Within a day the new suite and carpet were ordered. We were on a roll. Carol assumed the position of artistic director and decorator, leaving me with the heavy lifting, breaking stuff up and chucking stuff out. I knew my place and that place was in cupboards, cabinets and up in the attic in amongst the dust. There was a lot of dust. There was a lot of everything. There were also a few surprises and I was to learn a lot over the next few weeks.
First I learned my parents, especially my late father, was a hoarder and I learned that one man’s junk was another man’s treasure. My parents used to go a lot of day trips to Stirling and Falkirk, particularly charity shops and markets. I learned they were keen shoppers with wide tastes. Second hand books with subjects ranging from poetry and literature, history, maths, photography and computer repairs. My dad never had a computer in his life.
In amongst the videos I found a few on Muhammad Ali which was another surprise. Growing up my dad hated Ali. He and I had many a heated discussion about ‘The Greatest’. I saw him as exactly that while dad saw him as a coward for refusing to join the army and no amount of civil rights argument would budge him from his position. He was a stubborn man but maybe I was learning that even he could change. I did notice a thaw years later when we talked about the brutal Ali / Frazier fight, ‘The thriller in Manila’. “Aye, they both earned their corn that night,” I remember him saying. Had he eventually become a fan?
Then, while up in the attic wading through boxes and suitcases of video tapes I stumbled upon a rather unexpected title. ‘Popular Hymns in Sign Language’. Eh? Maybe they just wanted to be prepared. I quietly cursed myself for chucking three video players out the day before and carried on…and on. One hundred and fifty bin bags later I also learned that the day that tool, device, spare part etc might come in handy never arrives and that one man’s treasure is another man’s junk, so much so that I struck up a good friendship with the guy at the local dump. I think I might be getting an invite to Christmas dinner.
But in amongst all the junk there was some real treasure. Not the glittery, material kind, but treasure for the heart. Mainly photos. My dad was a keen photographer developing his own black and white photos when he was younger and there in boxes, envelopes, some almost too well hidden for their own good and nearly skip bound, was my whole family history from my parent’s childhood to the present day. I learned most from those. My first thoughts were of sadness. The inevitable tragedy of aging laid bare. But then, as the part time inept Buddhist in me kicked in, I saw the cycle of life. Birth, aging, sickness, death, repeat. So I let it go and allowed wonder to take sadness’s place. First I rather narcissistically revelled in old photos of myself as a child, remembering family holidays on farms and by the seaside, freezing as only Scottish seaside’s can be. But the real lessons were in the photos of my parents which taught me that once upon a time they were young. Unbelievable but there they were. Wee Dad with his curly hair. Later, with his hair slicked back astride his motor bike looking…cool. Mum at school beatifically radiating out from her peers in the annual photo. Then as a young woman cigarette in hand, dressed like a gallus beatnik, as far away from the church elder I grew up with as I could now imagine.
In addition to photos there were also letters, written when my dad was away on national service, my mum at home with my elder brother kicking away inside her. I’ll honour their privacy but…Ah to be young and in love. There was a funny story in one of mums, some work gossip regarding a man and woman who were ‘Nearly sixty!’ who had come to an arrangement where he paid her £5 to visit her three times a week. It was obviously not a one sided arrangement because, indignant that he hadn’t appeared one night for some ‘nookie’ she’d marched to his house, taken a knife to him and he’d ended up in hospital with his ear hanging off. Once I’d gotten over the shock of church elder mum using the word nookie I roared in laughter but quickly stopped when the older version shouted up to ask what I was laughing at.
But the biggest surprise was left to the end, about bin bag number one hundred and forty eight. Clearing the top of my dad’s wardrobe I came across a scroll. I unrolled it expecting it to be some work related qualification, bin bag at the ready…till I read the words ‘Brother Mason’. WTF. My dad was in the masons! I thought maybe it was his father’s as they shared the same name, but the dates don’t lie. For a moment I tried to picture him with his apron, trouser leg rolled up, funny handshakes or whatever they get up to. Then I searched my memory for signs. We were Church of Scotland, something which had lost any significance for me decades ago. He was a ‘Blue nose’ as was my brother and I remember he could get a bit ‘Sashy’ at Hogmanay. I then thought back to a Christmas long ago when I was a wee boy writing out the list for Santa. Amongst other things my brother had asked for a new Rangers strip. Top of my list was the Celtic version. Reindeers came and reindeers went and we got up the next morning staring wide eyed at the empty milk glass and half chewed carrot. We began working through our presents starting with the obligatory tangerine. As things built to the main event, Jimmy tore the wrapping paper off his present. Rangers strip. Result! Then I did the same almost sick with excitement…Aberdeen strip…Burst baw…
What I learned from that scroll was that no matter who it is, yi never ken folk. I also learned that there was no way on God’s green earth (pun intended) that I was ever getting a Celtic strip that Christmas or any other. But dry your eyes. Many years later he opened the door to his Son and Grandson both resplendent in the hoops and he let us in. I swear he was smiling.
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