When my Dad died his wife threw out pretty much all of his stuff. By the time I went round to the flat they’d shared, just a few weeks after his death, it was like he’d never really lived there.
He didn’t own anything of any financial value, so I was aware I wasn’t on the cusp of inheriting some remarkable treasures. but my Dad was a very sentimental man, and I know for sure there would have been books, photos, letters etc that he’d have wanted me to have and it broke my heart that I wouldn’t.
I searched his place for clues of his existence, and managed to accumulate an odd collection of items including a gold ring, that I can’t wear because I’m allergic to gold, a mug from Whitby (one of his, and my favourite places), a BNF, which will strike many people as bizarre but my Dad had been on a cocktail of drugs for years and was forever looking stuff up in there, and a couple of other books- a cookery one and the other about Fred Dibnah (who, for the uninitiated, was a steeplejack) who my Dad admired. Oh and a fancy calculator.
Other than that I have only photos, and a shoebox full of letters/cards from him.
All of which I came across today whilst packing ready for our move to the new house.
You see, I’d had the bright idea of getting all our junk out of the loft so that it wouldn’t get forgotten and so we could sort through it all (aka, chuck a load of it in the bin) rather than just blindly move it all over to the new place and shove it in the loft there. So the last couple of days have been spent sifting through bags and boxes full of the most random items, each provoking a cascade of memories for either Chris or myself, or both of us. (Or, at times, neither of us, when it’s been a case of “What in the hell is this and why have we been keeping it all these years?!”)
Today I unpacked the pitifully small collection of my Dad’s things from one box and carefully placed them in another, taping it up and labelling it “SENTIMENTAL ITEMS- LOFT”
It seemed very fitting to find them today of all days, as it’s the one day a year, other than my birthday or christmas day when my Dad would always call me. If there’s one thing that you learn to depend upon, as the child of an alcoholic, it’s that you can’t depend upon anything (or anyone). And yet- every single year, without fail, from the year I left home and we got back in touch, he would call me on this day. From 2001, until 2009, the year he died. Why? Because of the clocks. He (and I) worried that I would forget to put them back before I went to bed, so each year, on the last Saturday in October, the end of British Summertime, he would call me and say “Don’t forget about the clocks lovely”. He’d usually call me in March too, and remind me to put them forward again, but October was a definite.
As I flicked through bundles of birthday and christmas cards, some where his fountain pen had danced elegantly across the page leaving extravagant words and letters in it’s wake, others, after his stroke, where it looks as though a toddler has been left alone with a biro, I got to wondering about clocks and time.
Every year we do this crazy dance with time, putting the clocks back and pretending it’s earlier than it really is. What if I could really go back in time? What would I change?
I don’t know. In my Dad’s case, it’s easy. I’d change it so he wasn’t alone at the end. Or rather, that he wasn’t with people who were being paid to care. Or if I couldn’t be there at the end, since he passed away at 4am, then I would at least make it so I’d have visited him the day before, and make it so that he’d have met his two baby grandsons, who had only just come in to the world, in the weeks before he left it.
Aside from the circumstances surrounding my Dad’s death, there isn’t much.
The night I left home, at the age of 15, my younger sister, with whom I shared a bedroom, woke up (unsurprising as I doubt I was collecting my things together particularly stealthily) and asked me where I was going and I said “Go back to sleep Sophie”. I didn’t know it but that was the last time I’d see her for four years. So for four years I agonised over, and regretted those last words. I wished I’d said “Sorry for waking you”, or “I’m not leaving because you annoy the hell out of me sometimes”, or a simple “I have to go but I love you”. Pretty much anything other than what I had said, basically. So there was a time when I would have gone back and changed that, but 13 years have passed since then, and so many more things have happened, time has moved on, as have both me and my sister. I don’t even know if she remembers waking up that night to see me stuffing clothes into bin liners.
I often mentally kick myself for giving up my housing association flat. From a practical and financial point of view, it was a dumb thing to do. But I was 23 and full of the certainty of youth (“I’m a qualified nurse now, I can make it in the world without any assistance whatsoever!”) Jeez. What a moron. So yes, sometimes that thought makes me wince. But what’s done is done, and I’m happy with where I’m at now so what does it matter how I got here? And I suppose that’s what it boils down to: feeling content with where you’re at. Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t easy, but then I’m beginning to wonder if that isn’t the point.
So before I go to bed I’ll be putting my clocks back (actually, there are very few now that don’t sort themselves out, it’s quite scary) without a reminder from my Dad, for the fourth year running. But I’ll only be putting them back one hour. I’ve travelled back in time enough in these past couple of days to know that I’m happiest right here right now.