Everything in the garden was rosy. Mum watered the beds, in spite of the hose-pipe ban, and Dad gave a wee nod of approval. His smile was impossibly wide and his eyes the deepest brown. How we miss such things for looking elsewhere!
We received a visit from a number of angels that hot summer. Perhaps the sweetest of those visitors were two little girls, one a “wee bairn”, the other very pretty lassie too and maybe five years old. They were the grandchildren of our delightful neighbours, Eric and Pat who were real gardeners!
How strange this emaciated man might have appeared to the children. More being... than bone. Pairs of the biggest eyes beheld my Dad, resulting in the biggest smiles from all who were present during those precious few minutes. The children can see; and they will never lie to you; they see beyond the broken, they see the beauty un-obscured.
I used to like sitting connected to, and shaded by a little pear tree at the top of the garden, sometimes (I confess) having a little of “what took my fancy”. But that was my special time and place, to repair with my pain and passion, to lessen the pace and the volume of Life a little….and listen, and wait. I remember picking up small pebbles, holding them awhile and then tossing them back, each little orb sounding its own “chink” at the foot of the wall. I needed strength after hours of sometimes frenzied, penitent cleaning and disorganizing!
I drew excitement and strength from the approach of another night, grateful that our work had been done well. At the time I judged my work less than impressive. But the shifting colours and moods at the days’ end were miraculous to me; as was my “skill” in balancing perfectly a huge red sun over a chimney somewhere in North London. It was probably half way through September of that hot year. This skill I had perfected in childhood. I was seeing like a child. And trying to be a man!
I was a child amid these surroundings: small, fragile, and in wonder. Sometimes Mahler or Morrison through the headphones, often simply unaccompanied, soaking in the sounds and smells.
The sun set glorious and slow in the western skies as if with the colours of blood. And a feeling maybe that a Higher Power had seen it all before, and felt pleased; a sense that there might be worse things to fear in Life than death. Like a flower slowly opening, Love might bloom here. And often an ancient and tingling call, I like to think from some Celtic source perhaps, from somewhere far and yet near. Like melancholy music – a call I would answer another year.
Dad had a Celt’s heart, strong and proud and filled with acceptance – and fight (!), I hear him boom. Andy was an enigma – the way I had always known the man. It was still difficult to accept, for my part. But I would walk the short distance across the lawn, pass the Glory Hole (utility cum conservatory) into the living room where my Mum sat, exhausted, legs tucked up beneath her – and relieved that her husband had been called to rest. My mother and I could rest together awhile without words. We all took our quiet times back then…
The chimney had swallowed the sun and the garden felt still. Some evenings brought with them new warmth and colour and quiet conversation between Mum and I. Coffee and consolation in the garden…
We often took turns at our sadness. How unfair this all was, my mother would say in a multitude of ways. Talk of the injustices and ironies that had marked his remarkable journey. How could it be possible that he had found true happiness at this time, built for himself a first true home?
Why Now? When he was “looking doon the barrel of a gun” – one of Dad’s typical ways of describing his particular conflict with cancer.
Sixty-some years, many spent in the kind silent suffering that only a veteran can comprehend; his final four years – ones of peace and happiness (and booze-free) with his “wee Gillie.”
For that I am truly thankful…