Please note: This is going to be a sad chapter...
Not long after the New Year arrived Charlie and Mr Wonka began preparing for the launch of the Toffee Treat. It was so exciting for Charlie to be involved with a new product from beginning to end, including the printing of the wrapper and helping to shape the chocolate into eight squares, each with a different filling. Watching the chocolate take shape was fascinating. He was beginning to realise why Mr Wonka loved watching the physical creation of his products, even all these years later. They planned it carefully so that the bars in each box would have a variety of fillings, meaning that even if two friends bought a bar at the same time it was unlikely that they would have the same flavours, which added to the fun.
They stood together at the assembly line watching the bars being wrapped, first in gold foil and then in their distinctive colourful wrappers, copied from his dad's notebook. Charlie helped pack the bars into boxes, astonished at the sheer volume being produced and how efficient the Oompa-Loompas were. He was trying to learn from them, to borrow a little of their candy making expertise but although he listened to their advice and took notes he was aware that they were far more experienced than he was.
Mrs Bucket was so proud when she passed by Bill's store and saw the display of Toffee Treats in the window. On a whim she went inside and bought one, much to Bill's amusement. She could not resist nibbling at in on the way home, savouring the creamy Wonka chocolate and trying to guess what flavours lay within. Best of all Mr Wonka was as good as his word and continued to insist that he would not take a penny of the money the candy bars made. With his help Mrs Bucket set up a bank account for the family so that they would have access to their own money for whatever needs they might have, such as new clothes for Charlie. And even though the money was still coming from the factory it was also coming from a product that her husband had dreamed up. It felt like Tom was still providing for them, even now.
As the weeks flew by Charlie's apprenticeship continued into new and exciting areas. Now that the Toffee Treat was a reality at last Mr Wonka needed his help in producing his father's Chocolate Soap idea. It would not be a practical joke item but actual chocolate scented soap, adjusted for the mass market and with the possibility of chocolate shampoo further down the line, if this was successful. And his family would keep all the money from these items too, which was even more exciting.
Everyone knew him as Mr Wonka's apprentice now and took his role seriously, even the younger workers. He became a regular presence at workers' meetings and when the newly formed Education Committee began meeting they asked for him to attend along with his mentor. He loved watching Mr Wonka talking to them and listening to their concerns. He was firm but fair and treated them all as his equals yet had a quiet authority about him. Charlie hoped he could become a boss like that one day. And there were so many things being planned and created that he really felt that a new era was beginning for the Oompa-Loompas.
Saturday morning felt different from the moment Charlie woke up. Now that the Easter holidays were here he was looking forward to spending the whole day in the factory with Mr Wonka. Today he was starting a little later so he could enjoy breakfast with his family and help with the washing up. But something was not quite right on this particular morning. Even before he woke properly he had been dreaming of voices, crying, doors opening and closing. As he lay quietly in his bed, he became aware there was no music on the radio, no bustle of activity as his grandparents got ready for another day. He got up quickly and put his slippers and dressing gown on.
As he opened his bedroom door he realised there were none of the usual Saturday morning smells of eggs, bacon or toast wafting up the stairs. More worryingly, he knew now that hadn't been dreaming. Somebody really was crying. What on earth was happening? As he descended the stairs he thought he could hear his Grandma Georgina's voice but could not make out what she was saying through her sobs.
"Grandma?" he called out, hurrying down the rest of the stairs. Just as he got to the last step the door opened and his Grandpa Joe came out of the room, his face grey and anxious. Taking a deep breath he took Charlie's hands in his and explained very gently that his Grandpa George had passed away in his sleep during the night.
Charlie had to grip the banister. Everything was spinning.
"I'm so sorry, Charlie. It was very sudden, as far as we can tell. He just slipped away," his grandpa was telling him but his brain was not quite taking it in. This couldn't be happening. It just couldn't be. Without a word he turned away and ran back up the stairs to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him. He threw himself on his bed, unable to take anything in. This wasn't real. It wasn't. He'd hugged his Grandpa George only last night when he went to bed early and told him he'd see him in the morning. How could he just die like that?
He stayed in his room, trying to distract himself with books without much success. He heard Grandpa Joe on the telephone downstairs, explaining the situation to someone as his voice trembled and he struggled for the right words. He watched from his bedroom door as his mother joined his grandpa in the hall, her face white.
"Mr Wonka…he's somewhere in the factory. Apparently he was up and about early… Mr Wilkinson will let him know right away…" he told her quietly, his voice breaking. She nodded and closed her eyes. "I'm sure he'll be here soon, he'll know what to do…"
Charlie could not stay where he was any more. He ran down the stairs and into his mother's arms. She held him tightly and Charlie clung to her but both of them were too shocked to cry yet. "Come and sit with us, Charlie," she told him softly, leading him into the living room by the hand where his grandmas sobbed fresh tears upon seeing their precious grandson.
Mr Wonka was on their doorstep within ten minutes. Grandpa Joe let him in and he entered the room of grief, hat in hand, with more restraint and caution than usual, offering them his deepest condolences in his gentlest voice. Charlie headed straight for his beloved friend and mentor who opened his arms to him, and it was only then in his embrace that he could cry.
Mr Wonka sat with Charlie on the sofa, his arm around him protectively while holding the trembling hand of Grandma Georgina who was sitting on his other side. Not long after that a couple of Oompa-Loompas arrived to offer their condolences and to help out. They gently insisted on Mrs Bucket staying with her family while they took control of the kitchen and made porridge and toast for everyone, along with mugs of tea and coffee, although no-one really had an appetite and Mr Wonka insisted that he had already eaten.
"I'll help in whatever way I can," he told them all gently, "It would be a privilege."
"I don't know what to do," Mrs Bucket admitted, as her little friends tidied up and fussed around them. "I mean, normally, I would, in the outside world, that is, but here… There's the undertaker and the funeral…."
"Make whatever arrangements you normally would," Mr Wonka told her, "An undertaker can come in here, that's no problem. It can all be done with dignity, don't worry about that. And I know you'll want to bring him to a church for the funeral; that can all be arranged. I truly am sorry; he was a lovely person, a true gentleman."
Nothing was expected of the family that day or even that week. They stayed at home, trying to comfort each other and Charlie's plans for the Easter vacation had to be scrapped, not that he felt like doing much anyway. The phone hardly stopped ringing. Georgina mourned for her husband of over fifty years, telling Mrs Bucket how proud he was when she was born after all the years they had waited to be parents and how he went around telling everyone that he was a father. Joe and Josephine tried to stay strong but they too were mourning for their fellow grandparent whom they had known for a very long time and they seemed slower and greyer than usual. The family planned his funeral together, with Mrs Bucket reluctantly contacting the pastor of the church she used to attend years ago when her parents were more active. She didn't really know him as he had only arrived a few years ago but she supposed he needed to be informed and her father had wanted a traditional funeral service anyway, with all his favourite hymns and readings.
There were not many relatives to contact. Both his older sisters had passed away many years ago. One of them had children living in California where she had moved when Mrs Bucket was a child and she wrote to them, not really sure if they would turn up at the funeral. One of her father's few friends was housebound and the other was up in Green Acres. She did not know if they would be able to come but let them know the sad news anyway,
Regardless of the world outside, their little friends here in the factory were devastated by the death of their future boss' grandpa and kept Number 3 supplied with a constant flow of meals and snacks with a variety of ingredients, some more unusual than others. They knew all about death and bereavement and not just in Loompaland either. They even had a cemetery of their own near the factory, hidden from the public road and there were already a few occupants there. With the family's permission a small team wrapped George in a blanket and brought him to their community room which they decorated with flowers and leaves so that the other Oopma-Loompas could come and pay their respects to him.
A few hours later Buzz and Jezro, another leader, came to their door to tell them the ceremony was about to begin. When they were all seated in the hall a group of elders gathered around George's body and uttered a series of incantations, which the family presumed were prayers of some kind. They sang slow, dirge-like songs and performed a more sombre dance than usual, waving lilies and other flowers which they placed around him. Myra was sitting next to Mrs Bucket holding her hand, or at least, encasing her friend's hand between her smaller ones.
"They're releasing his spirit," she told them gently.
Mrs Bucket did not understand the spiritual aspect completely but was greatly humbled that they would perform such an important ceremony for someone who was not one of their own. In a way it made her feel like her father was one of their own, despite his size.
The next day was his funeral, or at least his other funeral and the Oompa-Loompas were confused and upset to learn that George was being taken away from the factory in a car. With Myra's help she explained that his friends and former neighbours wouldn't be able to say goodbye to him unless they brought him to the church as this was where full sized people had their special ceremonies.
"But will you bring him back here?" one of them asked.
Mrs Bucket smiled at him. "No. We'll be burying him in the town cemetery, near my husband. But don't worry; we'll visit his grave as much as we can. And, we'll put some of your flowers on the coffin so that you can be there too, in a way."
Mr Wonka gently refused their offer to attend the funeral with them. He was not religious and did not want to intrude upon a family occasion. Mostly though, he didn't want it to become a big event for the local papers. He saw them off though, hugging Charlie and promising him that they would spend some time together when they got home.
"If that's all right?" he asked, looking around at Charlie's family.
"Of course," Mrs Bucket replied softly, taking his hand and clasping it between her own.
The funeral felt longer than Tom's had done but at least she had all her family here. One of her cousins from California had managed to make it in time and there were other relatives there, as well as some of their former neighbours. The church ladies laid out some refreshments which they were grateful for but none of them really wanted to stand around and chat for too long. Later they stood around the grave as George was lowered into it; the first loss they had experienced in their close-knit family. Sally and Joan supported her as they made their way back to the hearse, telling her how nice her father had been.
"A lovely, quiet man, not like my dad at all, thankfully," Joan remarked, "I remember when I broke that cup in your house, years ago, and he tried to comfort me about it. Mine would have shouted at me for being clumsy."
"We'll get together, the three of us. Just tell us what day suits you and we'll sort something out," Sally told her gently, "Not tomorrow though, it's pensioner's day at the salon and it'll be packed from the moment we open. But we would love to meet up with you for a gossip some time."
"And phone either of us in the meantime if you need to talk, even if it's two o'clock in the morning, you hear?" Joan added, giving her a hug.
"Thank you. You're so kind, both of you."
Her friends greeted the rest of her family, particularly Charlie, who they were very fond of, but as soon as they had made small talk with the mourners they just wanted to get back to the factory, to their home and their other friends.
Georgina seemed lost without her other half and the rest of the family felt George's passing deeply. Worst of all Joe was hardly at home during those days after the funeral so Mrs Bucket and her mother were trying to look after Josephine as well. Most of the time he was working in the Oompa-Loompa quarters despite not being scheduled there but they knew he was wandering around the town too. Mrs Bucket thought he was buying tobacco or sitting in the park but she was sure she could smell beer on his breath when he came home one day. She did not want to make a scene at a time like this but she knew the Oompa-Loompas must think it odd that he was with them more than he was with his family.
Charlie spent a lot of time in his room, pretending to study but really just needing to be alone, to try and think quietly to himself. He regretted not spending more time with his quieter grandpa, who had read stories to him when he was little if his mother was busy with chores and helped him make paper boats and hats from old newspapers. He loved all his grandparents of course but his Grandpa Joe was a link to his father, the adult in his life who shared jokes and secrets with him, who had told him all about Wonka's and how much his father had loved it. He thought of their excited chats, with Grandpa George listening in, sometimes trying to get a word in edgeways.
He did not know anyone with all four grandparents living with them. Steve's grandma had lived with them for about a year and a few other families had one grandparent in the house but not all four. It was early on in his life when he learned that his grandparents were bedridden, that there was no point in begging them to come and play outside with him. A lump formed in his throat as he thought of the amount of times his thin, elderly grandpa had insisted that he wasn't hungry at mealtimes. Let Charlie have it, he's a growing boy he would say and he, a hungry child, would happily gulp down the extra potato, the extra little bit of soup without a thought. Sometimes his mother would insist on her father having his fair share but he often found a way to sneak more food to his grandson when she wasn't looking.
And now he was here and his Grandpa George was not and the thought made him cry again.
Mrs Bucket was hanging out the washing when it hit her. Her father was dead. He would not be coming back and she would never see him sitting out in the garden again or trying to prevent tiny Oompa-Loompas from climbing on his wheelchair or reading the newspaper while shaking his head at the various headlines, licking his finger to turn the page.
A vice-like grip seized her heart and she left everything there to run through the house, past the room where her mother and Josephine were napping, out into the courtyard, where she sat at her favourite bench, shaking and trembling. She could see Oompa-Loompas passing by various windows, their working life going on as though nothing had happened. A few of them saw her, lost and alone, and they stood together by the window, tools in hand, debating whether they should go out to comfort her themselves or perhaps send a few of the ladies instead. And given the size of the factory it may have been a complete coincidence that their boss stepped out of the Elevator just then and came over to ask what they were all talking about.
Coincidence or not, after a little while Mrs Bucket heard footsteps behind her and the touch of a hand on her shoulder. She didn't even need to look around. As Mr Wonka sat next to her she flung her arms around him and buried her head in his shoulder, crying for the first time since that awful morning. He offered no whimsical comments, no quotations, no candies in a paper bag but simply held her as she cried tears on to his purple greatcoat and when she could cry no more he took an embroidered handkerchief out of his breast pocket and offered it to her with a gentle smile.
She wiped her tears and composed herself a little, taking deep breaths.
"Do your family know you're out here?" he asked her gently.
She shook her head. "They're all grieving already. I can't worry them by crying in front of them. Someone has to stay strong."
"Maybe your friends will meet with you? Sally and… Joan, isn't it?"
"Yes, I think I'll call them. Look, I'm sorry for falling apart again."
"Never apologise for crying. There is nothing more human than grief, you know."
She wondered for a moment if he had ever been bereaved. He'd lost his parents, of course, but that was a long time ago, apparently. But maybe it was still upsetting for him? Or maybe he was thinking of the Oompa-Loompas who had lost so many of their tribe back in their homeland. Some of them still looked a bit lost, even now, and she wondered if he had helped them with their grief over the years.
"If it's all right, I think I'll go to the Toffee Apple Orchard for a while..."
"Of course, make yourself comfortable there. Charlie's working with me when he comes home from baseball practice anyway so don't worry about him and I'll send someone over to check on the others." He put his hat back on and picked up his cane, ready to get back to work already.
Suddenly she gasped. "I've left the washing in the garden! I was hanging it out and… well, I just needed to get away for a while. Half of it's still in the basket, I can't believe I did that, I'll have to-"
"Still worrying about laundry after all this time?" His smile calmed her a little. "Take a break, Mrs Bucket, and don't feel guilty about it. You've had a terrible shock."
"But Joe's in the allotments today and my mother is- "
Gently he placed his hand over hers. "Mrs Bucket, allow me to offer a solution. I'll talk to Joe right away and send him home. And you are not to worry about another thing, do you hear?"
"Thank you. You're very kind, as ever."
"You're sending me home to hang out the washing? But I'm needed here!"
"Mr Bucket, I'm re-assigning Vern here to the allotments for the afternoon so you can help out at home, with whatever needs to be done," Mr Wonka explained patiently, "And he is more than capable of filling in for you."
Vern, a plump Oompa-Loompa who was normally very cheerful, glanced uneasily at the two of them as he took up his post. Joe gestured to Mr Wonka to move away from the group.
"I'm sure he is, but, seriously, you're telling me what to do in my own house?"
They walked past rows of vegetables and greenhouses filled with ripening tomatoes and other items Joe had never heard of before moving here. He could not believe it. Not only was Wonka appearing at the dinner table on a regular basis now he was disrupting his day, telling him what chores to do. Was there no end to it?
"Why me anyway? Why not send over a few Oompa-Loompas?" Joe persisted.
They entered a long corridor where Mr Wonka stopped in front of a noticeboard with rotas pinned to it. He paused for a moment, took off his hat and sighed. "Let me put this another way. The woman who cared for you for twenty years, who raised your grandson while grieving for her husband, who watched her husband die and had to bury him alone, who washed other people's laundry to keep you alive, has lost her father recently and thinks she can't cry in front of you because, as ever, she needs to be strong for all of you. And if you truly are the head of the family then please prove it and help her out a little."
Joe stood transfixed to the spot as Mr Wonka took a deep breath, put his hat back on and walked briskly down the corridor and into the Elevator.