July 28, 2016 by Stephen Bentley
Vignettes of Life
Vignettes of life or more accurately of my life.
‘Hamlet’ is one of the most dangerous things ever set down on paper. All the big, unknowable questions like what it is to be a human being; the difference between sanity and insanity; the meaning of life and death; what’s real and not real. All these subjects can literally drive you mad. – Michael Sheen
It was a stone built bungalow with a decent size front and back garden. The bungalow was on the edge of a Dorset village and one could look from the large front window and see nothing; save for fields, trees, larks rising and the chalky hills before they dropped down to the English Channel.
My parents lived there.
It never felt like home to me because my childhood home had been in Liverpool. Nevertheless, it was a home of sorts. I was welcome there and felt wanted, valued and loved.
I had been in Canada in August, 1986, trying to carve out a new career. I had been staying with my brother in Toronto when he opened a letter from our father. The joy in his countenance upon hurriedly opening the letter turned to a frown. I asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Dad has got lung cancer.”
It was sometime in late summer 1987 when I paid one of my regular visits to the home that wasn’t a home. My father had been through a few chemo treatments and was looking weary. Never the tallest of men, compared with me – his eldest, his thick-set frame seemed to have shrunk rapidly.
We went out to the back garden through the french doors. Doors he had paid a small fortune for because he liked the Everest double glazing salesman. Dad had fancied a breath of fresh air.
He had taken possibly three steps outside. He fell into a heap at my feet and started to cry because he did not have the strength to lift himself up from the ground.
This a stubborn man, a fiercely proud man, a self-made man, a man of iron. This was no longer the father that I knew at my feet. This was a child-like father who now needed a strong son just like I needed a strong father when I was seriously ill as a child.
I soothed him with calming words to impress upon him that embarrassment was an unwelcome guest at this party. I soothed him like he was my child.
Helping him to his feet, I felt the strength return to his hands. He gripped my forearms tightly, squeezed firmly. That was the nearest he ever came to saying, “I love you, son.” His eyes spoke to me. I could see the look of love through the teary veil. My father was frightened like a child. Scared by the notion of death that was knocking at the front gate.
This incident was a reversal of roles and a reminder to me, and I hope to all , of “what’s real and not real.”
‘Real’ is love whether experienced with family or not.
‘Real’ is the cherished memory. In my case memories of smiling faces in that home that wasn’t a home. I can see them now, departed but not forgotten, my father, mother, brother, grandmother. All of them smiling in that beautiful Dorset back garden where a man once fell.
Like father, like son. I’m not so sure. Death does not scare me. I would prefer it to come as in the words of an Irish priest I knew, “I’d like a quiet death. I’d like to wake up dead one morning.”
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