The Kingdom…

Julia’s Eatery – Crail

Ana and I climbed into the car at 10am this morning headed for the Kingdom of Fife – the East Neuk and St Andrews.

We left a climbing sun, drove through threatening greyness and arrived in a quiet midday Crail. Ana – predictably – was starving so ‘Julia’s Eatery’ on High Street was a handy first stop.

We shared the space with a brand new Gran and Granpa – full of the joys and excitement of their wee grandson who was gurrying on hard melon slices and being high-fived for every happy wee noise. I remembered my own happy chiels – and then smiled inwardly when the wee lad ran out of happy patience and demanded to be lifted out of his highchair – stirring my own memories of lunches broken by girning and crying; at snatched bites to eat gulped mid-baby-nap and of indigestion…

He was fascinated by Ana for a while – long enough to let Granny finish her coffee and cake…

When they left, Ana and I finished our own food and discussed what we would do next. The rock pools won and I moved the car out to Roome Bay.

The sun was beginning to cut through the haar as we descended onto the pebble beach. Ana collected pebbles and shells and scooped whelks and tiny crabs from the pools. I sat, quietly watching, memories washing in, relentless as the tide.

My brother and I spent every summer running to Roome Bay. Our jelly sandals nipping our feet. Our buckets and spades flying out behind us as we pretended to be planes, scattering swallows in the tree-lined football field with our clatter – stopping to scoop up water from the burn that ran through the ancient old graveyard with its skulls and crossbone stones and cross-armed knights.

Later I lay with the too-beautiful Iain in the grass in the hollow of the glen that hugged the far reach of the  graveyard. Never-minding the dead who lay only feet below us -as they were oblivious to our sex.

I worked in the hotel at the Links. Laughed and flirted and got drunk on attention, on Guinness and on the closeness of that tight community of fisher folk and oil men and farmers. And I learned how to drive – illegally, without bothering any driving school or government test centre.

As Ana picked over pebbles I saw, just behind her, the deepest curve of the bay and remembered the oil-drum campfire parties that stretched into the early hours and smiled and she asked what I was laughing at.

She came bearing the special stones she’d selected for painting. We sat on the rocks and felt the sun prickle our skin. Inhaled the brine and the heady stench of drying seaweed.

We needed this trip out.

Ana picking her way over rocks – Crail – Roome Bay 

It’s not been an easy week.

Dad’s diagnosis on Monday was grim. Advanced localised(?) (the question mark is the medic’s) prostate cancer. He’s gone from largely symptom-less, the man whom the doctor thought was benignly, mildly enlarged to the focal point of radiotherapy plans and bone scans. And he’s been transformed from robust, solidly dependable and taken-for-granted ‘Dad’ to a patient sitting in the limbo-land between MRI and CT scanner waiting rooms. Looking and sounding haunted. Losing substance.

And as he falters and falls and we fail to catch him, this time, because it is not what we prepared for, there have been so many memories bubbling to the surface. Salted by tears that come in solitary moments.

So it’s my need, just now, to capture and hug the past close. Testing the bounds of what can be remembered. Fearing the loss of memories; the fragility and subjectivity of recollection. For if I can’t remember, then what will it all have been for? All the living and striving and being and  breathing. The shouting and laughing and fighting and loving.

Stones for painting 

It’s just the natural way of things. We are born. We die. I know this.

Why this hellish emptiness then? The feeling that I – we – know nothing; have built our understanding on shifting sands.

Dad’s catchphrase ‘we all need to die and die of something’ sounds out a callow note, its trite truth mocking us. Oh yes, we heard the words. But did not stop to think how we’d really feel when death and loss came to the door.

And because we didn’t, we wasted too many minutes and hours and days sweating the shit that really didn’t matter.

 Days on the beach matter.

Wee trips out in the car matter.

Dad doesn’t want to miss his month in Spain. He wants to visit Granada and the Alhambra. His doctor says ‘Go. Enjoy. Come back relaxed and prepared.’

Last year Mum journeyed to Spain for the month – delaying her own cancer treatment. I struggled then, to understand why she’d chosen holiday over medical interventions.

I don’t struggle with that decision anymore.

12 thoughts on “The Kingdom…

  1. I'm so sorry to hear about your father's health problems…and yes, I can quite understand why your mother, and he, choose to have their holiday before returning to see what's what in the treatment line.

    My husband was so ill so much of the time that he would grab any opportunity to do the things he wanted…in case he never got the chance again.

    But how can you know what you'll really feel until the blow strikes….you can't…but knowing you can't know doesn't mean you can't snatch every minute of shared pleasure ahead of the time when you will have the knowledge thrust upon you.

    I saw a lot of my father in his later years…and I'm glad that I did as it was only then that he really started to talk about his life….and then still with important reticences.

    He spoke of death in the same way he spoke of men dying and being wounded in war

    If you can't take a joke you shouldn't have joined….

    but used to add that there was a difference between joining something of your own free will and being conscripted into the human race willy nilly.

    Fingers crossed for your father's treatment being successful.

  2. Oh my goodness, y.s.s. My heart goes out to you about your dad. I hope you all have a wonderful time in Spain and are able to live in the moment for every day of your trip.

  3. Oh Yvonne yes they matter, days at the beach. I haven't had one for an age, just to stop and think. It's all rush rush and writing and economic struggles for me. My kids are older and further away, in me-land, so I'm not really wanted. And my parents with whom I'd love to spend time are on the other side of the globe – and I am stressing to send two sons to them!

    I do which I were closer to these moments, able to take grandparents on a holiday. Living through pain and doubt and truths. Over here things are pretty dispersed right now but I guess the cherries are out xx

  4. A beautiful post. I'm sorry your dad is going through such tough times, and you by association. I hope he enjoys his holiday, grabbing the good times while he can.

  5. Thanks Katriina. It's a strange time. He and Mum popped in today – they're giving my middle son a lift to the shops – and the conversation was really positive and very open and honest. He's talking about a support group – which is most un-Dad-like – he's usually very 'buttoned up and stiff upper lip'… It was reassuring to see him so 'positive' though.

  6. I'm very lucky to have the Dad I have, Helen – as you were fortunate with your own Dad. My children have reaped the benefits of two grandparents who were fit and able to be very actively involved in their upbringing and care – there has been such a positive impact.

    I have friends who have often joked about how they don't know how we remain sane – having my Mum and Dad so close.

    But I wouldn't change what I have. My closest friends – those who have lost their parents – they always speak with such longing to have their parents back with them again and if I've ever moaned they've gently reminded me that they wish they had their parents with them to moan about…

    Your dad sounds like a very interesting man.

    And thanks – we too have our finger's crossed for successful treatment. x

  7. Ana (10) and Evan (16) are the ones who enjoy trips out like that. The others are offski – dispersing and in their me-lands… I miss them – but enjoy the brief times of all-togetherness even more when they happen.

    I am fortunate (though I've had the bad grace not to see it as fortune sometimes!) to have Ma n Pa (Mamie and Papa to the kids) close. They're young (relatively – 68yrs and 71 yrs) and fit (despite the illnesses) and have helped and supported me/the kids in so many ways.

    It must be difficult for you to be so far away… though we all adjust, I know that too well…x

  8. A profound and beautifully-written post. I'm with the doctor, Yvonne. Your Dad needs the sun and enjoyment and a really good time with those he loves and who love him to fortify him for the treatment ahead. I would do the same.

    I'm so glad that there is still hope and good treatment for him. 35 years ago my father died of inoperable lung cancer at 70, a year after diagnosis, but strangely that last year with my mother was one of the most contented of their life together. That's over half my lifetime ago, but I still miss them both. Hold on tight to your parents for as long as you can and be very grateful for every day with them.

  9. Dear Perpetua – thank you for this comment – for its gentle kindness and truth which is comforting and warming.
    Despite it all, we are fortunate to live now, aren't we. I remember my Gran dying at 58 (35 years ago too) from inoperable throat and lung cancer. The treatment was nasty and chemical and probably hastened death.
    Nowadays lungs can be re-sectioned and the chemicals are targeted.
    Dad is looking good despite the news and is facing the future treatment with positivity. He knows he is loved and will be supported throughout.
    My Mother misses her mother and father everyday. I've often heard her say: I wish my Mum and Dad could see this…
    I am grateful that I still have my Mum and Dad – when so many of my friends have lost their own parents.
    We will go on holiday and make it a great one… x

  10. Now your Daddy? Damn Muj.

    I can't face the thought of losing my Daddy. Which, as an intellectual and spiritual proposition, is silly but if even Jesus wept…what chance do I have? In this world, Love seems to be a gift and a burden. Memories too.

    Kinda like this post.

    Glad to hear that things are, relatively speaking, looking good. Whether memories are an ultimate source of comfort or torment, making them is better than a stick in the eye…especially when you get to make them in Spain.

  11. Oh e.f. – I really do know what you mean – I can't bear the thought either.

    Dad has another saying 'life's a bitch and then you die'. Said with a wry smile and a laugh.

    How true your words – love IS a gift and a burden. But what a gift, eh.

    We have been knocked sideways by this latest shit. My Mum – my brother – me – and then the kids and Robert and Dad's siblings – we've all been hit hard. Dad's sister, Esther, was here from Monday – so she was here for the diagnosis. It was not planned to coincide as Dad (we) genuinely did not expect to hear such a serious verdict – but it was good that she was. We are a close family – holding one another up from time to time. That is a huge comfort. And then there is the making of new memories to concentrate our minds on.

    Dad has another phrase he loves to repeat – 'shit happens hen'. True too. But so does love and joy and happiness. It's just all part of the mix. And my Dad (and Mum) have made it their life's work to make sure we got more of the latter – and only a wee bit of the shit… Time for us to come good on all the lessons they've taught.

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