Archives for posts with tag: traditions

April 13th

I do love a quiet cafe, and here near the river it seems to have been constructed just for me. I was here six months ago with friends and I sat and sipped while wearing my cap and gown and the whole town seemed to know I’d just graduated and it was a day when I was full and filled the streets.

Today I am smaller though, today I’m head down, writing and I consider whether to walk near the river on my way home.

I’m on the corner of my town, near the oldest part and it’s my history that floods this place now. If I come out and turn right I’ll pass the Bridal shop. Of course, progress had swept in and now there’s no smell of taffeta, no swishing or sighs but a Bath Store. Those rooms I stood in, pinned and poised, nipped in at the waist, when I still had one, are now full of taps and waterfall showers, bespoke mirrors reflecting back the streets I used to know.

I’ve been drawn here today and it feels right. I’ve been swamped by old objects in recent weeks, buried under the weight of things that have flown. My home smells of dust, not just mine but fluff-coated trinkets from my Auntie’s house, her eighty-four piece dinner set is hiding in my cloakroom until I can find it a good home. And it’s the dust of her life and her choices that bring me near to the river now.

This cafe will close up soon so I need to move and that’s the point, it all seems to be about movement or the lack of it, about the flow and the essential swell of time.

And now I’ve made it to the riverside, to its rush and Ollie, a whipped up cocker-poodle gambols and charges around its owner’s legs, it’s wet and tousled, beyond free. I can hear the traffic, the roads being pummelled by rush hour wheels but I am soothed by the nylon poncho wearers with terriers, by toddlers at the end of holidays with scooters out for one last blast of fresh air.

The river isn’t bothered by anyone, the river finds its way despite the people and their problems. It churns, its wisdom far greater than my own.

And how quiet it is here, how I see people escaping, push chairs and new prams, pink babies lulled by the lapping and a booted up mother, smart blue coat and take away coffee in hand, strides by and she’s out. Her baby’s wrapped up warm and I feel myself unravel, here at the edge of the town I belong in, here with my head full of Auntie’s house of hoardings and my own stuff.

The river is good. It flips up plumes of white and despite its greyness, despite its thick green twisting form, it seems content.

The toddler in bike helmet and stabilisers trundles back the other way, releasing an end of day fractious cry and smart office workers, tired of the meeting room, take in the late afternoon air.

It’s busier for a moment, more people sneaking into my world but I’m cosseted, brushed by the river in my stillness and I move with its form.

I walk along in pace with it as though on a ship, as though wandering along the promenade deck of my boat. I look for fish, I anticipate their colours but I see none. The microscopic life is beyond my vision but I know it’s there, chundering, plummeting and pummelling, carried by the force.

And now further upstream the traffic fades and the here by the bridge where cars are forgotten I can only hear ripples and I think of a game of Poo Sticks.

I can see beneath the surface here, the smooth pebbles underneath, some resting some turning with the waves.

Today it’s a cold April afternoon, but under the thick bandaged sky, this river feels like home. I watch the water, how it find its way around the plants with no resistance.

April 16th

Back at home I think about the river. I can’t see it from here, I can only see the builder’s van next door, hear the sounds of renovation and old cupboards coming out. In my Auntie’s cupboards we found many things. Her photos from the life before widowhood slowed her down, her precious tins of bit and bobs, of ration books saved from the 1940’s, of faded letters from my Uncle in the war.

And it was all there, a life frozen in amber, a collection of ephemera that stretched back to when my mother was a girl. We took the vases and figurines over to my parents. The car smelled of old things, dust – caked things and grime.

Above all else it smelled of memory and before we left, I rummaged through yet another bin bag and found the photos she’d taken on our Wedding day. They were saved in a haphazard order, in a half full album, another piece of the past found in a chipped wooden chest in the corner of her unused back room.

I keep wandering back to the river in my mind. But I didn’t think about it back then when I hurried to pick up my dress, when the staff folded it into the boot of the car and laid it with care, like the placing of a baby in a cot, soothing it with love and a reassuring hand. And the river flowed nearby but I didn’t think about it as I bought one last cream and red silk flower for the name-place cards. And back at home sometime later, while I glued the final rose in place, and while my Aunty, miles away, prepared her luggage for the trip, the river flowed.

And it flowed over the years between then and now and it was never still. It slowed, it swelled, it stagnated in places but it never stopped in its relentless nature, in the wisdom of its form.

April 17th

The sun’s come out now. It came out back then and I wonder if it came out on my Auntie’s wedding day. Looking through her stuff I came across a small plastic Woothworth’s bag and folded away inside I found her receipts from over seventy years ago. The paper, yellowed but her handwriting still visible. Dress, belt, hat, gloves and stockings all itemised and pounds, shillings and pence added up. Numbers in frozen pencil marks for all the finery, for her day. And I think of my own, of the dress that hangs in my parent’s wardrobe and of my boots, somewhere under my bed. I peer through the fragile papers, almost too delicate to touch. I wonder how she felt an hour before the vows, I wonder if my mother helped her to get ready and I remember my long distance friend, strapping me into my bodice and the photographer waiting downstairs.

My Aunty kept many things, in fact she never threw anything away and though I didn’t really know her very well, through the wall she built around herself, through the things she hung onto to keep her safe. But I connected with her, in the thin bag of memories, in the silver paper flowers she tucked away.

The sun’s so bright now, like it was back then when I stood with my parents under a sap full tree before my mother and my friend left for the church, ahead of us.

I found my wedding favour tucked in a drawer, chiffon wrapped silk roses and a raspberry ribbon. There would have been rows of them, lined up on the crisp white linen by now, waiting for the guests to arrive in the afternoon.

I wonder if I’ll have a relative who’ll find this piece of my life, fifty years from now? And I am fluid today, I am the river that I’m far away from, as I sit by my window in the sun. And I am there, rustling into the car by my father, with the scent of lilies and I’m my Aunty on a distant June day with her sisters in tow and the life to come, ahead of us all.

I’ve spend a lot of time recently opening old stuff, peering into corners and brushing dust. I feel dustful, I feel coated and caked like the patina of an antique and I am covered in age and her stories.

And as the younger me is whisked to the church, I take my mind to the river, to its force, where dust has no chance to settle, where it renews with no resistance, where it oozes with ease and grace.

And I think about a book I found in my Auntie’s back room, amongst the upturned chairs and tea sets, next to the box of Christmas bows and packs of unopened napkins. I found an old paperback.

There is wisdom in clearing, I have found, in releasing the things you no longer need. But under the weight of the hours some things will always remain. Silk flowers and fragile papers, floating around me like the flotsam on the river, linking us to the movement of time and a permanent reminder that we were there.

The paperback was titled Light in the Dust and I see dust particles dance in the light and I see photons of energy flow through the dark as the sun sparkles up from the river.

xxx

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A removal van has just driven away from next door. I watched it move out of sight, around the corner as the post man walked up my drive. New letters to open, bills to pay, worlds to live in. I watched the son-in-law drive away from my neighbour’s house, after he’d let in the house clearance people, then drove off ahead of the van, as his late father-in-law’s furniture was carried away.

I used to know my neighbour’s daughter, way back in the old world, I used to sit around committee tables with her and in the early months, when I couldn’t leave the house, she popped by with bread and milk and calpol and we hugged. We’ve lost touch over the yesrs, I folded into my new world and she became someone I’d occasionally nod to as she visited her father next door.

I used to see him, tall and bent, like an old willow tree, sturdy, despite his age and he would drive slow with care, potter about and do his lawn. He started to build a greenhouse years ago when he first moved here. He was widowed, moved down from Scotland to be nearer his girls. He had a lilting gentle accent and I always thought he could have been an old film star. He had the look of Peter Cushing and eyes that must have sparkled long ago. His greenhouse project came undone with the Parish Council’s restrictions – no permitted development allowed here, so he never finished the job and it remained a carcass in aluminium, un-glazed, silver struts frozen in time.

In the summer, around the time our son prepared for his Prom, some relatives came and took the greenhouse down and while our boy swaggered in his evening suit, amongst his mates and bare shouldered girls with twirled up hair – some family came and painted his fence, painted over the pale blues and greens from old tins that he’d used up. I liked his patch-worked fence, his rainbow of creosote by the hand of a practical man. It’s just uniform brown now, waiting for the new owners to put their stamp on the land.

When I look out of my kitchen window I imagine I still see him, slower in frailty, heading out in his car, repeatedly heading out in a loop in my mind. In the summer, around the time our boy had left school and was holed up on the PC, laughing with his mates on theirs, I noticed his neat grass had become long, left to grow and before I could offer to have it cut for him, his family came to help out. And then more people in cars and his daughters tidied the patio out the back.

Around the time our son got his exam results, a skip turned up next door. As his face filled with pride and relief, when he compared notes with his mates as the summer crept along, my neighbour’s garage was cleared and I dropped a card in through their door.

Our old neighbour bridged the gap between our worlds, he moved in a couple of years after us and I went to see him as he chipped the snow from off his car. I asked him if he needed anything, could we help him out at all?

But he was fine.

‘No thank you, Lassie, I’m just going up to help my girls.’

I told my husband.

‘Oh he’s so grateful for the offer of help!’

He said, ‘is he?’ and I laughed.

‘No! He’s doing much better than we are,’ and he was. He dug himself out of the snow, he helped his daughters, despite his age and was active right up till the end.

I didn’t speak to him much in the new world, I used to imagine he’d see me from his kitchen window as I trudged home, and in his widowed world he’d have a sense of what I was dealing with in mine – but we never spoke about it. I could see it in his eyes though and he could see it in mine.

It’s been that kind of year somehow, so many changes and transitions. And as my neighbour’s family prepare to make the best of Christmas somewhere, when they go through the motions for their kids, I continue with our new traditions here.

I see our boy at the edge of a man, sturdy and strong, growing long college hair because he can. I see him stretching up and out. I am swamped by the Christmases we had, the best ones by the sea, all together with Thomas and masses of track on the floor, the military operation of the dinner and never enough roast potatoes for us all.

I see myself as a teenager unhindered by loss, spending half a day to create the perfect tree and how stressful it was, how the symmetry had to be spot on, how the baubles alternated in colour and size. It was a spectacle. And more than that it was something to control, something to bring order to, a sense of certainty in the world.

I noted myself as a girl, the structure of Christmas, the need to get everything right and I thought of her last weekend when a friend visited us. When we were running late and the tree and decorations were still barricaded in a cupboard, behind a chair and our boy did the heavy work while I checked on the food as he wrestled the tree to the floor. And there in our lounge with twenty minutes to go, he threw the tree into action. It’s our new tradition now and he dresses the tree like a true teenage boy. I stand and laugh and place a few things as he throws baubles at the green plastic hulk in the corner. If the baubles drop down and through, so be it, it doesn’t really matter at all. It’s just a game. Our friend turned up just as the tree settled into the corner. It has a designated ‘front’ sign where all the activity takes place and round the back, well it’s round the back so it’s not important after all. And this year we have a kamikaze polar bear who wasn’t placed but hurled and he lies where he landed, a symbol of a different Christmas now.

I’m less concerned with control now. There’s little I can do and I’m more accepting of that these days. I have control over how I respond to situations and how I spend my time but other than that, the world will do its thing.

We have climbed mountains this year, my boy and I, not literally, but mountains none the less. We are climb weary at year end but respectful of the need to rest and catch our breath.

It’s almost Christmas as I type this, eighteen years from the best Christmas I ever had. And now a different Christmas presents itself again, with my mother just out of hospital, after three months of illness and care, with my father marching on, despite the weariness of weeks by an empty chair. My mother came home last week and as they adjust to their own transitions we’ll take a small Christmas over to them this year.

It’s nearly lunchtime now, the blackbirds are still at the berries on my tree. I do enjoy the bareness of winter, the stripping back to bleakness and despite the thunderous charge of stressed people in shops, the clamouring, the need to consume, there is stillness. It is a time to stop and show gratitude, a time to take stock and breathe out.

And there is much to be grateful for. I breathe in deep as my neighbour’s house sits quiet and empty, waiting for someone else’s story. I focus on gratitude for my mother’s resilience, despite the treatments she has endured, and my father’s determination, despite his tiredness and his frosted window on my world.

And our friends, how grateful I am for the ones who are near, who support and encourage, despite their own trials – and our son. What can I say that I haven’t said before? How he shines out like a Christmas lantern, bright like the fairy glow, casting lightness all around me when it’s dark.

It’s winter, I am a winter baby and I resonate with this season. Time has had its way with me this year and so I am resting before the next phase. It’s almost Christmas as I tap away, the tree is up and I have many presents to wrap.

I’m focussing on now. In gratitude for the things that have past, the things that remain and the unknown adventures ahead.

In many ways – we are thriving.

***

And right now, editing with fifteen minutes to the New Year, we continue, we turn pages and we persevere with joy.

xxx

October 19th 2017 

And as our son’s train leaves the platform and he heads off with his mates, I find myself.

I find my mind has drifted to this city and the first time I came down. I remember your tall friend who criticed the way you ate asparagus and we wandered down through West Gate and out towards the Cathedral. It was June or July, the afternoon was warm and the streets were full of entertainers, crowds shoving to get a better view. We must have stayed a while, chatting but your friend has blurred into a mist of that weekend and her flat at the top of town and her party games when we were brand new. 

Our son’s train has arrived now, I checked his progress on my phone and as he wanders off with his new friends, I see the light lift here and I go back. 

I bought you a book years ago ‘How to Read a Church,’ though you didn’t use it at the Cathedral. It’ll be on its side in the bookshelves somewhere, stuffed in amongst all the others. I keep thinking about the Cathedral, how its silent shape has been a backdrop in my life and tomorrow I’ll be sitting there, waiting my turn to go up but my mind falters. It bounces back to Millenium Eve, and how my feet ached from the walk down from the top of town. My New Year’s Eve shoes, shoved into my bag, my flat pumps easing out my soles and we stood. We’d sat inside with the hundreds of others, on the left at front, in the cold. And under the silence of stone, in the wisdoms of those who’d sat there before us, we wrote notes. The huge tree with open arms flooded the space with pine scent and ushers collected up our words with all the others and then hung them on the tree. We sat watching the century end, linked with the warmth of strangers wishes and sent love and health to our unborn son.

Afterwards, outside there was a quieting, a murmuring hush of the crowd waiting for something to happen. And in the dark we hung around in the mizzle with our umbrellas and our smiles. The century slipped out, gentle, graceful and as the Millennium sauntered in with little fanfare, with a distant fizzle and sparkle of lights, the crowd laughted. We were there, before the big doors, heavy coats and deep pockets in the first seconds of the new year. There was no sense of anything having changed, just continuation and my tummy swaddled inside my clothes, with a heartbeat we’d yet to hear.

And then I flip further back to the day before our wedding and your Mum, whisked away by my parents to wander around the Cathedral, to give me some time to prepare. And while I glued the last of the silk roses onto the name-cards, they walked over the slabs my feet will cross tomorrow. 

And now a text from our son, busy in town, having lunch and while they laugh and test out their wings, I see us at Christmas, at markets and our friend who will join me tomorrow, is there. She holds up our boy on the ice rink, it’s packed, it’s hot and cold at the same time and everyone smiles even the people who bruise your leg with their skates.

Inside the changing area we struggle to free him from the metal clasps, but our friend is an expert and she helps amongst the rucksacks and snow heavy socks and with damp ankles and wet trouser legs, we make our way to a cafe in town, under the twinkling and huddling, in the soothe of hot chocolate we sit around. And as I see our boy bookended by her sons, he wears a red and white top that wouldn’t fit him now – he texts me from the train, he’s heading home.

And home is where we’ll leave from tomorrow, like we did years ago. When I took our son’s hand and we marched down the high street, a few weeks before Christmas with the lanterns that we’d made. The delicate tissue paper tributes to a world, to a vivid place we couldn’t hold. And as the Cathedral loomed up nearer, I stood for the first time by the same railings, feeling the pull and tear of a parallel world. Someone took a photo of us for a tourism website, I can see it, me looking side on, almost a smile as some distant children’s creation bought a joyful moment in the pain. But I looked so drawn, so small and smaller than me then was our son, stood to my left, wearing a deep green wooly hat and a fluorescent snap circle around his neck. He’s almost hidden in the dark but I can see him, illuminated by the band of light around him. 

And tomorrow I have to go back there, I need to go back and I want to. But I’m so sodden like our snow caked socks, so heavy like the lantern pole to light our way, so full with the hidden times inside me. 

These moments that are lining up now, like I’ll line up tomorrow, each of them a story of how I came to be and as I sit in the silence of stone, as I wait my turn, I’ll feel the Cathedral fill up with us all – my children, my girls and the women they became. I have such a sense of being followed, of swathes of females on my path, tomorrow they will spread out, they will chatter, they will dance and there at the front of the Cathedral they will join me, invisible but vital, as I stand to shake a hand. 

Our son is on a detour now, sidetracked by other friends, off for a moment at his old school, to take time, see old teachers and look back as he looks ahead.
And I wonder about all the people who’ve ever sat in the Cathedral and their stories and tomorrow, amongst the narratives there is such joy. A sense of creating, of neurones firing and of an irresistible surge to force up, through the stone slabs – up, despite the granite all around.

I must go now, I need to try on my dress and stop and think of tea. Tomorrow will come and I’ll be there, flickering full of emotions like the candles we held at the beginning, when our baby was centimetres long. And we’ll all walk up together, all the moments playing out, dancing and darting behind the pillars, in between the guests they’ll shimmer unheard, unseen but present, all my women who belong.  

In our Cathedral with our son, with friends  and gratitude for the woman I’ve become.
October 20th 2017

It’s Friday morning, the sun is lost behind the clouds but the bluster seems to carry all the seconds of my life with me and in the fracturing light on the windscreen, in the dappling spots of bright, I’m on my way. 

Children walk to school, heads down, wet dogs on leads with mud caked paws and the chatter of girls as we wait in traffic. It’s the morning of October 20th – I feel like I’m coming home. 

Later

And I sat, I studied the ceiling, the intricacies of the build, the strength of the pillars and as I walked back from the stage with a quickened pulse, with a tremble as though I were made of miniature fireworks sparkling, the sunlight pooled in above us, casting diamonds up the wall. 

xxx

I graduated today – for my husband, in absentia, with love.

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The final Sunday of the tournament always signified the end of school or end of college, it was something to look forward to on all levels.
I’d buy strawberries and sit on the floor and whoop at the sliced shots and groan at the chalk flying high.

My match started in the seventies, Virginia Wade, me on an early green settee and Dad explaining the rules. And I came to understand and follow, grew up to cheer for Agassi, knew too much, remembered too many score lines and summertime hung on the start of July.

But you didn’t do sport, really not your thing. You were designed to sit and watch, apart from the odd thrash at badmington with Al, and the Pitch and Put that put your hip out in the park where we found the pedaloes, when we listed over in the fibre glass swan, as the water came in quicker than you could row.

But tennis was ok, you used to watch it with your Mum in the lounge, with the dog-haired carpet that I grew to love, despite the fluff. So we watched and took sides and bets and negotiated the game around our baby’s bottom, changing nappies when they changed ends. We tried to engage our toddler, knowing the finer points of the game would be lost on a four year old as I learned to follow in fragments, in-between the priorities of our life.

And the final set, with Al, the year before, 8 months before your last shot. When he was round for a Sunday, like normal. And I fiddled with food and half baked and he would stay till the match was over but it was one of those games that pinged back and forth and I can’t even remember who the game was between. It carried on and on and we found more and more food and made more jokes. And they equalised and bedtime came, bath time for our school boy and in the heat of a late Sunday, Al decided to head for home and made it back with a set to spare.

And somebody won and we laughed on the phone while our son went to bed in an endless summer Sunday. An afternoon of daz white, barley waters and fluorescent fluff flying
across in HD. Chantilly cream and Taste the Difference ripe redness bursting round our mouths.

I don’t remember the first summer after, it fuzzed by me in a land belonging to someone else. July was just a word and last year I may have peeped at proceedings but I didn’t stay too long.
And now I’m here and know the day, know who you’d want to win and though I’m busy with our boy, struggling with a playing up PowerPoint, I stop and search my phone. I find iplayer and I drop into our old place. I watch a set and wonder where we are. I’m sucked into the hush of the crowd, the scorch of centre court, the hopes and heat of faces focused until I pull away, leave them to get on with it.

Someone will win, someone will lose, newspapers will extol or attack and everything goes around again.
Patterns in my life. repetition and change, tradition, transition and flux in the whip of aluminium, in the sweat of muscle, in the striving to be the best they can. Knowing when to lob, when to slice, when to dart into the net or hurl everything you have into a green smudged white, a thud-thump streak across the ground as you reach with everything inside you, to make the connection, to fight to win.
Your point, your game, your life.

I sit here, listening out for us in the back of my mind, while we watch them somewhere else, when the only game that mattered was on the screen and we were unaware of the tournament ahead.

My muscles ache from the match.
My skirt is torn and grubby, I need a drink, need to sit and re-group, sweat under a towel for a while and then come back. I need to come out head up, secure in the strength of my muscles, ready to take the next shot, seeing myself doing it, watched over by our younger selves on some distant settee.

I throw the ball up, sunlight sparking off the edge of aluminium, skin shining in the hot photons.

This is the point.
x

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