Many years ago, I was speaking with two elderly relatives about family history. As they gave me facts and recounted stories, I took notes.
They could see names being recorded in our genealogy, all given equal weight of importance, as they took their places according to blood-lines. Innocuous, and somewhat bland, unless a tidbit about them enriched their entry in the family tree.
Suddenly my great-auntie burst out an accusation, "He was a right 'un!" She looked shaken by having said it, so full of bitter emotion.
Her cousin looked shocked and spoke with a hint of reproval, "Now come on, it was a long time ago."
It certainly was. According to my newly scribbled notes, the individual had been dead for nearly seventy years. But my great-auntie could see his name nestling alongside her mother, her grandmother, his siblings and his wife. The proximity was more than she could bear, when they were all being treated the same, in a document which was being carried forward. She and her cousin were the last people alive who'd known him. They were the last ones to know what he was really like.
"He beat his wife, you know. And his mother! My Nan used to hear him coming home from the pub. He had to pass her house to get to his own. She used to blow out the candle and hide behind the settee, until he was gone. Then his wife would get it instead!"
Her cousin tutted, "She doesn't want to know all this."
I did and I should. My great-auntie had grasped the situation perfectly. I was the family historian and whatever I wrote down now became the truth. It would potentially be read by all generations to come. Why should a man like that be rendered blameless, by sheer dint of having decayed?
"But your grandad laid him out." My great-auntie concluded triumphantly. "He walked in and caught him belting his wife one day. So your grandad punched him out stone cold." There was a sweet satisfaction in that smile. There was the knowledge that this was also being added to the record. Her brother, my grandfather, had the courage to stand up to such a man.
Everyone in this story was deceased, but there were truths aching to be told. My great-auntie had waited seven decades biting her tongue, not wishing to speak ill of the dead. But now she'd gained retribution on behalf of her own auntie and grandmother. She'd had the final word, and every generation hereon would know it.