We had a large sitting room, with windows looking out in 3 directions. It was a very light room, and also chilly in the winter. We had an open fire and I loved the ritual of watching my mum empty the ashes and clean it out before laying the new fire: a couple of fire lighters and a teepee of kindling, the coal sitting nearby while she lit the fire and waited for it to catch. It was mid afternoon, just starting to go dark, and it was very still and quiet. Then she would gently add the coal. Sometimes we burnt logs. I liked that better; they crackled and smelled delicious. They came from logs that were discarded from my Dad’s work of blocking Christmas Trees in November and December.
My bedroom looked out on to the backyard where my Dad blocked the trees and tied up bundles of holly and mistletoe to see in his shop for Christmas. I remember weekend winter evenings when it would get dark around 4pm. I used to turn on my bedroom light and close my curtains. I’d look out and see him working hard; wearing a hat and fingerless gloves; his breath making clouds of steam in the air. He’d smile at me; and I’d wave and then close the curtain and curl up warm and cosy in my chair with a good book. I didn’t give much thought to how hard he was working; and whether he was feeling tired, cold, or lonely. Sometimes I would carry him out a steaming cup of coffee and he really liked that. He always greeted me with a warm smile and thank you; so I never guessed if actually he wasn’t so feeling so chirpy inside. I’d like to be more like him.
I love remembering him like this; and even though he has Alzheimer’s now he still lights up like this when I visit him and we share a joke together.
I’ve wandered away from the sitting room and got distracted in my bedroom. But now the fire is warm and roaring. It’s ready for us. And now Dad has come inside. He’s in the kitchen now. It’s Sunday. We have a routine on a Sunday. At lunchtime we have a roast dinner, that my mum cooks. At teatime we have tea. It’s a treat. It’s the only meal of the week that my dad prepares. He slices up a real loaf; he slices it thinly, not like the sliced bread that I eat today. He starts by buttering the top, really carefully, right up to the edge. He can spread it thinly because it’s nice and soft. On this winter’s day he will have put the butter on a chair under the counter after lunch, near to the radiator to soften up. He hates hard butter, and will swear under his breath if he’s forgotten to put it there. (Or if my mum has moved it! She doesn’t like this habit of his, there have been a few occasions when she has pulled a chair out from under the counter and crash goes another butter dish!). But it’s where he likes it, ready for his perfect, right to the edge butter spreading. With his legs crossed he slices the bread perfectly even; and repeats until there is enough bread for our family of 5. Now he constructs the sandwiches, with salad for him and mum, with pickle for my brother and I, and salad cream for my sister. He piles them onto a big wooden tray with a pot of tea for him and mum, some squash for us, a bag of ready salted crisps, and another plate full of cake; and carries it into the sitting room. He places it carefully onto the coffee table. We all pick up our napkins. Dad spreads a newspaper on his lap as well, under the napkin. And then we dive in. It feels a bit naughty eating on our laps in the sitting room watching TV, usually David Attenborough wildlife programmes. But it feels safe too, it’s our routine, it’s allowed. We’re all there together, at home, on a Sunday night, nice and warm, with lovely food, and a cosy feeling of love and family.
Thank you for this trip down memory lane. I want to be more like my dad, and I want to create happy, comforting memories like this for our children too. Simple, cosy, safe, loving routines that make our family, our family.