Back in February 2010, my then 90 year-old father was very poorly and his physical world had contracted to his bed. He was at home just down the road from me. He slept a lot but I was able to leg it down to see him when he was awake and wanting company. This could easily be three of four times a day and he loved to talk, laugh, drink tea, eat chocolate biscuits and share hours of music. It was to be his last February and I had little doubt then that it would be so vowed to make the most of every single moment we had left.
He loved Springtime and my memories of that February moving into March are very much bedecked with buds, early daffodils, crocuses and the camellia that lived down a tiny pathway behind where his bedroom was. It had dark red blooms that always seemed shy but were an absolute delight when you took the trouble to seek them out.
Dad was big into music but one song that he asked me to play over and over was Gentle Annie sung by Irish Duo Foster and Allen. I came to love it and the calm it always brought to both of us. These lines always tended to bring our eyes together, sealing our bond forever and ever.
My father had a phobia about damp clothes because he spent a very long year in his early teens battling pneumonia which almost killed him.
His phobia was extreme and Mother, who was the opposite, used to regale us with stories of how he would want to shelter for hours from rain rather than get wet, even if it was freezing cold and likely to rain for days.
One of my lasting memories was a night I went out when I was about seventeen. That was a ‘gap’ year for me and I made the very most of it.
I slipped out of the house after tea and somehow Dad got to hear that I was wearing a pair of jeans which had been washed earlier that day. He got into a frenzy and as good as had a hospital bed booked for me.
He had no way of contacting me as I was mobile but there were no mobile phones. (I still like to leave mine at home if I get a yen to be ‘free’ and off the leash, so to speak.)
Anyway, nothing would do him but to drive around looking for me to get me home and out of the damp jeans.
He couldn’t find me and when I eventually sneaked back home, he was waiting with a look of concerned madness.
I tried to explain that I had put the jeans into a dryer thingy called The Flatley which ate electricity and was only meant for emergencies. That was crime enough but to him a helluva lot better than a dose of pneumonia.
I could see he wasn’t sure if I was telling the truth as The Famous Flatley was so out of bounds and also shrank damp clothes and I seemed to be fitting into the jeans.
What he hadn’t witnessed was the 15 minutes of agony trying to squeeze into the bell bottoms that I thought were beyond cool. It was a real case of: Pride knows no pain, trying to walk in those two sizes too small jeans.
But, a few hours on the razzle dazzle had softened them out and they were back to normal when he saw them.
My going-outs didn’t get back to my normal for quite some time and it wasn’t because I had pneumonia!
P.S. I have no idea why this episode came flashing into my mind this morning. Maybe it’s because I have never got over the fact that Monday is washing day even though I don’t adhere to that as every day seems to be washing day in this house anyway.
There was a period in my life when I was a bit of an only child as both my brother and sister were away at boarding school. We had just moved to Drogheda in Co. Louth as Dad’s job in the bank involved being transferred all over the place. Mother was a keen bridge player and had gotten involved in the bridge club where she was taken in warmly.
This meant that Dad and I were at home together and I have lovely memories of sitting with him at the fire listening to music on our then new and first record player. We’d be sipping banana flips that I used to make with the snazzy liquidizer – bananas and milk whizzed until they were thick and frothy.
It was Dad who introduced me to Harry Belafonte and Nana Mouskouri and I came to love both of them individually and singing together. I can still remember telling Dad all about a Nana Mouskouri concert that I went to during my college days in Dublin and he looked so pleased that I had continued to love her music from those evenings at the fire with him.
As night settles in here in Ireland today, I have been listening to both Harry and Nana again and can see Dad draining his banana flip and lazing back into the armchair with the dancing flames reflected in his eyes and me lying back on the sofa wrapped in a big security blanket made of love:
I was introduced to the world and art of Claude Monet by my father when I was very young and when get even a hint of a water lily, I am transported to treasured hours spent with Dad turning pages of big hardback Monet art books ~ our heads, hands and hearts moving in unison.
I saw my first water lilies of the year this weekend ~ as colourful, fresh and delicious as anyone could wish for:
Monet has been playing on my mind since and I’ve been perusing some of his quotes. Here are the ones that appeal to me most. I hope you like them:
“I must have flowers, always, and always.”
“I would like to paint the way a bird sings.”
“The further I get, the more I regret how little I know…”
“It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.”
” It took me time to understand my water lilies. I had planted them for the pleasure of it; I grew them without ever thinking of painting them. “
And, naturally as a bridge lover, one of my very favourite water lily paintings by Claude Monet is this one:
Am I alone in having had foibles about giving a bunch of flowers to a man?
It’s only in relatively recent years that I came to realise that there is no reason in the world why a man would not appreciate a bunch of flowers as much and I would and I wondered why I had always thought that flowers would somehow be an inappropriate gift.
Do we see a bunch of flowers as being very feminine?
I’d never have had any qualms about giving a man a tree to plant but send a bunch of pink roses ~ dither-time.
What changed me in all of this was my father. For most of my life I had wrung my hands trying to get him suitable presents for different occasions and when I found a drawer full of unused ‘stuff’ ranging from fancy after-shave to perfect fountain pens, I realised that I had to change a losing game.
So, I took courage and bought him a huge bunch of sunflowers in honour of our mutual love of Van Gogh and he adored them. I must admit to hiding behind them as I gave them to him but thereafter I had no qualms about getting him flowers of all descriptions and he loved them all for their colour and often poetry, art or gardens that he associated them with. ( I can feel him looking over my shoulder as I write here with so many prepositions at the end of sentences! Don’t worry, Dad, I know I’m doing it and I haven’t gone totally astray.)
Since I saw Dad’s reaction, I’ve given flowers as gifts to a few men and they’ve been very well received ~ even pink roses. I must admit that I’d prefer to receive a gift of a shrub or seeds or bulbs ~ something that will last forever but there are times when a bunch of flowers is just what’s needed…
… and I suspect that men are no different to me/women on this.
There’s something very precious about having a beach to oneself and that’s exactly how it was for me and Puppy Stan this morning out at Kilfarrasy. The tide was ebbing and there wasn’t even a footprint on the cleansed sand:
The sea was a darling blue and Summer seemed to be wafting in the salty air. When we turned to come back a fishing boat had rounded the headland with what I always think of as the upside-down heart and we stood watching it for ages as they threw in their lobster pots with the gulls shrieking overhead:
It was Puppy Stan who saw our watchers first. He skidded to a halt and peered up the cliffs. It seems like we’d had an audience ~ an ever-growing ~ one for some time:
I couldn’t but think of how my father used to say when I’d be trying to ‘doll’ myself up in my teenage years: Sure, who do you think will be looking at you, anyway?
I wrote a post on December 17th, 2012 about my experience of having written a ‘Thank You’ letter to my father when he was in good health and how it was one of the things that truly helped me in the aftermath of his death in 2010. I can honestly say that coming up to my sixth Christmas since his passing that I often think of that letter.
The post itself is one of the most read here on Social Bridge. People don’t comment, they just read it, and I hope that at least some of them write a letter while they have time. Far better to write it when your parent is alive and well than writing it after they have died.
Before I paste a copy of the post that I wrote in 2012, I must tell you that I recently came across a photograph that Dad took of the very place that I mention in the P.S. I will add it in at the end:
In 2003, when my father was 84 and in good health, I decided to give him the gift of a ‘thank you’ letter for Christmas. Interestingly, I can’t remember if I gave him anything else to supplement it but I know for sure that the letter meant the world to him then and means a huge amount to me now.
It was a five page letter, written by hand with a fountain pen, and started like this:
This may seem like an odd Christmas present but I want to remind you of all the really ‘fatherly’ things you have done for me since I was born.
It covered happy times growing up and moved on to his involvement in my education:
Another aspect of life was the academic; your willingness to pay for me all those years in Trinity. The PhD was the outcome for me – a lot of money spent the outcome for you! Trinity was my first time away from home. I have vivid memories of you delivering and collecting me from Trinity Hall, driving me to the station, meeting buses. The car was always there and so were you with your warm smile.
There was so much to say and on the last page, I wrote:
In so many ways, it’s been the little things that have been everything – mopping up the cuts, catching the mice, just being at the other end of the phone ….. Nights chatting over cups of tea and sugary hot orange drinks …..
Father never, ever mentioned the letter to me after I handed it to him in a yellow folder on Christmas Day in 2003 but my mother told me that he was deeply touched by it. After he died almost seven years later, I felt a great sense of happiness that I had taken that opportunity to thank him when he was fit and well.
I was rather surprised when I was clearing out his house that there was no sign of the letter. I doubted very much that he would have thrown it out as he always kept things that mattered to him. Then on the day I was handing over the key, I decided to have one last look and there in a special hidey hole, I found the familiar yellow folder. It was well thumbed and I knew that he must have read the letter on quite a few occasions. It has now become one of my treasures and sources of solace.
So, from my experience, I would say: write that Christmas ‘thank you’ letter now and don’t wait until it’s too late.
Oh and there was a PS in the letter:
PS: Remember that magic moment when we saw the deer crossing the mountains in the snow ….
There are times when I love to look through my late father’s collection of photographs which span the years from the mid 1940s to around 2005.
It is a very mixed collection and I suppose that’s what makes it such a treasure. I never know what will turn up, especially when I go to boxes that he had marked as ‘duds.’
Today, I came across an unusual looking pouch in one of the tin boxes in which he stored the photos. It’s black leather or fake leather but is clearly intended for photographs. It’s the only one I’ve come across so far and I was intrigued to see what he had put into it.
It turned out to be a set of photographs that go to the heart of the Ireland that Dad really loved. I’m not sure of the exact location but we are certainly talking about the West of Ireland. Dad was from West Co. Clare and, even though he moved around the country a lot, he never, ever lost his sense of being from the West and from West Clare, in particular.
Cottages and outhouses always caught his eye so this photograph of an old thatched cottage is exactly what I’d expect. What took me by surprise, though, is the way in which the thatch is so different to that which I am familiar with in present day Co. Waterford. I just love the simplicity of this cottage and the character it exudes.
We get some sense of the context within which the cottage is located from other photos in the pouch. Dad was always drawn to places where sea and mountains came together and this photograph brought me back to many of the beaches in the West that we holidayed near when we were kids. (I’m as sure as I possibly can be that the child in this shot is not one of us. He liked to take photos that included people who were part of particular places.)
Dad was an out and out perfectionist about lots of things and knew exactly where all his stuff was. It’s quite paradoxical that for one so perfectionistic that he didn’t throw away photographs that he actually labelled as ‘duds.’ I feel so fortunate that he didn’t as the ‘duds’ give us such a glimpse of an Ireland that belonged to other eyes and another time.
I’m well aware that there is a strong movement away from going to the well of our memories in favour of striving to ‘live in the moment.’
While I’m all for living in the moment, I feel that our present moments are often framed by our pasts and I love nothing more than to bring my bucket to the deep well that lives in my heart and let it pull up a fine glass of memories that were made years ago.
The end of September is always a nostalgic time and it’s interesting that it is the first month of the year that carries with it the word, ‘mber’ that so often starts conversations about the old days. ‘mber the time …?’
Well, the memories that are with me tonight are walking trips that Dad used to bring me (or one of the others) on. I’m talking 1970s and he was a big, strong, fit man for whom walking meant striding out for maybe twenty miles before lunch!
The walking trips were to wild places and a couple of cameras were always part of his luggage, as well as clean white cotton hankies, a strong black umbrella and his toothbrush. He was ever so careful, even vain, about his teeth in spite of being addicted to all things sugar.
The September song that brings me back to those times is this one sung by Nana Mouskouri, who I was fortunate enough to hear in concert in Dublin around 1975.
In September 1974, Dad and I went on a walking trip to his native Co. Clare ~ the place he loved more than anywhere in the whole world. Back then, the Cliffs of Moher hadn’t been commercialised and were wilder than wild. Dad must have taken thousands of photos of the The Cliffs during his lifetime and this is one that he took during our visit that year:
It was on those expeditions that I got to know about my father’s youth and heard lots of stories about how it was to grow up in the West of Ireland in the 1920s and 30s. I’m so glad now that we had those shared times as they give me a sense of my background too. They also make me smile as I think of his urgings to ‘step on it’ if he caught sight of a black cloud heading our way! For me, ‘stepping on it’ meant jogging along beside him as his stride lengthened and lengthened …