Sunday, 12 June 2016

A Spring In His Step

Two walking sticks hang forlornly on the banisters; a walking frame with wheels and padded seat is parked in the bay window. My dad, just turned ninety, sits in the chair that at the touch of a button will propel him, if not upright, then at least into a standing position.  

This is the dad who always had a spring in his step. Physically.  He bounced as he walked.  I can see him now, his head bobbing up and down as he strode through the park on his way home from work, briefcase swinging by his side, suit jacket hanging loose. He was nearly 80 when he finally retired and the spring in his step might have become a little rusty by then, but still the bounce remained. 

When he was seventeen dad and his best friend, John, walked twenty five miles around London in six hours.  A twelve hour, fifty mile walk through Hertfordshire followed, and (no pun intended), dad took it all in his stride: that's what seventeen year olds did in the 1940s.  The spring in their steps would have been obvious: two young lads, on the cusp of adulthood, their whole lives before them; an escape from the relentlessness of war for a few hours, a physical challenge, a day out with the best friend, a chat, a laugh, no doubt a pint and a pipe at the end of it.  And, for my dad, maybe the thought of his best friend's sister, who, a few years later, would become my mum. 

Metaphorically, though, my dad hasn't always had a spring in his step. He suffered bouts of severe depression in his forties and fifties, and went through a very bad time. I was away at Art College, and like most teenagers, I was pretty self obsessed and selfish, ignoring the GP who advised me to come home and be with my dad. That advice seems quite strange to me now, but this was the same GP who took his own life not long after that, so I suppose he was ultra sensitive to the needs of a depressed patient. 

Happily, my dad came through the depression and got the spring back in his step. Life was good again.  There were children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to guarantee that. The walking continued, both near and far: the head that bobbed across London, also bobbed up hills and down dales in the Peak District and Lakes. 

My dad was a walking, spring stepping, head bobbing giant. 

Two weeks ago, on his daily walk around the block with a stick, dad had a funny turn. His legs slowed down and refused to go on. Exhausted, he was rescued by a Good Samaritan and brought home. It looks like dad's solo walking days are finally over. 

As I get ready to leave my parents' house after a visit last week dad presses the button on the chair, steadies himself and shuffles up the hall with mum. Arms around each other, they wave and blow kisses as I set off down the road, a scene frequently repeated over the past fifty years. 

I reflect on my visit as the train draws into Blackpool. 

“I'm happier now than I've ever been,” my dad had said emphatically when I'd expressed sadness that his walking had been curtailed, “I have my crossword, food which I love, the computer, books…..Oh and mum.” 

The spring in his step is still there, safe in dad's head. 

My elder son is meeting me at the station. I spot him in the distance, head bobbing up and down as he bounces towards me……. 

A Spring in the Step
It’s the little things, the daily rituals
That now put a spring in his step…
Mid morning cafetiere
Warmed and coffee measured just so
Its smoky aroma wafting sensuously through the rooms
Teasing and promising in equal measure
Old feet meet in the kitchen
Coffee poured and sipped
In comfortable silence
Crossword clues fight for attention
In a brain that still remembers
Every detail of his childhood
The chemical symbol for sodium
Pythagoras theorem
And that his first house cost more
Than the car he bought 40 years later
The prospect of kippers for dinner
Ground black pepper, a tomato quartered
Brown bread sliced thin and butter thick
Strong tea in a pot
He lets his mind wander
To teas long ago
Jelly, tinned fruit , pink salmon, blancmange……
Seated opposite
Mary, his best friend's sister
The girl of his dreams at seventeen
His sweetheart for seven decades
Eases herself up
Touches his hand as she goes out of the door
He smiles, life's good,
There is still
A spring in his step.

 Jill Reidy


Steve Rowland said...

Jill, welcome to the Dead Good Blog. What a wonderfully evocative account, beautifully written.