I remember holding his hand as he led our family in prayer when his father died.
The strength of his faith coursed through his firm grip, but I saw he had tears in his eyes and his voice plummeted to gravel now and then. One or two adults among us shifted awkwardly, for their faith was not as strong, but they persisted in the ritual. For all were joined by sadness and family ties as we held our similar-looking hands together.
The catapult of years is swift and now he, my uncle who loved his Lord — for that’s what he said years later — is dead.
All I can think of, apart from the warmth of spirit in his hands, was that he told us kids that there was an insect inside a mango pip, and we should try to get it out. I don’t know if that’s true. In the forty-six years since, I have never been able to open a mango pip.
My builder father was very good at mental arithmetic. He played games with us as kids. How many years’ difference between his year of birth and my mother’s? 4. How old would I be in the year 2000? 36. And how old would he be? 65. And how old would I be in 2020. I said 56, and I was right. And then I said he would be 85. He said oh no, he would not be alive by then. He was right.
I rise at 6.15. I’m in my pyjamas and I water the garden; Wednesday is one of the two days we are permitted to water. Wednesday and Sunday are our days.
Watering the garden takes some time because I have to make sure to move the sprinkler every 10 minutes. Apparently overwatering is nearly as bad as underwatering. I’ve applied soil conditioner, so the water sinks in instead of pooling and then running off. This is because the soil in this garden is sand. Beach sand. Hydrophobic.
I finish watering and Yoga asana practice follows. I have breakfast and then get dressed for my volunteer job at the Seniors Centre. So, I get in the car and off I go. My seniors are happy to see me and I get a lot of hugs.
“Will you marry, me, Mrs Johnson? ” Ted asked, putting two milk bottles through the kitchen window, always ajar, one gold top and one silver top. He asked this every morning as he delivered the milk. My mother gave him a tired little smile and said what she always said “Oh Ted, I’m already married, you know.” Ted nodded at the customary answer and walked away with his head down, back to the milk van, his sadness palpable.I think he really wanted a wife. Ted was a “mongol” as we called a person with Down’s syndrome in the sixties. At eight, I wondered at the word. He lived alone with his mother and we never knew who his dad was, or cared. Ted was as much part of the village as the vast oak tree on the green, Mrs Hurley in the village shop, or the village vicar. He was always immaculately dressed in a clean, pressed checked shirt, a home knitted grey tank top and twill trousers. He had a job on the milk-round and everyone knew him. He commanded his own respect and only got angry if anyone was unkind to him. Ted and his mother taught me what Care in the Community should be.
The image of a painting by Sally Swain was hard to track down online, but no matter. In the end, I photographed the image I have.
I have often thought of the wife of Fauvist artist Georges Henri Rouault and my sister while washing the dishes. Let the record reflect that her name was Marthe Le Sidaner. My new abode has the perfect window when engaged in this activity.
The colours are frequently as bright. The colours are either in the glorious sunrises or in my imagination. Sometimes it is a touch of both.
Artist Sally Swain published a book called Great Housewives of Art. The image here is of the greeting card my sister sent me thirty years ago, full of the news of her adventures as a young woman in London.
Oh, the dishes I have washed in my life! Oh, the colours I have had the enormous privilege of seeing! The ink of the letter has faded; the colours in my mind’s eye do not.
So many pictures, all in frames. I am good at drilling holes in walls. I am. My father taught me well, you see. Plus I have had practice. Plenty of it. All the places I have lived.
I won’t be exercising this talent this time, though. I am letting go. Such things are burned already into my soul. I have kept one. My sister knows which one. She and I took turns with the handle of that press.
Her first wood engraving. Nothing else matters. I have an easel on which to display it – as if it were something special. It is. I’ll clean up the easel and the picture this week.