Family Fortunes: "I would prefer to buried without a coffin - just tied to a board"
As I stumbled across my great-aunt Anita Leslie-King’s obituary, it was like meeting her for the first time
“I was struck with the reassuring beauty of her words”: Anita Leslie-King’s burial instructions
“And let those who love me not imagine
I am where my cast-off body lies!
That goes to the good earth . . .
If you wonder where I am listen to the trees whispering”
I come from an unusual family. There’s my mother, Cliona, pale as the moon, with weary, Lady Lavery eyes. There’s my father Christopher-Mark, the 6ft 4in boy genius who never grew up. On one branch of the family tree we have the aristocratic Leslies – loud, mad and ever-so-slightly outrageous – and on the other bough you will see the middle-class Manahans: safe and proud homebodies, carefully observing you over the round rim of their glasses.
My own personality is always at odds between these two opposing sides. In some ways the Leslie family legacy can even feel daunting at times for an introverted soul such as myself.
During a recent university art project, I paid a visit to my family archives in Castle Leslie, Co Monaghan. Digging among photographs of my grandmother Agnes Bernelle posing with Marlene Dietrich and war-era letters from our cousin Winston Churchill, I stumbled across my great-aunt Anita Leslie-King’s obituary from the local newspaper. I never had the opportunity to meet Anita, as she died before I was born, although my mother gave me Anita as my middle name out of respect and fondness for the free-spirited writer she was. “Anita accepted me into the family immediately,” Mum had explained.
As my eyes scanned the photographs of Anita’s flower-covered grave and her aged burial instructions, I was struck by the reassuring beauty of her words. It felt like I was finally meeting her for the first time.
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