Mum would remark that this “new home” was a “dump”. She would apologise. The apologies were rarely necessary, the state of the house hardly relevant. But the garden at least was the best room in the house. We too were being tidied in all the most important ways.
Andy grew sick and cross. He simply would not have the “wee one scrubbin’ an’ cleanin’ a’ day long!” She rarely wielded a hoover in anger but when she used the noisiest machine ever she did so to mask her tears and her supplications. You weren’t going to catch the Yorkshire terrier with her guard down either! We would all talk and cry together soon enough.
I watched, constantly, over my mother, and I felt close to “this gardener”. Most of my hurt was for her, for the woman waiting to be left behind. Andy slept more those later days and it was pleasing to us, strangely.
Somehow the Real Work was being done, in this our rather unreal little family, our own strange world of closed curtains, gently whirring fans and opening hearts. A little family being healed before its very eyes; healed because it had suffered so much since its adoptive beginnings twenty-five years earlier. Regrets, mistakes and suffering meant so little at that time. There was no desire to pretend.
In spite of her great insecurities – and mine, for that matter – my Mother did not complain or voice regret. Her big concern was me, her son. In truth it amused and delighted me to see the unlikely attendant abandon herself to a new and alien task, trowels and forks replacing dusty files tied with red ribbon.
Mine was the same thrill. In quiet times I felt we were living through something like a miracle. We felt inexplicably privileged, and perplexed, pleasantly, by the gentle joy there was in getting to know one another. I would tell my mother that her powers of loving far outweighed those she was accustomed to using to bring home the bacon. Being a solicitor seemed less important now. I was good at advising others!
These were true moments; concern outside of ourselves and a first for me certainly.
Andy could be a cantankerous man and did not always make it easy for us. He rarely showed his feelings but we knew of his lonely hours – we rarely gained access to his inner world. Such was the way of his Life. My mother would inevitably make the odd mistake with Dad’s daily medication; occasionally a pill was taken out of sequence and, of course, nothing got by the old soldier – he required and would demand the strictest routine: after all, he was fighting this thing, and wars were rarely won without the help of your allies. Enough bluster, I suppose, to upset Mum for a while. It was the enemy with whom he was angry, not a little woman doing her very best.
They were Beautiful times. Difficult times and these we had all learned to accept. Dad seemed to accept the surrender in his body; but, like every body it was only really an outer shell covering something far more compelling and meaningful.
Love…sometimes with a bark!
When the sun did set, it was never on an argument between us; we were the allied forces. In another laboured breath before sleep it would be: “My wee Gillie is the best woman in the whole wide world!!”
Dad was never alone, and he knew this. We watched. But he was the lone-soldier at his post, watchful over us, living always on his wits. Friend or foe! He was a protector.
His bedspread (a McMillan special) was a lambent reminder of another guide, a Shepherd I had seen as a child, a Shepherd whose eyes had probed my heart from a picture on a wall way back when.
We felt alive and whole, curiously. There came laughter and smiles and the best of memories between us; their holidays East and West which they described with the pleasure of Pilgrims. Dad loved to look out upon his little patch of Paradise in suburban London. The past, too, had come to keep us company like the best of friends.
Looking back, I am there once more, giving thanks that my parents had found their way, ultimately loyal and strong, bonded by their curious kind of loving. Their love was peculiar and, strangely, perfect. Like a red, red rose – of which my dad used to sing.
In this odd couple I could see two flowers blooming profusely after drought and frost. There was joining where there had once been separation, light now filling the darkest place you can imagine…and consolation in our garden after the desolate times. An end to the bitter campaigns and earthly worries. I watched and I must have learned; how it was that Mum and Dad were to share their burdens, their joys and hopes during every moment, each one a blessing. A beautiful smile. And no hint of Caledonian curses to be heard. Blessings where once there had been blasphemies.
Our accounts were clearing, and there was the beginning of truth. And I would get to hear some of my Dad’s stories, just by being there, with him and listening. None of us really needed words, only an ear, a smile, the gentlest touch. All our major wounds were healing then, those little cracks that made us who we were; they were accepted, and receded to who-knows where. The war in the world was over for a while, though it had shaped the content and form of our lives. It had damaged my father, most certainly. But his spirit was really that of a dove and not a hawk.
“With the heart of a Lion!” I hear the old man ball.
I would always wear the reddest and proudest of poppies when: We All Remembered Together, in November that year of 1990.
A giant red sun had bobbed that farewell morning along the horizon and it settled awhile behind our favourite wispy poplar trees. A frost had kissed the ground.
I allowed myself the thought that Dad might feel cold wherever he had gone – a thought quickly dispelled with a smile. No, he was warm, most definitely! Whatever burdens he had carried through his Life (that I had so come to love), they were lifted away. There are no burdens where he is…in The Garden of The Lord.
The wee squirrel hurried and scurried, only a baby, leaping over the greenest grass, missing those markers on his way. We watched him disappear into the undergrowth and race, full-pelt up the side of a silver birch. Life had shown itself triumphant...
Autumn leaves chased us, like footsteps. A tall Scottish Pine, the Helix Heavenward cried.
I can see that shepherd now, a dozen years on…in our garden. He is our hope. If not for hope my heart would break.
In memory of my parents, Andy and Gill.
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