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…
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Addendum 18th March 2017. The Art of Remembrance.
A short footnote – in response to Caitlin and her heartfelt comment – 18th. March 2017.
Above and below – is the original poem mentioned in my reply. I bought it towards the end of 2016 through Ebay – not knowing for certain exactly when Dad would die but I knew it was coming towards me in the New Year – 2017 – we all did. It serves as the most perfect Memento Mori along with a luminescent drift of his snow white hair – cut on the 6th. January 2017 – after he’d died. The springtime photograph of Tom and his Grandpa – taken when Tom was four – or five – could almost be a metaphor for Old Father Time himself welcoming in the New Year – this year. My corner to Dad is in Loveday’s space also – they share it. I don’t linger in their realm too often but it’s always a comfort to have them behind me in a literal, visual, spiritual and metaphorical sense – as my life moves forward ever nearer!