David Culley confronts a flood, his father, his past.
It’s that time of the year when you look back at the last and forward to the next. A time when you make resolutions you will probably fail to keep past January and are probably fairly meaningless anyways. You will plan to travel more, spend more time with your friends and family, perhaps stop smoking and drink less. Then life will get in the way, work and the everyday things we have to address that keep our bodies active and our brains satiated.
I will use this particular post to look back at something a bit personal. In January 2005, I had a very busy month, any resolutions were soon forgotten, tonight as it happens, Carlisle flooded and I mean properly flooded, not some large puddles at the back of Brunton Park, or an overspill at Rickerby Park as many locals had seen for years.
The city flooded, it ground to a halt, I was among those locals who did not escape, my house being just 20 feet from the river, at around 3am my house was three feet underwater.
Two people reportedly died in that flood, but to my recollection it was three.
On the Monday after the Friday flood, after two days in Carlisle where many of us had no electricity I received a call from my sister that she could not gain entry to my Dad’s house. He had not been flooded but had been without power for those two days.
Now not one to write a 10,000 word epic I will briefly summarise our relationship. There wasn’t one. My parents split when I was at infant school, there was bitterness between them that lasted years and I stayed with my Mother, physically and emotionally. We eventually stopped speaking around 20 years before that flood, with the only communication being him sending me Birthday and Christmas cards, and me being too stubborn to acknowledge or reciprocate.
I also got asked to listen to one particular record I recall in one letter, this one:
My sisters stayed in contact with him, I was too busy with my own stuff. They were older, they had a more solid relationship with him, I had a million excuses and eventually ran out of reasons. A year before the flood I would regularly see my Dad, as I worked in town and I was persuaded by a friend to give him a break and talk to him. I did, I stopped him in the street and he didn’t recognise me at first, profusely apologising moments later. I went to visit him in his bedraggled old flat beset with his paperwork and eccentric hoarding. And the sweet smell of alcohol which was my abiding childhood memory of him. We talked, I took my young daughter, he fell in love with her. We talked a little more. I last visited on Christmas Eve 2004 and it was cordial rather than therapeutic.
When I reached his flat on that Monday he was already dead, a frail 69 year old man who had slipped away of pneumonia caused in part by lack of heat and in part lungs weakened by a bout of TB in the 1950′s. He had stopped smoking 9 month earlier after spending over fifty years smoking forty woodbine a day. My Sisters cried and I went into practical mode, I had a funeral to organise after all. The undertakers took him away and I set to work, I found his paperwork, will and documentation. He left nothing tangible, no cash, no property, but perhaps things more important. He left 1000′s photographs which I gave to my sisters, his personal belongings I donated to charity. He did leave me some diaries, in fact, 50 years of diaries, with family details, secrets, and to his credit no disparaging remarks about me or any other members of the family, just the facts as he had viewed them. I realised I did not know him at all. The fault for that? Mum, Dad, me and my own stubborness, it didn’t matter, no-one would ever agree on that. I could’ve, should’ve, if this, if that, it was too late. I followed his instructions in the will, the most important was that he was buried with his own Dad, a Dad he had lost when he was only 5 to be another statistic in World War II, a Dad he never knew, it all felt so familiar. The War Graves commission granted me permission to inter his ashes with my Grandad, for a donation, so long as no extra headstone was added, as if he never existed. Whatever my Dad was he was a gentleman, he left bills, even a paper bill at the local shop, I had to pay them, it was the right thing to do, so people had the right and proper recollections. My Aunt gave a beautiful Eulogy at the funeral, about how happy our reconciliation and bonding with his Granddaughter had made him. His diary is fascinating, maybe one day I will hand it down or start my own, his last entry had been at Christmas with him expressing sympathy for the Tsunami victims.
I closed the chapter, I ended his story with an update on how he died, what my thoughts were and I put the diaries in a box in a corner of my own attic, they will come out again one day. I have no bitterness or regret about what I did or he did, it is what it is, he had his issues and I–like you–had mine. It was closing time…
Originally published on BlueCumbrian.wordpress.com
photo by jasoon / flickr