After a day of working I gathered the Gray Dog and a walking stick, dog lead and whistle, crochet, hook and pattern and headed up the hill, searching for peace of mind. The stick is new, to me, but old.
You see, last weekend my mum and Dad celebrated their 6oth Wedding anniversary. Mum had called a few weeks before and asked me what I was doing on this particular Sunday and I had said, well, I will be working because I will have been away. She sounded a little disappointed so I asked her why and she said it was their 60th, and Max, my sister was coming and Paul, and cousins, but not to worry. She knew I was busy. She understood I had work to do.
A couple of days later I called back. ” You know when you asked me if I could come to your anniversary? And I said, no? Well, what I should have said was yes, of course I can. It will be lovely.”
So, last weekend I stopped work, drove to Broadway and spent the weekend sitting knitting and talking to my folks, and it was just a little bit blissful.
We talked about tramps, gentlemen of the road, travellers. My dad used to come home sometimes, and riffle through his wardrobe then take clean clothes to give to a homeless person. And he would pop across from the police station and my mum would make sandwiches which they wrapped and he took away. He spoke of how he gave two huge doorstep sandwiches to one ‘gentleman of the road’ who ate one with gusto, then wrapped up the other and put in his pocket. “I thought you said you were clammed,” my dad said to him.” “I am, but that’s for tomorrow,” the man said, tapping his pocket. I asked my dad what ‘clammed’ was and he said it was a Black Country word for hunger. Later I found it was more than just being hungry. It was that fierce hunger that claws at you. And you could be ‘clammed with cold’ too.
I took Ivy and we retrod some paths familiar but lost a little in memory. And I asked my dad if he still had any sticks that he had made. He used to make walking sticks, with wood and antlers. He gave me the last that he had, with hazel from the hill and antler from Northumbria.
60 years of being married. They still hold hands when they walk down the road together.
Back home I got settled into the work I was so late with, but also still took time to walk, with the Gray Dog, with the White Cat. And with the stick that my father made. And as I walked I thought about things.
I had had a long phone call with mum and dad on my return. We all agreed it had been a lovely weekend. He told me that when he was at school he was Head Boy, and one of the tasks and responsibilities that came with the title was to have all the keys to the school. He would go early to school each day and open up the classrooms. He would then ring the bell, the school bell, the one called all the children in to school. He was, he said, the first to ring the bell after the war had ended, because the ringing of bells was a sign of invasion so while the war was on the bells were silent. He left school at the age of 14, went to work for Austen, and he talked a little of his work there, saying that whenever there were show vehicles to be made he was one called on to make them. And he said, “Now I think about it, that was such a responsibility to have. All those keys. And I knew which key was for which class, and one of the teachers called me the wizard of the keys. And the bell. The teacher took me up to the tower to show me the mechanism and how it worked. Not everyone who tried could ring it. I was good at that. And I was good at The Austen. But I was always told at home that I would never amount to anything.”
I was told at home that an education was a wonderful thing to have. My mum and dad were told once by friends how lucky they were, because they had two girls so they wouldn’t have to bother educating us. Both my sister and I went on to do the work we wanted to, because my parents saw the value of giving us that wonderful grounding of ‘a good education’. My sister was the youngest female officer cadet in the Royal Navy. I went to art college.
My dad used to take me out walking, telling me stories of when he was a kid, walking miles to school, eating hawthorn leaves ( which they called ‘bread and cheese’) He taught me how to recognize the song of a yellow hammer, where to look for skylark nests and those of other birds. Showed me fragile eggs cupped in nests. We went blackberry picking and searching for conkers and walked the Malvern Hills and Clent Hills. We watched for watervoles down by the Avon in Evesham.
He was a policeman. There were times I would wake and he would be sitting on the end of the bed watching us sleeping and I knew that something bad had happened at work. One day I came across a press cutting. He had been awarded a medal for bravery, for rescuing a woman from a house with a gas leak. And when we were talking the other day he was telling me how he used to walk the beat, and how more than once he got into trouble because he would stay after all had gone from the home of people where their child, or father, mother had committed suicide and he would clear and clean up, because that was what was right…. you couldn’t just walk away he said, and leave it for the family to deal with. There’s not much you can say after that.
I love my dad. And my lovely mum.
So, now I have my stick that my dad made, and it’s like having him with me when I walk. So glad that I asked if he had any left.