“Are you sure this is the right house, Dad? We’ve looked at a good few already; how can you be certain this is the one?”
I was visiting the United States with my father, Alf, for his 85th and my 60th – we share the same birthday. It had been ten years since he had lost his wife, my mother, and since then he’d hardly been out of his house apart from visits to his doctor. He had even stopped going out on shopping trips since I taught him how to use the laptop computer to do his shopping on the internet. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, but it allowed him to cut himself off even more.
Dad’s doctor called me in one afternoon and explained that Dad’s solitary lifestyle was robbing him of his personality, his confidence and, in his view, his will to live. His home is a couple of hours’ drive from ours, but my wife Edwina (Eddie) and I try to visit him as often as we can. Each time we do, he seems to be on good form; his house is always clean and tidy, and the impression we get is that he is content with his life, and in control. His doctor said that things fall apart between our visits, though. He says that Dad has now taken to not getting out of bed until mid-afternoon, claiming he has nothing to get out of bed for.
After that meeting, I discussed with Eddie the doctor’s suggestion that we should take Dad on a trip that would spark some memories and maybe fire him up a little. We agreed that we should offer to take him to the part of America where he and Mum had their honeymoon, a little under 61 years ago. Dad loved the idea when we put it to him. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him as animated as he was when we suggested it; he immediately dug out his old photo albums and removed some key ones, including the one of the house they had rented for the four weeks of their stay. He said he would take that one to America, to help him to find the house again and show it to us. He said that I was conceived in that house, which (he says) explains my affinity for all things American.
“Look at the photo, Wilfie. Bound to have been some changes; sixty years is a long time, but… look at it… it’s the same house.” He started sobbing.
“Memories, Dad?” I asked.
“Some,” he replied between sobs.
Eddie got out of the car and marched to the front door of the house. She rang the doorbell and spoke at length with the person who answered it. She came back to the car and leaned over to speak to Dad.
“The nice lady who lives there said she’d be happy for you to go in and look around, Alf,” she said, “Would you like that?”
“Do I know them?” Dad asked. “Not sure I want to go in there if I don’t know them.”
“No, you don’t know them, Alf,” Eddie replied, “but she’s a very nice lady; I’m sure you’ll like her. They’ve only lived in the house for ten years. They did some outside changes, she said; new doors and windows and the mock Georgian pillared entrance; but some parts of the inside may well be very much as they were when you and Lil stayed here all those years ago.”
“Okay,” Dad said.
“I’ll come with you, Dad,” I offered.
“Damned right, you will,” Dad replied, “I’m not going there on my own.”
“We’ll all go in,” Eddie said.
I helped Dad out of the car. He took my arm and we walked slowly up the paved path to the door, where the lady of the house was waiting for us.
“Hi,” she said, “I’m Belinda but y’all can call me Bel. My husband is away on business this week, but I’ll be happy to show y’all around. Would a cup of tea suit everybody? Listen to me, asking English folk if they’d like a cup of tea. Of course you would, it’s the English thing to do, ain’t it? Can’t guarantee to make it exactly the way y’all like it, but I’ll sure do my best. Why don’t y’all sit down; make yourselves at home. I’ll be right back,” she said, indicating the sofa and easy chairs, “but don’t sit on the one with the pink cushion; that’s the dawg’s chair and she gets mighty upset if anybody sits on it.”
“Excuse me for mentioning it, Belinda… I mean Bel,” Eddie piped up, “but you don’t sound like you come from this part of America.”
“Why, bless your heart for noticing it, honey; you being from England and all. No, I ain’t from around these parts. I was raised up in the Volunteer State, Tennessee. After my Momma died when I was little, Pappy upped and moved us to Chattanooga, Gateway to the South, so I guess that’s where I’m from.”
She walked away with a chuckle, saying to herself, “Well I’ll be danged. Fancy them knowing that.”
We sat and looked around us.
“Look familiar, Dad?” I asked, “Any memories coming back?”
“Nope; not a one,” he replied, then started to wail uncontrollably. Belinda ran in from the kitchen.
“Whatever’s the matter?” she asked, “Is he alright?”
“What’s upsetting you, Dad?” I asked him.
Between sobs, he managed to splutter out, “I can’t remember what she looked like, Wilfie. My Lil. I can’t remember what she looked like.”
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 31, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.