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Welcome to the ninth issue in Season Two of
The Cure for Sleep: Stories From (& Beyond) the Book which you can read in full over on my free Substack. This month’s invitation to write concerns gestures. Subscribers were invited to respond to the following prompt: Share a story of a gone loved one – their particular gestures or habits; what those meant to you. Have you found a way to keep them alive in your own seasonal rituals or daily ways of being?
Any stories received on this theme will be curated below. Click on each name to go direct to that reader’s contribution.
Tapping Restless fingers. Drumming like soldiers marching along his head, the table, the chair. My Father-in-law. Derek could not control them. A few months later his walking pattern changed. He used to sway from side to side attempting to negotiate an open door. Easy actions became difficult. Everything took longer now. Walking downstairs turned into a chore. Step by step, clinging onto the wooden rails with clammy palms. ‘I mustn’t fall.’ He used to say to himself silently. ‘Don’t fall. Take it slowly.’ The inner voice grew louder. Shaving presented another challenge: Derek avoided the door frame and stood in front of the sink and the mirror. He had always performed a wet shave, but co-ordinating soap, shaving brush had become risky. Derek researched his symptoms and visited the GP. ‘You’ve got a type of Parkinson’s.’ The doctor told him. Derek found it hard to process at first, but he adapted: easy-to-hold knives, forks and spoons filled the kitchen drawer, an extra railing was attached to the stair wall, and grab rails added in the bathroom. Following a spell in hospital Derek pestered to return home. His house was his children’s inheritance so he must avoid going into a home. Carers, social workers and occupational therapists invaded the house. After several falls Derek waved goodbye to upstairs. This independent streak persisted to the end – a fateful fall in the kitchen sustained between carers’ visits at the peak of the pandemic. What made him get up that day? A knock at the door, a telephone call or simply a toilet urge? All we know is that the bleeding was too extensive to consider surgery so he slowly slipped away. No more tapping, thudding, or swaying. No more supportive chats. But his legacy, his house will live on. JOanne Baker
8pm. Thursday 3rd May 2012. My 7-week-old daughter was breastfeeding when the phone rang. My sister, in a wailing voice I had never heard before or since: ‘Oh God, it’s awful. Auntie Lynn is dead.’ I felt a cold, white emptiness radiate from within and I wanted to faint. She was 49, the same age I am now. She literally dropped dead at home of a cerebral haemorrhage while watching TV. Bam. Dead. On an average Thursday in May. We were close. She was my Auntie, my mother’a sister but also my godmother. Eleven years apart. Both my sister and I spoke to her most weeks. She had texted me that very morning to tell me she was popping to the shops. Then bam. Dead. She never even got to meet her great niece, my daughter. I read a poem at the funeral about the transient nature of life. About footsteps in the sand being washed away. I needed a brandy to do it. I was 7 weeks into breastfeeding. I could barely get the words out. Absolute white cold shock. The world spun for months after. My maternity leave was a mix of the warm joy of my second child and the ice-cold panic of loss. The jigsaw of my life had been thrown in the air and it took a year for the pieces to fall back again. A decade on and I honour her often. She taught me to cook. The other vegetarian in the family, I think of her when crumbling veggie stock cubes into my cooking. That was one of her tricks. I play her Talking Heads vinyl and toast her on French holidays when drinking ‘pouilly fume’, her favourite wine. My daughter, now 10, wears her scarves and has a photo in a locket of a woman she never met. I sometimes speak to her. Auntie Lynn would have loved that, Helen
The Whistle My dad – departed nearly 30 years now – had this funny whistle. He was Mauritian, come to this country to nurse, and met my Mother who is Irish and was nursing too: small island people meeting on this island of the UK. My dad had been born with a spinal complaint and lost mobility after a huge operation when my brother was a newborn. It was a gradual loss and he fought well to keep as much movement as possible. Long rehabilitation stays in hospital, exercise bike in the kitchen after dinner, and an adapted Gold Ford Granada he would use to drive us gaggle of kids to sweet shops, zoos and to care homes to pick my mum up after her shifts at work. It was unusual maybe but not for us and I felt the happiest I’ve ever felt being part of this whole unit. My dad’s mobility worsened and soon it was a walking stick from the car propped up by the wall round the garage that would get him back inside the house after an adventure. And on those tentative walks back this whistle would come, a kind of…I don’t know, maybe a thinking back kind of cheerfulness and defiance? But also I remember a kind of cuckoo noise – it was a bird’s call, a family noise, a heart song that was ours and imprinted within me without me ever realising. And when at my lowest in my late 30s – questioning and in pain from life itself – I found that whistle calling me back to myself and a song passed my way. A very old one: . Cucurrucucú Paloma The lyrics of the song made so much sense of my pain I was in and the cuckoo sound within the song was, I know, my dad calling me back to my home, to myself, like he had done all those years ago . Monique kennedy
One evening, I surprised myself by reaching into the cupboard and picking a bottle off the highest shelf. HP Sauce. Brown and spicy and now in a plastic bottle, rather than the glass one we used as kids.
That thump thump on the end, trying to get some brown sauce to plop pleasingly on our plates, beside the sausages and bacon and soda bread. And the inevitable shout of frustration when nothing came for ages and then a massive slop. Ah, it’s all over my soda bread! It makes it all soggy! Maybe plastic is better these d ays, I think, as I squeeze out a perfectly-sized drop on the edge of my plate. It’s an Ulster Fry (of course) and it never tastes right without HP Sauce. This was a surprise tonight, though. I’ve told myself, over and over again, that I don’t actually like this sauce with a fry; I prefer some fancy chutney, I say with a middle-class sniff. But here I am, dipping the sausage and enjoying the taste immensely. My brother was right. Stephen slathered the stuff on every single meal (except breakfast, but I wonder if, given the chance, his cornflakes would also swirl around in brown milk). As kids, we would pass the bottle round, watch intently as each person tried to control the amount coming out, and laugh and laugh when it went everywhere. I didn’t know that my big brother, with his freckles and wonky fringe and odd tastes, was wise and funny too. He was just annoying. And then illness arrived and, too late, pointed it all out: he was wise and funny. And so here I am, missing him and licking the brown sauce that tastes now of spice and warmth and tears. Here I am. Missing him. Susan Bennet
Pies My father-in-law, Gennady Vasilyevich Ivanov, made the best pies I ever tasted. In summer, he made large rectangular sheet pies. The bilberries – painstakingly picked in the forest by my mother-in-law – spilled over the edges of the thick bouncy pie bottom, and were sprinkled with sugar and topped with golden pastry greetings: ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘1st Day of School’. For our wedding party, he baked small, individual pies filled with cabbage and hard-boiled eggs, mushroom and dill, minced meat, apple and cinnamon. Sometimes, he would pop over with a box of warm pies, just because, and we would wolf them down greedily, never managing to save any for later, handing him back the empty box. I can picture him now in his tiny kitchen on the 7th floor, his firm white hands, always wearing his wedding band, kneading the yeasty dough and covering it with a tea towel to leave to rise. He loved sharing his pies and we all loved eating them: oven-warm, crispy on the outside, thick, soft and bready on the inside with the generous fillings bursting out. I once asked him for the recipe and my mother-in-law wrote it down for me, but the pies didn’t work out. My endeavours produced a thin-crusted pie, with no evidence that I had followed the Russian recipe, and I wondered if the secret was in his hands and not the ingredients and method. After my mother-in-law died, he would spend Wednesday afternoons at our flat, sharing his baking secrets with his teenage grandson: mixing, kneading, covering, rolling, glazing. This Boxing Day, my son baked pies for us all. It took him six hours, but he did it all alone. My father-in-law may no longer be with us, but his pies are still being baked. heidi reinsch
This is about my son who I am grateful to say is still very much alive… But in my experience, there is a grief and a joy to all stages of parenting. He’s 22 now and I look fondly on these days as I celebrate the life he lives now. What is missing? Well, the boy is missing, the boy who wanted to quit school in second grade to be a farmer, the boy who had his own egg business, made his own labels for the egg cartons, kept track of who he sold to. The boy who never forgot the guy who didn’t pay. The boy who set up a desk in his dad’s woodworking shop, complete with pictures of his dog and one of our favorite hens along with a book of agriculture facts from the 1970s and an aluminum bean can decorated with construction paper for pens and pencils. The boy who wore International Harvester t-shirts and hats, who stood, hand on hip, leaned like he had spent hours on a tractor. What is missing? The boy who already had around 30 chickens and his mum and dad weren’t paying enough attention to the number of eggs he was giving to his uncle to incubate and when his mum finally asked he said around 70, but don’t worry, they won’t all hatch and nearly every one of them did hatch. The boy who had chickens everywhere. What is missing? The boy who would hang out in the kitchen with his mum as they washed all of the eggs and discussed the idiosyncrasies, how some eggs looked like they hurt and some had surprising speckles. The boy who would clean the nest boxes and reline them with fresh hay. The boy who made sure their water dispenser was clean and full. The boy who would go down in the evening after the ladies were back in the barn and made sure the door was shut tight and learned that sometimes the raccoons get in anyway. What is missing? The boy who had an old John Deere riding lawn mower that he did not weigh enough to keep running so he added a cement block to the seat and chains on the back tires so he could spin the mud in our yard. The boy who stuck a bumper sticker on the back of his seat that read: I Farm So You Can Eat. What is missing? The boy who would sit on the board fence and stare out into the pasture, lost in those thoughts that a young boy has that no one ever gets to know. The boy who had time to watch the grass grow. sheila knell
My great-uncle Carleton always greeted us with a handshake, even when I was very young. I am certain he was the very first person to shake my hand, taking it upon himself to teach us children the proper technique, to say ‘How do you do’ and to ensure the correct pressure, gently correcting us if our grip were too tentative or too powerful. Carleton always expected this formal gesture, a handshake delivered with just the right balance of confidence and respect. He also was likely the first to call me ‘Miss’, another dose of formality that was foreign to my world but essential to his. I don’t ever remember seeing Carleton without suit and tie and hat, but I do remember seeing him sitting in our den with a handkerchief on his bald pate. He had gotten chilly and had taken out his starched white gentleman’s handkerchief, tied a knot carefully in each of the four corners, and then placed it upon his head as if that was the most ordinary and proper thing for a chilly gentleman to do. I was never entirely sure how seriously he took his proper gentleman-self. There was always a glint in his eye that suggested humour, a warm affection in his way with children, even while calling us ‘Master’ or ‘Miss’ and insisting on just the right handshake. Years later, when anyone reaches a hand out to me, my arm becomes a conduit for carrying on Carleton’s education, and somewhere inside me, formality and amusement waltz together. amy boyd
You were certain that was the dress you must have. Pristine white geese with yellow and blue bows tied around their slender necks danced around a skirt of scarlet red, and a white pique collar impractically topped rows of delicate smocking. I had visions of red bleeding into white on the first wash. You spun around, a full circle of anserine waltzing filling the dance floor of the tiny shop and knew this was your Christmas dress. I know how important dreams are, and so watched, my fears unspoken, as the assistant folded leaves of tissue paper and handed a glossy carrier bag to my lignite-eyed, smiling girl. I wish that I could say we feasted better on the day that you left us, but I can’t. Amidst the jobs that must be done, I hurriedly scored crosses on scrubbed and oiled potatoes and set them to bake. Even the sauce was from a jar. Your father burst through the front door, bringing a blast of freezing air and shaking the snow from his boots. At least we were together. I had reached the half landing with a basket of laundry when your brother screamed for me to come. The Christmas tree lights sparkling, amidst the abandoned Lego and half-completed buildings, you struggled to breathe, your concerned brother, your protective angel, arcing over you. Lifted into the crook of your daddy’s arm, the waltzing stopped, and a gaggle of crumpled geese fell still. I never did wash your dress. When Christmas lights sparkle, I lift it from its wrappings and inhale the captured fragrance of a child who chose the perfect garment to celebrate the twirling, whirling, joy- giggling excitement of pantomimes, presents, and parties, and then, to slip ever so quietly away before the red could bleed into the white. Elizabeth
Arthritic knees, vigorously rubbed before standing. Failing eyesight, the tugged hem of her jacket two-piece when entering a room, the imperious lift of the chin. Her reaction to unpleasant news – a vocal octave descent, accompanied by Bob Fosse jazz hands that would dance past her ear lobes, effectively repelling the delivery of such missives for most of her later life. And an incongruous sentimentality for such a stoic and proper soul that had stared down two world wars: there were always foxes welcomed into her garden – every season in every year, a vixen and her cubs given sanctuary under her shed, a saucer of milk put out every night under the kitchen window to tempt that primal creature ever closer: anarchy and rebellion just beyond the glass.
Her son. Large soulful hands, fat veined with wisdom and love, and tanned from summer drives. A passion for old comedy, Tony Hancock, Peter Sellers, and the Muppets – leaning forward, forearms on thighs, face rapt for mimicry and storytelling. Afternoon rehearsals for evening performances, DJ, dickie bow and viola case, returning in the small hours with always two cigarettes to unwind, stubs discarded in the fireplace. A shirt and tie, even on the beach, a penchant for banana ice-cream, steam trains, hardback books. And in the flyleaf of those books are still his sums, ‘workings out’ scratched in pencil, lead chiselled and sharpened by a knife. Monies in and monies out, the worries of a gentle, profound, and wise man whose simple needs and happy life were weighed against an ever-hastening, modern and mercurial world. My Nan and my Dad. Enlightened and contradictory old souls both. Their intonations still whisper and give my heart a peace. Louise Ratcliffe
A little shake of the box and a mischievous smile… ‘But they’re yours!’ I’d say, in mock hesitance. She’d shake it again, and proffer it to me. No words were needed because she knew I’d take one. So I would rummage around in the box, even though they were all the same, before finally selecting one, taking it out carefully as if it were a jewel. I’d slowly unwrap its gaudy red wrapper, postponing the delight, to reveal the smooth chocolate inside, and it would be the most delicious thing, because I knew they were her favourites. Mum kept a stash of the boxes under her chair. ‘I only have one a day,’ she used to say with pride, after that brief sweet moment of shared silence as we munched. None of us knew what else to buy her, especially towards the end. The boxes were an unusual shape, so it was hard to disguise the contents. A quick shake of the gift and the secret would be out anyway. She’d grin, peel off the wrapping paper and pop the box under her chair to join the others. The unspoken knowledge of something terribly wrong grew and grew. But she didn’t want to know. ‘She won’t eat!’ Dad’s voice betrayed the worry that must have nagged at him like an open sore. ‘All she has is those chocolates’. Each time I hugged her goodbye there was less of her, until she felt like a baby bird in my arms. Now, I can’t look at those distinctive red boxes. I turn my eyes away from window displays, I hurry down another aisle. I haven’t tasted one of those chocolates since she slipped away. Maybe, when the pain subsides, I’ll give a box a little shake. Cathy Robinson
A Recipe I have no idea how it got there. But there it was: a piece of photocopied paper with instructions for a cake containing Dad’s favourite tipple. For every birthday, Christmas and Easter celebration, it would grace the table at our family gatherings. We found it clearing out his flat after he died. His handwriting, giving etched out amendments and additions in the margins. Glacé cherries replaced candied peel. Scrap the marmalade. Other unwritten directions were discovered through trial and error when my sister vowed to pick up this baking baton. Less black treacle, more golden syrup. With a modern oven, lower the temperature and shorten the cooking time. And add at least double the amount of Guinness stated to feed the sponge. No doubt Dad would have had an extra bottle on the side, too. There is, of course, an ingredient that was never written down. But intrinsically kneaded and stirred into every ounce of that cake mix. Love. Dad’s way of showing how much we all meant to him. My sister’s love for Dad to honour the gesture, and her love for us, by continuing this tradition. There is always a lot of cake. vanessa Wright
You lay unconscious between us as we shared our memories of you across the bed:
could you hear us? Every now and then you raised your left arm in the air, gently and slowly, almost balletic, leading from your elbow, your hand nearly reaching your brow before you gently and slowly, and with such quiet, lowered it back to your side. This graceful, silent movement stopped us in our tracks each time. We wondered if you were in pain or responding to our words, but we couldn’t tell. This gesture reminded us of your love of dance, and we reminisced, retelling the stories you shared from your childhood – of meeting Margot Fonteyn whilst your mum cleaned her friend’s flat. We both held vividly in our minds the beautiful photo of you in your early teens in your ballet outfit, a simple white tunic, with a wide pale pink satin ribbon tied round your waist, your feet elegantly crossed over each other, wrapped in soft pale pink ballet shoes. We remembered you taking us to buy our own ballet shoes and the delicious smell of them in the tiny little ballet shop down a side street somewhere in busy central London. Sometimes, when I feel your loss most, I move my arm this same way, gently, slowly up in the air. There’s a tenderness in it that somehow connects me to your love and to stories and memories that are so detailed and vivid. kaz field
I made that short walk several times as a child. Across the highway, down the street named after my mother, and in through my grandparents’ door.
Each time I arrived, I’d find Grampa sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee, while watching the bird feeder outside the window. He knew all the birds by name – Blue Jay, Robin, Chickadee, Crow, Starling – and he taught me their names too – Cardinal, Red-Winged Blackbird, Dove, Pigeon, Baltimore Oriole… Grampa’s side of the table was on the right. Gramma sat knitting on the left side. They sat me, Gramma’s ‘princess’, at the end of the table with my milk and cookies. Grampa was a kind, loving man. As we sat together, he would show me a picture book of Norway, his childhood home, and translate the captions into English. It was a magical land full of snowy mountains, fiords, and chalets. Somehow that picture book was lost, perhaps in the move after he died. One time when I sat with him, I tried to draw a nearby chair as he sipped his coffee. Gently, he took the pencil from my hand and transformed my stick chair from two to three dimensions. As I see him now, through the haze of imperfect memory, he is still sitting at that table, watching his visitors at the bird feeder. His coffee is served in a cup and saucer. He raises his hand to pour the hot coffee into the saucer to cool before he raises it to his lips before placing it back down on the table. One hot summer’s day Grampa came by to inspect our newly installed pool. Mum served coffee in mugs, without saucers, but he didn’t complain. The last photo we have of him was taken on that day, Grampa with his coffee. Marilyn daniels
When was the last time? Christmas? My eldest’s birthday, in mid-December? When was the last time my dad patted me on the head? Something he’d been doing since I was tiny, and continued until … when, exactly? If I’d known it would be the last time, I’d have remembered it better, surely. If I’d known he would die unexpectedly, less than a month later, I might have instead held him tight. Could that butterfly flap have altered anything? Hugs come easily to most people, and I’m lucky enough to know a couple of truly great huggers, whose embrace reaches through to your core. My family rarely hug – my parents the product of their own reserved families, hardened by war and loss and their times. Love was and is expressed in devoted actions, but seldom through words or touch. So the feel of my father’s heavy hand on my head – pat, pat – at times of pride or joy or sorrow was, I knew, the closest I’d get. Pat, pat. As I grew up, grew taller, though never matching his height, the angles would have changed. He would have felt the years pass, but it was always the same to me. Each time I was a child again, measuring affection through momentary touch, storing it away. I find myself making the same gesture now with my three children, adding it to our repertoire. Reviving his habitual action to continue a connection longer than lifetimes, to bring my dad back for that brief moment. Pat, pat. I love you. Amelia H
We listened to the clink of metal shackles tapping irregular rhythms on the masts in the small harbour. I have no idea what we ate for those last days together, but I remember huddling in the cottage around a too-small wooden table. Peals of laughter swirled and danced, particularly precious because he had never expressed joy so freely.
Grandad was smaller than his formidable wife, who threw shards of bitterness at him whenever she could. But, bent over his daily paper, the world would expand beyond their walls and his imagination was free. And as he read, he would slice the top off his boiled egg, slipping it to the snuffling Pekingese by his feet. He was a man of routine, held firm by propriety. Every morning after he retired from his reliable job at the bank, he would walk to the shops, recognisable for his baggy trousers and jacket which stopped neatly at his waist. Tucked under one arm would be his ridiculous dog, who shared his passion for fresh air. He had a love of plants, of their roots in a gentler existence. Working together in a communal rock garden, I pulled out a plant I didn’t recognise. ‘That is not,’ he said crossly, ‘a weed.’ His rebuke hurt. Unable to frame his apology in words, emotion swirled unspoken between us as we ate our sandwiches. Once home, he pulled open a stiff wooden drawer filled with brown paper bags. They cradled a sugary world: humbugs, chocolate limes and bulls eyes; flavour bombs that made your eyes water. Normally I was allowed to reach in for just one, but his apology that day took the form of several sweets. Their crackling wrappers shaped the sounds he couldn’t: Sorry. I love you. You are my universe too. emma willsteed
With pockets full of love, a simple, rural way of life beckoned in France. We embraced it; slipped in between sunflower lit days and floodlit stared nights. A Shangri-La hideaway. To meld and merge into the French ‘way’ a teacher had to be found to guide us through the long, dark tunnels of le– and la-land. By way of a dozen mouths, Lorina opened her rustic, paint-peeled door and a thin, bleached skinned hand full of long delicate fingers clasped mine; transferred a cold spark of life. The fingerless glove was quickly pulled back on, nesting her hand into the warmth of wool. A traverse of histories was now engaged and a flow of identities began to converge. Her vertical strike of a figure: a pencil in shape and width hardly caught the air as Lorina slid through our hours together. As our histories and identities were peeled away and disguises laid to one side, discoveries were made. Lorina lived a rural life picking the soft fruits of summer, while her husband Rod toiled in the fields. But her fingers had turned many a page of poetry and as our lessons advanced she began to colour the drab teaching room with poetry; quoting Clare, Thomas and Frost. She left an impression in the air; a signature of soul and sadness – French and poetry – that will always hang there in plain sight. For twenty five years she had followed the toiler in the French fields, plucking fleshy fruits and orchestrating a concert of poetry in polytunnels. Lorina spent her last years in France, as did her favourite poet Edward Thomas. We shared both of them with her until her pancreas took her and put her in the ground. We returned to England, still with love in our pockets. Steve Harrison
That laugh. That booming, roaring, rolling laugh. It was what people mentioned most, after he died. ‘No one could laugh like your Dad. The joy of it!’
It’s true, no one could laugh like my father. Sitting in his armchair, hands resting at his side, something – we didn’t always know what – would strike him as funny. The first warnings of the avalanche to come: blue eyes firing, pepper-and-salt beard nodding. The laugh itself began at his extremities: fingers and toes twitching, then hands, alternately waving in the air and slapping the chair arms, feet stamping the floor, marking time, building to a crescendo until – finally – his whole body rocked backwards and forwards, and his guffaws, deep and strident from his well of hilarity, filled our souls, scattering all the day-to-day grind of unrelenting worries and griefs into oblivion. When it was done, we’d be left exhausted with our own laughter. Dad, meanwhile, settled back in his chair, calm and comfortable. Observe him closely, though, and you’d find him still glimmering. Last autumn, walking through a forest of tall evergreens on a dull day, something caught my eye. A young Sweet Chestnut, self-seeded among its watching companions, had captured a breeze. All the tree’s scratchy, rusty leaves were flickering, pulsating up and down; its crown began to sway, then its trunk, rocking back and forth in a dance of laughter. If it had had feet to stamp, it would have been stamping them. I burst into tears: hard, raw tears. Here, fifteen years since he left us, the Sweet Chestnut had taken the spirit of my father’s laughter and unlocked not only lingering grief, but also the release of joy. The tree stilled, and I walked on. I turned back once. It was still glimmering. amanda scott
We’re in the family car. I’m 12, and observant. In the back with my brother. Mum in the passenger seat, as always. She can drive. Chooses not to. And he’s not listening. ‘He’ is Dad. He never listens. We’re heading to Brid. I count the miles down by the petrol stations we pass: BP, Esso, National, Jet. Not forgetting Rix, the local brand. He’s still not listening. Except that’s wrong. I’ve got it wrong. He always listens. He just can’t hear. Well, he can hear. But not with his left ear. He can’t hear anything with his left ear. Can’t hear Mum on the ‘wrong’ side of him. Can’t hear birdsong when we’re outside. Misses the best jokes. I watch my dad’s steady concentration in the rear-view mirror. I feel safe. The thing is, my dad’s partial deafness quite possibly helped him into medical school. ‘What’s the most important attribute for a doctor?’ They asked him. ‘The ability to listen’, he replied. Was he thinking of his deafness then? Was it his deafness that meant he did deadpan so well, and communicated differently to my friends’ dads? ‘Welcome to Bridlington!’ the sign proclaims. Over the words, a painted bright sun. Overhead, cloudy. There seems to be a gull atop every lamp post. We park. He smiles. When my dad smiled, it counted double. His last smile for me – as I recall – was in Derbyshire. I’d pointed out a pair of goosanders on the River Dove. His very last smile was to my mum. In Grasmere. Where he went out like a light. Where Wordsworth wrote ‘Beloved Vale’. He looked. He stared. He smiled. A smile. They say it’s the world’s most powerful gesture. It must be, if he could manage one in his final moment. paul gamble
Grandma and Grandad, though friendly and kind, preferred the company of just themselves or their small pack of grandchildren.
I found comfort in Grandad’s ‘sayings’: they made me, my siblings, and cousins giggle, even more so after he passed on. ‘Where have you been, Grandad?’ We would ask. ‘There and back to see how far it was.’ He would answer. ‘We had one, but the wheel fell off’: What he would chime in his cheeky manner whenever he didn’t quite understand what some one was saying. ‘If you eat that, it will make your hair grow curly’ or another version he liked to use: ‘Eat that and it will put hairs on your chest.’ At Grandad’s wake we shared memories of the countless stories, expressions and jokes that he had shared, which had now become a richly-woven tapestry to be passed down through generations. What a legacy to leave behind. Our grandad – a big force by being his little, gentle and softly spoken character. He was from a large working-class family and had continued to live a humble life not wanting for anything but the love of his wife, children and grandchildren, and the great outdoors. His early life had been full of adventures and he kept that ‘spirit’ throughout his days until Parkinson’s finally stole his last breath. He was the grandad that let us climb on him as children, who made us a dolls house because we couldn’t afford one, even carving a bath out of wood for our Barbies. The grandad who quietly read poetry and on one occasion at a family party after a few wines, recited a poem to us – making a whirring noise to hide the fact he had forgotten a section of the poem, hoping we wouldn’t realise. We laughed at that, just like we laughed when he would pop out for half an hour during our many stays as children, saying: ‘I’m going to see a man about a dog.’ We later discovered he was going to the bookies to bet on the horses, something he loved to do. Gentle, kind and lovely man, my grandad, our grandad, who called my Auntie Melanie ‘ Lizzy‘ all of her life and my Uncle Nick, ‘ Herbert‘. I really miss you and your silly jokes and I will keep the fabric of your memory safe in my heart always. Thank you. charlotte dawson
The day before St. Patrick’s Day. Every single year.
My sister and I would pile joyfully into the car – no seatbelt requirements in those days – for the short trip with you to Fanisk Bridge, two miles from the village and a very special place for us. Besides its importance to our preparations for the national holiday, it was also the site of the communal sheep-dip trough, where all the local farmers brought their flocks once a year and we were allowed to take a day off school to help with walking ours down the road and keeping them separate from others in the warm, smelly chaos. It was also the site where our local river, the Dissour, joined the Womanagh to make its final journey to the sea; a kind of meeting-of-the-waters and just far enough from home to feel like an adventure when we cycled there with our summer picnics. On March 16th, however, it was where you brought us; just you – our mother wasn’t part of this ritual – to gather the shamrock that flourished between the stones of the bridge. You taught us to identify the delicate, green three-hearted leaves of our national flower as it grows in the wild; so different from the stylised images we now see everywhere, and to take just enough to wear on our coats for mass the following day – or in your case, on the flat cap that was more of an extension to your body than a piece of clothing. Just enough; nothing more – we always had to ensure there was enough left for next year. All these years later, long after your death, I return every year on March 16th to Fanisk Bridge to collect a little piece of shamrock – not to celebrate St. Patrick, but to celebrate you. tracey kennedy
The care home where we moved Mum to be nearer my sister was modern, purpose built and a long way from the usual old converted houses with their gloomy silent sitting rooms and gloomier residents. None of the pungent smell of captured dinners and stale gravy. Each room en-suite and as homely as was practical.
The best part about the whole place though was The Bistro. It was the closest to ‘normal’ where I could wheel mum along, go down in the lift and buy her a scone and a cuppa in a café atmosphere. Her love of cafés has always been part of her lifestyle. She liked nothing better than a stroll along the prom followed by a ‘nice cuppa’. This particular visit followed the same routine. She had a much smaller appetite than in former years and was happy to share a scone and let her tea cool. During a lull in the admittedly limited conversation, she reached for my hand across the table. ‘I love you, you know.’ While it wasn’t unknown for her to say this over the phone or while hugging on departure, there was a fervour about her words this time that was more emphatic than usual; that tag ‘you know ‘ carrying a weight of love she wasn’t always able to express so easily when face to face. They were her last coherent words to me as it turned out. Increasing dementia caused a rapid decline until she fell asleep for the final time. Some of the physicality of her upbringing had been traumatic. She was always affectionate to me but not always demonstrative. That gesture as her hand gripped mine is a precious memory, gifted to me and lasting long after she has gone. Jean Wilson
I was raised by my godmother and her most valuable legacy to me was the appreciation of what we have come to call ‘simple pleasures’.
She was already in her sixties and had retired by the time I was born. This particular memory is from my teens: in the afternoons she would often sit very quietly at the kitchen table with a black coffee and a couple of pieces of toast, and enjoy them at length. This may seem like a very banal thing to remember or write about, but ours was a home full of tensions, the air heavy with a mix of old age, resentment and regret (my godparents), young ambition, hope and restlessness (my parents), increased frustration (my teenage self) and quiet selfish rebellion (my precocious younger brother). But when my godmother found a moment to sit like this, life and time seemed to stop around her. Even though our kitchen was small, there were two tables in it – I used to sneak in and sit quietly at the second one. Never at the same table, because I wanted to watch her. Without a word, I would eat, do my homework, read, whatever would allow me to stay near her. Never daring to speak before she did, not wanting to break the spell. Me, a teenager! Just sat there, quietly, until she would ask me something like, ‘How’s school going?’ I have never felt at peace like I did in those moments – neither before or since. And even though I am flooded with sadness as I write because I miss my godmother Marcelina so much, thanks to her the smell of toast will always fill me with a certain amount of serenity. Coffee, toast, someone to share silent moments with – life essentials passed on to me by her. Maria Simoes
Betsy Bertha… also known fondly as Nanna. We visited every Sunday, a chore for my mother and yet just seeing her made everything okay in my world. Her wide smile took over her round face, but it wasn’t the smile that I first saw though, it was the palest blue eyes that spoke to me. I haven’t seen this particular eye colour since. They were rare beauties. Jewels. She called me her little sugar loaf. I was so proud, no one else had this title in the family, only me. It has come up in conversations with friends whilst speaking about their own names they were given by loved ones, no one has ever heard of it. To this very day, I’m bursting with pride, it’s something for me to gently and quietly hold. Nanna reminded me then and now of the Queen Mother only a bit taller and with better teeth. She wore a selection of polyester house coats, she liked pale pink and blue, which matched her colouring perfectly. This was the signature attire. I don’t believe I ever truly saw any clothes she wore underneath. Always welcoming by her grounded presence, always asking if I had ‘seen the vets’ on the TV. This was in the days of All Creatures Great and Small; she loved it too, trying to find a connection for us both. Nanna was an older Nanna, as I had older parents. I look back now and see it must have been hard for her to know what to say to us being the only grandchildren, and being the age she was. She found this one thread however and it was shared almost immediately when we arrived. Nanna has gifted me so much, she was always unapologetically herself. I’m still learning, a lover of nature and the countryside. Home cooking, and making the best of what you’ve got. She’s still here. If I’m lucky enough, one day I hope to be someone’s Nanna, to pass on and continue her beauty in the World. Liberty Phoenix Like this: Like Loading...