I had been reminded of the death of a very good friend of mine when I'd been so busy with work which had taken me to many farms. In many cases, the friendship between myself and the people with whom I worked became very close – they became like brothers and sisters to me, part of a great big family.
Old Hywel lived with his brother Billi Bach, and to help them on the farm there was Megan who, when she first started on the farm as a young woman many years ago, had been called in the way of those old times, a servant girl, in so far that she helped to keep house, cooked the meals and helped outside on the farm in-between times especially with the calves and the young lambs – she still did!
When I used to visit them in Carmarthenshire, I would be well entertained by the stories of yesteryear, of the times in the early part of the twentieth century when the brothers had been lads and then young men just starting out, and working for their father who'd apparently had been a real old tyrant in his way. One of the interesting facets of their lives was their dealing with farms over the whole of Wales and of the tales of some of the encounters they had in their early lives. One thing I learned was that although the brothers were both Welsh speakers, when they went to north Wales, they found the Welsh language quite different – they couldn’t understand it, so they had to converse in English!
As was the way with many of those old families, when the father died, the farm had been left to the brothers. They would have an equal share of the whole farm unless one or both of them got married - that was why both these men died as bachelors, although that is not to say that there weren't several children around the district who had an uncanny resemblance to their 'fathers'!
Some six months before Hywel died, he had, in his quiet way, taken me by the arm one day while we were walking the fields. We stopped and studied a lovely flock of sheep which the dogs had gently gathered up close by. It was then that I knew the old man was going to come out with some words of wisdom - he always did - that was his way.
"Chris bach," he started. I gazed at him, but said nothing. "Chris, things haf not been too good of late, indeed," shaking his head slowly, his Welsh accent showing through in the English he spoke.
"Oh?" Now what, I wondered. I'd known the old man say something like that before and had been astounded when the farmer had then announced that he’d had to pay the taxman a huge sum of money, such had been the profit making abilities of the two brothers!
"Yes bach." The old man still seemed to be considering the sheep. "I haf not been too well of late. No, I haf not been myself at all. I've had a lot of trouble with this arm of mine and haf a lot of pain. I thought it was the rheumatics..." he shook his head again. "...but the doctor says it's something else."
"Oh? Is that so?"
Hywel nodded sagely as if he was pondering some earth shattering wisdom once again. "You remember, bach, that the old cat slipped and scratched me on the arm some time back and the scratches took a long time to heal?"
I remembered well enough. The wound had become septic and the poison had spread up the arm and must have caused the old man considerable pain before Megan and brother Billi had prevailed on Hywel to visit the doctor. The doctor, in turn, had sent him straight down to the hospital to have it treated properly, and the infection had seemed to clear up, except, as Hywel told me on occasion out of earshot of his brother and Megan, his 'blessed' arm was still giving him 'gyp'.
Hywel continued: "Well, although the infection had seemed to haf cleared up, as you know, I still had that pain especially under the armpit, and so because the pain was getting worse, finally, after a lot of nagging from Billi and Megan, I've been to see the doctor again - and then I had to blessed well spend ages in that hospital waiting in the corridors to be seen by some specialist."
There was a pause.
"Well bach, they gave me one of those scans – noisy thing that it is - and it seems that I've got cancer and they don't give me a lot of time to live; it's spreading all over the place..." He looked around at me and spread his arms out as if joking; "...and all because some blessed cat gave me a little scratch! Would you credit it, bach!?"
"I'm sorry, Hywel. I take it the specialist was definite, then?"
The old farmer smiled ruefully and nodded sagely. "As definite as a judge giving his verdict to a proven murderer, bach - more's the pity," he added ponderously.
There was silence as we both stood with our own thoughts in the middle of that field regarding the flock of sheep. I had thought that the old man hadn't looked so well of late, and was looking thinner, his clothes hanging about him and he seemed to lean more heavily on the old thumb-stick which he always had with him.
Hywel turned eventually and called the dogs, letting the sheep continue their grazing and as we walked on across the fields, I was feeling very sad at the sure fate that was to befall my friend.
But, as it turned out, Hywel took his predicament philosophically as do so many of the old folk of his time. Life and death were nothing new to him and, as he reminded me, he'd seen his fair-share, both of animal and human deaths, during his eighty-eight years. As he put it, death is the surest thing that happens to us all after we're born - we must expect it to come sooner or later.
Poor Hywel shrivelled up to skin and bone before he died peacefully one night and I stood with the crowd of people who'd packed into that little village church in the Towy valley to say our last farewells to a real old gentleman.
To the lost sheep, He is the seeking Shepherd;
To the needy sheep, He is the providing Shepherd;
To the hurting sheep, He is the comforting Shepherd;
To the bruised sheep, He is the healing Shepherd;
To the anxious sheep, He is the peaceful Shepherd;
To the wandering sheep, He is the guiding Shepherd;
To the fearful sheep, He is the protecting Shepherd;
To all His sheep, He is the Good Shepherd.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.