Sunday, 15 March 2009

A tribute to my dad

My dad was a quiet, reserved and gentle man.  

My mum had her sights set on him for quite a while, but my dad was too busy playing cricket and tennis to notice.  He loved being outdoors, being active.  My mum was not deterred and after months of slavishly following him around the colliery, they finally went on a date. From that time they were inseparable.  My mum, however, was bewildered by one of my dad's most fervent eccentricities; that he had to be in bed by 9.30.  If they went to the cinema she would usually find herself being briskly ushered out of the door long before the film had even finished.  

My dad also slept soundly through every air raid during the war, despite the fact that the shelter for the street was in the family's garden.  All through his life, when going up to bed, he would cry, 'Best bit of the day!'  I think my love of napping is certainly attributable to him.

My mum and dad married in 1955.  A suitably modest wedding in the colliery church.  My dad had worked hard at night school to learn book-keeping, thereby avoiding a life down the pit (the fate that awaited most men in our village).   My mum worked as a primary school teacher until my eldest brother was born.  It was a happy marriage, all their life they would go everywhere hand in hand.  

My dad was devastated when my mum died.  He vowed to his sister that he would dedicate himself to his children, that there would never be anyone else.  I was the youngest, the only girl and was particularly close to him.  We would go for long walks together daily, down to the sea, round fields and country lanes.  He loved nature and animals, he could name every flower and tree.  

I can't begin to imagine how hard it was for him to raise 3 children, work full time and cope with his unfathomable grief and loss.  He never complained, he was such a dignified man.  His strong Christian faith helped him, he rarely missed church on Sunday.  Through the church he became something of an unwitting sex-symbol.  The elderly spinsters all fell in love with him, he had a seemingly never ending supply of home-baked cakes, flasks of soup and gaudy hand knitted scarves and gloves.  However, he stayed true to his word remained single for the rest of his life.  He found his strength and comfort in his faith, his garden and his family.  

I spoke to my dad every day of his life, even when I was at university in London.  He had an obsession with junk shops and charity shops.  He was forever buying me strange and random items that he found there.  Some things I adored:  the walnut Art Deco bookcase, a complete Edwardian dinner service (with almost 100 pieces), a pressed glass dressing table set.  Some things were not as successful: the cheesy china Dalmatian (that was missing a leg), the taxidermy duck (missing an eye).  He loved a bargain.  His birthday present from me was always a green lambswool jumper from Marks and Spencer.  I would cut all the tags off, rumple and crumple it a bit, sprinkle a few dog-hairs on and then declare I bought it in Oxfam for 50p.  It was the only way my dad would accept it.  

I miss him so much, I miss the nightly phone calls, cooking Saturday lunch for him, our walks with the dogs.  I am sorry he never lived to see me become a teacher, he always predicted I would.  He would have loved that, he would have adored hearing stories about my class.  I am sorry that when he died I was very unhappy and unsettled in my life.  It would have been a comfort for him to know I was content and had a family of my own.  But that just wasn't to be.  When he was told that his cancer was terminal and advanced his only concern was for me.

I have particularly missed him this morning, whilst struggling with my garden.  He loved gardening, he always looked after my gardens, planting hydrangeas, laurels, delphiniums and herbs.  The only thing that seems to flourish in my current garden is a pear tree he planted.  It was another of his beloved bargains, £2 in Aldi (of all places).  It towers over the expensive apple and magnolia trees I bought from a fancy online garden centre, despite them all being planted at the same time.  In a few weeks that pear tree will be wreathed in creamy blossom, followed by heavy, luscious, grainy fruit. I'll make chutney and pickles with the pears, the jewel-like jars will line my kitchen cupboards, multiplying year on year.  My dad is not here to enjoy them.

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