A short uplifting piece about mortality. Contains mild swearing.
My old man was a grocer, he was the last grocer to grace the old street corner on Penforth Avenue. He was an old fashioned guy who managed to outlive his time mostly thanks to a time locked setting. His name was Percy Froggit and he lived his life by harsh regimented rules forged over a lifetime of poverty and humble achievements. He used to preach to us about small town values when we aspired to be big city kids; he used to extol the virtues of shopping with the traditional wicker baskets (even though they had gone out of fashion a lifetime ago) when we wanted Levi carrier bags. He used to claim rather audaciously that the talk that went on over the counter as he retrieved the goods off the shelves was the lifeblood of Penforth; “The grease that lubricates the social gears". Though old Mrs Thomas would probably agree with him, I think it kept him lubricated more than the village. Who needs tots of whiskey when you can peddle you’re wife’s village famous gooseberry jam all year round with the obligatory complementary jar at Christmas. I hated gooseberries! Still do, though I do concede now that there is a sweet narrow vain of taste that runs with the bitterness. That said I think it would be fair to concede that when it came to bullshit, my dad dolled out more than his fair share through out his life
Me and my younger sister, Sharon moved out to Grenby, the largest city nearest us as soon as we could. She got a job as a nurse in the city’s main hospital, I got a job selling advertising at a busy paper. I retrained as a typesetter and Sharon gradually worked her way up to be the head of the haematology department. Things were going well. Ironically for the time, it was me that settled and had kids before my sister.
It’s amazing how quickly life gets away from you when you’re not paying attention; I guess that’s one thing the old man knew. There wasn’t a day that he wasn’t home by six; his life/routine (take your pick) was firmly split between the town and his family. I guess that might sound a little bitter, but to be fair his family never got less than their allotted share of his time, something Sharon and I have never been especially good at. I guess it didn’t really help matters that we chose occupations from the nocturnal side of the jobs pages. And I guess in all honesty life was that much faster; I suppose that’s why I so easily disregarded his tin pot philosophies on life. It’s true, a Haynes manual for a model T Ford will not suffice for a Porsche, it just seems too easy to forget that the foundations the mechanics are built on are the same.
Sharon was the first to find out about the toxins in his blood when his sample came back. It was a shame none of his philosophies stretched as far as the importance of regular check-ups.
“You can never have too many fiver’s in the till son” he used to say on his many ramblings and metaphors. Then he’d carry on about how you still had the same amount of money but at the same time you had more and it broke down that much easier, something like that anyway. I’ve no idea why that one stuck, perhaps because it was one of his more recent gems; got to hand it to him though, he was nothing if not cryptic. I think I get it now; it took two things for it to click.
First thing was a nomad thought that was so fleeting yet so persistent with its tenacity. ‘It broke down that much easier’, he’d said and I didn’t. As he slowly passed away I was locked up in my printer’s tower clutching a million pound note. Sure it kept me afloat but that’s all it was, a big, lonely raft that housed me alone, surrounded by an ocean of work. I didn’t share enough with my wife and I felt the kids were too young to understand. It is funny how quickly we forget what we were capable of as children.
Then there was the second thing; the moment that turned the key in the latch engaging the tumblers of the lock… and it all came tumbling in around me as we put him in the ground.
It was old Mrs Thomas (I swear that woman must have formaldehyde running through her veins) who really rolled the tumblers that day; she had tottered up to me and said five simple words,
“He was a good man”. I crumbled.
My Mother was the embodiment of composure that day. Not a cold, frigid, disbelieving composure but a graceful controlled accepting composure. My folks were never strict Christians; the Bible began and ended with the Ten Commandments, it was not a grace garnered from belief in the good book. The grace, the composure; it came from the congregated mass.
“You can never have enough fivers”, he’d said. And my dad had fivers by the hundred. He had left his loose change lying all around that church and mum was collecting it back in spades. If the church had done half as well with the collection bowl at the end of its ceremony they could’ve outdone the Sistene Chapel with it’s next spring clean; alas (and I apologise for the arrogance in advance here) even the father the son and the Holy Ghost had nothing on my pop that day.
I visited his grave last week, five years passes so quickly. I still hear his ramblings today and scarily enough the voice I hear echoing them is mine. Just the other day my daughter wanted to get her naval pierced and before I knew what I was saying I was telling her she would’ve been born with holes in her if it were meant to be. I couldn’t complete the sentence and she now sports a butterfly sticking out of her belly button. I see myself with the fireball skateboard (it just had to be the fireball!) I saved most of the summer for despite my father’s chiding every time I see that teal winged butterfly, it makes me smile. At least Sophie’s not going to steer herself into a land drain a month from now because of an item of jewellery.
I am my father’s son and now it’s my time to demonstrate my weariness with the world through the medium of bullshit. I only hope I can amass half the loose change my dad gathered before I my lights are turned out because the last lesson my old man taught me contained no words. You may not be able to take it with you, but what you leave behind has the potential to be 24 carat solid gold.