I like this hiatus between Christmas and New Year – when the ‘big clock’ winds down-a-bit and the cogs all turn at a slightly slower speed until the year ends; it’s a time to take stock and retrospect…
Dad’s old walking hat laid to rest on the bookshelf.
This is a tribute to my Father. He isn’t dead – yet – but he’ll never read it.
It has been written and compiled for my Mother – inspired by a gift that she gave him this Christmas – 25th December 2016. It will serve also as a record of his room before the inevitable happens. The time when his room will be dismantled and all his things dispersed among family. Somethings will have to be simply cleared out.
Lest any of us forget. Treasures gleaned around the four ‘corners’ of his room – his life.
He’s finished with reading his newspaper – and with listening to music – and watching the telly. The hours – the days – the nights are long – so he sleeps in a no-man’s land – curled up like a small, hibernating animal waiting for Spring – that he hopes he won’t see. He goes in and out of consciousness – in a golden room full of memories – but the birds don’t sing – and the crickets have all stopped chirruping a long time since. He’s waiting – hoping to die.
Dad’s faithful clock that doesn’t keep time accurately anymore – but ticks nonetheless. It’s also had a ‘healthy dose’ of woodworm in its long past!
To me – and my siblings – he’s eternally ‘Codger’. A term of endearment that we gave him as children and it has stuck – and has been passed on – to the next generation. It’s a name that he once thought amusing and encouraged – but he denies that now. He doesn’t like it anymore but he’s really too old to care. Just as well. His grandsons call him ‘Codger’ too – especially strong, young Tom – my midnight helper and lifter-upper!
He has been an eccentric father – both hilarious and embarrassing.
He once fixed a hole on the front of his car with a ‘Fray Bentos’ pie lid – and it was recognisable as such. I’m doubled up right now remembering it – but not at the time when we had to ride in his bodged-up banger! I’ve never liked his favourite pies – although I suppose I should be immensely proud; Codger was an upcycler before his time!
Oh – and he fought for his country – called up at just nineteen.
He’d often regale us with valiant stories from far-afield but back when I was young and impatient – I didn’t listen appreciatively. I was ignorant about war and probably a lot of things – still am. I remember him telling us how he had been holed up on-board a troop ship for three weeks in the Med – ankle deep in vomit. There’s no need to mention what action he saw; the tricorn hat, scarlet coat – and medals on his chest – say enough.
My father at Chelsea. He didn’t much care for the hustle and bustle of city life – so he returned to the country – and we’ve lived together ever since – always.
Dad wearing a different kind of hat – these days!
A larger than life ‘Dragonfly’ that hangs in his last window on the World. I made it for him a ‘long time ago’.
He’s past it now – and we don’t mention the War – or anything. We only share my ‘hairdressing skills’. I can remember from a very young age being asked to rub his head – or do the exact same thing of combing his hair. Only then – there was a lot more black.
It’s alright for him – I do have to get up for work in the morning! Pertinent words above a dying man’s bed. I can remember this sign above their marital bed when we were kid’s – five of us! It evidently had a different meaning in those golden far-off days – before divorce!
I could recount so much about my father – but time is short and the Internet wouldn’t be big enough – so to the job in hand.
Snow falling on snow. Dad’s long, wispy white hair laying upon his pillow.
Because I’m a night-owl – I’m the one who ‘puts’ the old man to bed – it is my last job of the day. Codger is permanently in bed you understand – he hasn’t got up for over a year – but he needs straightening-out, pulling-up and tucking-in – and a good drink of water before I trundle off up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire. He hibernates most of the day apart from when his carers and nurses come in to do the necessaries – but on my shift he is perceptibly more ‘active’ and verbal! He expects me to do one last thing before I’m dismissed – “Comb my hair Melly.” he assertively asks! Dutifully – and lovingly – I stand at his side – sometimes half-asleep – me that is – and I run the comb through his snow-white hair for ten minutes or so until I’m done – in!
“It’s soothing.” he says – as my eyelids begin to shut!
The warmth inside his room coupled with the tick-tock of his clock makes me sleepy – but the bugger of it is – he’s deaf and he can’t hear it! He’s been – and still is – an awkward old bugger at times!
KBO – Winston’s motivational acronym on Dad’s wall. “Keep buggering on.” I will.
In this ‘hour’ – he sometimes asks me ‘Who’s that behind you?” There is no one else up. Perhaps it’s just that man in a long black robe waiting in the wings again to collect him; he’s cheated ‘Death’ before.
His room is full of memories and warmer things – and photographs of when we were young. Nicholas, Simon, Caitlin and Rosie – and me. I’m his middle daughter and the only one out of his children that he saw being born.
When we were young. Photos taken by Dad with his Leica. I’m the fat roly-poly one wedged into a washing-up bowl – top right!
There is a small Christmas tree in his big bay window but there weren’t any presents under it this year. He doesn’t want or need anything – he’s tired of all that – of living. Musing about his room while I combed his hair last night – I remembered something that I put next to his clock for safe-keeping on Christmas Night; a pure cashmere scarf to be kept in it’s cellophane wrapper for later – from ‘his’ Sallie – our Mum – Granny.
Where we all began. Aged 28 and 17 respectively on their wedding day. St Peter’s Church – Hangleton, Sussex. 12th. January 1952.
The ‘dragonfly-blue’ scarf is not for wearing now – because he doesn’t need it under his toastie warm ‘blanket of snow’ – a 13 tog duvet with a fleece atop. Rather – she bought it in readiness – and it comes with instructions for use. The scarf is for when he falls into the deepest of sleeps – the coldest and longest sleep of all – to keep his neck warm – for eternity.
From here to eternity. Dads new scarf from Mum.
For a man whose life is almost over – I think it is an inspired, loving and useful gift – that only ‘his’ Sallie could have thought of. She chose his colour – because he always built ponds to attract dragonflies. The scarf is a testament to their love that has withstood the test of time – even though they’ve been divorced longer than they were married! Somewhere light years from here – they are together on his motorbike – with her arms tight around his waist – forever.
Five children – and five grandchildren later – this is for them too. For Jason, Archie, Araminta, Tom and Tobias – and to all his sisters and brothers – nieces and nephews. . .
And for Helen – his main ‘Homelife’ carer.
Helen at ‘home’ in the ‘spiritualist’s chair’ doing her paperwork. With Dobby our cat fast asleep on the other side.
The ‘big chair’ can tell more stories from Dad’s childhood and of much harder times between the Wars when his life was unsettled in more ways than one. It is no wonder that he is so embedded now – in his golden room – in his home of the last forty odd years. He’s surrounded by those who love him and who’ll look after him to the very end.
They say ‘old soldiers never die – they just fade away’. In Dad’s case it has proven to be true – it has been a long, long – long goodbye…
Still in the land of the living! Being kept warm by his sheep blanket – a previous gift from ‘his’ Sallie – for use this side.