"Few sons, indeed. are like their fathers. Generally they are worse; but just a few are better"
- Athena, appearing to Telemachus in the form of Mentor
I was thinking of you the other day when I smelled someone's Old Spice, and realise that I hadn't written to you in, well, basically forever. Back in my boarding school days I wrote every week, but then of course, I had to - they made me. I probably would have written to you, just not every week.
At any rate, and as I was saying before I interrupted myself with excuses, you came very clearly into my thoughts quite recently. Like you, and your father before you, I enjoy growing a little kitchen garden, and I have lately started a new allotment. I love the smell of damp earth, the very essence of the garden. I grow the things I like - Peas, cabbages, kale, tomatoes and peppers, potatoes and of course, beans. I mention this last of all because it was during the picking of these beans that I had a clear memory of you, picking beans in your garden. Christine was with me as I was harvesting, and I told her the story of how you'd pick beans, go inside and cook them up, serve them with butter and salt and that would be lunch. Of course now that aroma reminds me of you.
I loved those beans, and I loved that you grew them for us as well as you. I never told you this before, and that's my loss as well as yours. I don't like those little French bush beans; I always told myself that they had no flavour, and while that may be true, I realise only now that there's another reason. You see, Dad, to me the real beans are the runner beans like those you grew. Statuesque plants running up their supports to meet the sun, and capable of producing fruit by the pound. Sturdy rough pods bursting with big juicy and wholesome beans. I remember the variety you grew, red-flowered beauties positively humming with bees, a delight to all the senses. I could sit and watch them grow, that's how beautiful they were to me; that's how beautiful they still are.
I grow an old Italian variety, Romano; the flowers are not scarlet, rather white, but the beans are possibly just as flush and flavourful as yours. I say this because maybe they are, but I cannot compare directly, as time fades memory as sunshine and wear fades old clothing. Still, I imagine yours were nicer.
For many years I have been carrying your voice in my head. Hearing only the criticism, I had forgotten your loving side. I remembered only the discipline and even then, only the harsh side. I had forgotten the nights you showed me the stars, the Moon, sitting out in the garden, the two of us. I chose to forget you buying me my first bicycle as well as the tenderness you showed me when I came back with the inevitable skinned knees and hurt pride. I recently remembered, and wrote about, the transistor radio you bought me as a present when you came back from the Far East (the smell of new circuit boards, you guessed it, takes me back to that). You taught me how to iron a shirt, sew on a button, and the basics of cooking. You taught me to be self-reliant and strong. These gifts are still with me and I'm grateful.
I recall now many of the lessons you taught; one in particular still stands in my memory as precious and golden. Do you remember the day I came home from school when we lived in Ravenshead, in tears because Christopher Talbot had been to so many great places? I do. I remember you taking a map and showing me everywhere he'd been. Chapel St Leonards, Skegness, Blackpool. You pointed them out on the map of England, and then you showed me where you'd taken me. Venice, Rome, Paris, Rotterdam. That little town in the Netherlands whose name I could never bring to mind. Then you pointed back to the piffling little land that was England, and you did not need to say another word.
You gave me a sense of perspective. You, and the Royal Air Force. I remember how proud I was to see you in your spanking-new uniform, how handsome you were. I was proud of you flying all around the world. I am prouder of you now for other things you taught me, without a single word.
I remember now how you never flinched from any household duty. You'd come in, and if Mum wasn't at home you'd wash your hands and start dinner. In the evening you and she would take turns doing the ironing. I saw you with a vacuum cleaner as often as anyone else. And I saw you gaze lovingly at Mum, just because. As Mum grew poorly in her later years I watched you sacrifice yourself for her, saw you every day seeing to her every need as she grew less able. Still with that oh-so-loving look that told the world it was no chore to you.
You were an example to me in the ways of looking out for a household. Every evening, you and I would wash the dishes, put them away, clean up the kitchen. Never a complaint, never an ill word. Dad, I did learn all that from you, and in these past few years as I've done my own caring for Christine I've been able to apply it. I'm certain that without the lessons you taught me, I would never have made it to the end. I owe you that, and thank you for it.
I'll tell you a secret now - Christine said I was so much like you, that I had your essence. It's true in many ways, we were very alike and very different. On the occasions when I shave my beard off, I look in the mirror and see you. There was a time that was hard because I didn't always like you, but these days were I to shave, I'd be happy to see you in the mirror looking out at me. I love you, Dad, and am so sad I never got to tell you this again before you died.
I'm sad that Tessie never got to meet you, but delighted that Christine did. Happier yet that you were my father, and I am your son. You have given me a lot to live up to; I hope I'm as good a father to Tess, that she has such supportive, loving memories of me.