Continued from 'They left it too late' on this site.
“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.”
Talk about backfire! We brought Dad to the house where he and Mum had their honeymoon, hoping to bring him out of himself, remember some special times and look back with fondness over the years they spent together.
“Your honeymoon was sixty years ago, Dad; I’m not surprised you can’t picture her as she was then.”
“Not just then,” he sobbed, “I can’t remember what she looked like ever. What sort of man am I? Live with a woman for half a century, only to forget about her in a few short years. God forgive me!”
“As always,” Eddie sighed, “it takes a woman to rescue the situation.” She retrieved a folder from her hand-bag as she walked over to Dad. “Here you are, Alf,” she said, “here are some photos of you and Lil over the years, including one from your honeymoon, with her standing by the fireplace over… that used to be over there.” She pointed to a large bookcase at the end of the room we were seated in.
Dad looked through the photos and his face changed. His eyes lit up, his frown abated and a smile curled the edge of his lips. “Oh yes,” he said, “I can see you now, Lilly my love. Can you ever forgive me for forgetting you?”
He turned to Eddie with a peaceful, relaxed smile on his face, then said to me, “You’ve got a good’un there, Wilfie. Look after her.”
“Don’t worry, Dad, I fully intend to.”
“And another thing, lad.”
“What’s that, Dad?”
“Never forget what she looks like. I don’t want you feeling the way I was just now.”
Bel brought in a tray of tea and biscuits which we dealt with while Dad was looking through the photographs and telling Bel a little about each one.
I leaned across to Bel and whispered in her ear, “I hope Dad’s not boring you, but it’s doing him good to talk about his wife to someone other than family.” She turned to me and winked.
“Wowee!” she exclaimed to Dad, pointing to one of the photos. “Is that Bucking Ham Palace? Did you see the Queen? Or was it the King then?”
“That was 1957, just a few years after the Queen’s coronation,” he explained. “We didn’t see her then, but there were other occasions. I even met her and shook her hand once.”
“When was that?” Bel looked at him and lowered her voice to a conspiratorial level, “Was it at one of those famous garden parties with cucumber sandwiches with the edges cut off?”
That got a giggle out of Dad. “No,” he said, “it was when I collected my OBE.”
“You got an OBE?” she asked, “What did you have to do to get that? Hey, listen up, everybody,” she said, though Dad, Eddie and I were the only ones there, “I am in the presence of a man who has been awarded an OBE by the Queen of England herself! I’m gonna be telling my grandkids about this, if’n I ever get any, that is.”
“I worked with some people who were trying to help injured soldiers resettle after the war. It was for what they called ‘services to charity’, but we all know what OBE stands for, don’t we?”
Eddie and I smiled; we knew what was coming. Bel glanced at us one at a time, as if to read the answers from our expressions. “What?” she asked.
“Other Buggers’ Efforts,” Dad chuckled, “that’s what it stands for, Other Buggers’ Efforts. The people who do the work get ignored, the bosses who lord it over them get honours. Always been that way and probably always will.”
Having finished our tea and polished off all the biscuits, we followed Bel on her guided tour of the house. Armed with a few photos, it all started coming back to Dad. Bel showed great interest in anything Dad had to say; whether feigned or real didn’t matter, either way it was doing Dad a power of good. When we eventually said our goodbyes and left the house, to cries of “Y’all come back now, y’hear”, Dad was in the best spirits I had seen him since he lost Mum.
On the flight back from New York’s John F Kennedy airport to Heathrow, Dad was reminiscing. It was marvellous to hear, his memories were so positive.
“Lil and I went from Southampton to New York on the Queen Elizabeth, you know,” he said at one point. “How long d’you reckon that took?”
I’d heard it before, many times, but decided to humour him. “No idea, Dad,” I replied, “couple of weeks?”
“Six days,” Dad said. “Record was three and a half, but it was hurricane season, and we had to hold back so as not to get caught up in the last of Hurricane Ione. Flew back, after our honeymoon, with TWA in a Super Constellation.”
“How was that?”
“Compared with this?” he asked, sweeping his hand majestically to take in the entire cabin and the view out of the window as the sun was rising, “Noisy, bumpy, and slow. New York International to London International took thirteen hours. But we had decent leg room, proper crockery and cutlery for the meals and none of this queueing, taking off shoes and belts and other malarkey before you could get on the plane. And folk put on their best clothes to fly back then, too. Not like now, scruffy buggers.”
“More comfortable scruffy though, Dad?”
“Grant you that, son,” he said, “grant you that.” And so he dropped off to sleep with a smile on his face.
As Dad started snoring gently, I turned to Eddie, smiled, gave her a ‘thumbs up’ sign and mouthed, “Job done!”
“You’re darned tootin’ honey,” she replied, mimicking Bel’s accent.
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 32, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.