My Mother: Shall we walk the dog down to the allotment
I blink briefly and agree. Something I’ve inherited from my
mother – and she from her father – is an emotional distance. We've never really had a traditional mother-son relationship, being very close in age.
I hold the lead of her dog as we walk. We chat about nothing
much and gaze across the valley, not acknowledging that this is odd. We get to
As a child I would visit my Grandfather’s house every Sunday
with my father and younger brother – post-divorce we’d stay with my Father in his
rank bedsit, top-to-toe in a double-bed with sheets that had not been washed in
living memory - and have to get used to a
couple of days of bad food, poor hygiene and the loneliness of pub lounges whilst
our father drank in the bar with his friends.
We would then return home to our mother and her new husband
who also drank and despised me. I dreaded that also.
Sunday was another matter. My Grandfather sang opera,
painted, read, gardened, acted in his local amateur dramatic society, listened
to Radio 4, played the piano and was the opposite of any man I’d ever known.
And each week my father – who did this much – would take me to see him.
They were precious hours. In later life I would take the
still very young Favourite Son and Favourite Daughter to see him of a Sunday
and Favourite Son would inform his mother “Guess what Mummy? We went to the big
house today!” And it was a big house, filled with art, books and peace. It was
an escape, a refuge and was presided-over by an absurdly strong-willed man who
constantly smelt of cigarettes, gin and learning.
“They call me ‘Great’ of course.” He would inform the
family. They didn’t, but they couldn’t quite manage “Great Grandad” and he
liked his version.
He was the only person who wrote to me when I left home for
university – typewritten, signed by hand, naturally – the only man who took me
to one side and offered me his wisdom before I did. But a cold, distant man who
was also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.
He was a frightening and impressive man who commanded every
room he was ever in. There was always an easel in his front-room with a
work-in-progress, a new piece he was trying to learn for the piano (he wasn’t
very good to be honest) or something new he was trying to cook, his garden was
an oasis and he was a joy to be around.
At this point he had died two days previously. Practicalities aside, we'd not spoken of it.
My Mother and I both gaze at each other for awhile. We smile
at each other.
My Mother: Anyway. Shall we go back?
William Kemp 1915 -