Day 11 of the Blog Each Day in August Challenge, today’s topic: Earliest memory.
Watching a magic show of a summer storm, two little girls sat side by side in an open window, rhythmically swinging their chubby legs over the sill. Behind them their father’s loud voice boomed. One girl listened intently as he told them of the Viking god Thor.
Another lightning bolt cracked opened the grey clouds and thunder drummed, rattling the slash window above the heads.
“Listen, girls. All that noise is mighty Thor, banging away at his anvil in his blacksmith shop.”
One little girl gazed at the sky, imagining a bearded giant – twin to her own huge father. The God’s beads of work-toiled sweat turned into the hot raindrops now pattering on her legs.
My father’s gift to me was his stories. Without him, I doubt I would have taken up writing, nor acquired my life-long passion for the Tudors. At ten, I decided my father was Henry VIII – reincarnated. He not only had a temper of Tudor proportions but a love of food more suited to a Renaissance king. Returning from his work on the pilot ship at Queenscliffe, he came home bearing gifts from the sea: a feast of crayfish, scallops and oysters.
When my brother and sisters were small children, he kept us fascinated by his nighttime rendering of blood stirring ghost stories, with a murder or two thrown in for good measure.
Dad also told us about his growing up years in London. Born on The Isle of Dogs, during the depression, Dad was always very proud of his working class background. Insisting on being called Harry rather than Henry was one part of that. He also proudly told us that he was a cardholder of the communist party in the 1940’s.
As children, Dad often told us the story of his father’s well-made coat. Granddad often pawned this to feed his family during the depression – paying for it back once he had a few extra pennies in his pocket, and then pawning it again whenever food supplies were low.
Coming from such a large and poor family, Dad also told us that the sight of a ‘Gladstone’ bag as a boy made him cringe, fearing another baby was on the way. Not that he minded babies, but he did mind the thought of less food on the table because there was another mouth to feed.
As an eleven-year-old boy, Dad was evacuated with his sisters during World War II to the beautiful cathedral city of Wells. But – separated from his sisters – his time in Wells was not a happy memory. Kept short of food, poor Dad was forced to steal milk and apples to survive.
This may have set the stage for his future; Dad’s quest for a full stomach was like his life’s holy grail. After the war, during the continuation of food shortages in London, he realised Australian ships brought to England a constant supply of food. That and an argument with his father (probably also about food) sealed his fate – and Dad signed up on a ship headed for Australia. Once it arrived in Melbourne, he jumped ship. It took years for Dad to confess to us (and the Australian government) that he was an illegal immigrant.
Yes. Dad loved his food. Problem is that he tended to eat any thing put in his way. One time he even grabbed the plastic bottle from under the kitchen sink and gurgled down green washing detergent, thinking it lime cordial. He accused us of trying to poison him!
Dad passed away in 2002. He never had an easy life. After a massive stroke at only fifty-two, my father went from a man who appeared in his prime to an apparently elderly man overnight. For over twenty-years he lived a life of great disability, but he wasn’t willing to give up on life without a fight.
Even when his heart began to fail at seventy-two, he rallied to the sound of the lunchtime trolley arriving in his ward. The family knew he had turned a corner when he asked for a pie and a cuppa of tea and started talking about coming to his new grandson’s christening.
The second heart attack, followed so close on the first, was just too much for him. During the family’s days of vigil by his bed, when we told each other happy memories of our father, most of the time he lay unconscious. But then, just hours before his death, the clatter of the food trolley and smell of food stirred him again back into life. He told us he had heard every single word we had said. He also said he loved us all.
I thought he was rallying again, but I now know that he had revived to say his goodbye and bless us with his love.