyard.

Obviously these cousins are not of this mortal coil and I put my knowledge of them down to my grandmothers.
Both my grandfathers died when I was quite young and so I never really knew either of them.

My only living grandmother is now 95 and has been a widow longer than what she has been married.
Every year on special occasions, Easter, Christmas, anniversaries, birthdays and the like, I used to accompany my grandmothers to the churchyards to clean up the graves of my deceased grandfathers and other relatives.

As I got older and stronger, my grandmothers became weaker and I had to do more of the cleaning and trimming. I had so many graves to clean I tried to demand extra pocket money. I was quickly turned down and told that I should compete the task of out of love and respect otherwise no one would tend to my grave when my time came.

The reason why I knew where all my cousins lay in the graveyards, and this was the most interesting bit of these trips, is because my grandmothers would stop at certain headstones as we crossed the cemetery and tell me tales of those people laid to rest and their relation to me.

There were Nicholls, Thomases, Carlyons, Curnows the list goes on.
Two headstones that still I sometimes ponder over are a pair of short rustic granite posts in a corner by Zennor Church. They were the headstones of two cousins who died in infancy in the late 1890s.

My grandmother said the family was too poor to afford proper headstones and she could remember the names of the infants.
One afternoon, my mother, sister, gran and I was at Zennor Churchyard cleaning and putting flowers on the graves when I wondered what it would be like to converse with my dead relatives.

They would be able to tell me so much.
I thought that maybe if I really thought about what I was saying and stared at the gravestone I might hear a voice speaking back to me (look, I was young at the time).

So I walked up to a Curnow headstone and whispered: “Hello, is there anything you would like to say to me? Is there anything I should know?”

To my shock and horror a shrill voice whispered: “Yes, mummy wants you to stop wandering around and start on Auntie Rachel’s headstone.”

My young sister had been stalking me, and hidden behind the gravestone to give me one of the shocks of my life.
Have a good spring and look out for your cousins.

Nigel Pengelly, Editor
Pictured: A ghostly apparition as captured by a Cornish World reporter at Jamaica Inn.


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