A glorious spring day. A pub lunch, then a drive down the country lanes where I spent my childhood. We pass the house where I lived and, a few moments later, park the car on the wide verge. We get out of the car and proceed to walk back along the quiet country lane. Daughters, wife and I amble along the road.
“That’s where I lived until I was twelve” I begin.
We turn left up a bridle path which climbed the side of the valley to overlook the small holding where I lived.
I proceed to tell the girls all the names of the neighbours. I show them where we played football, where we went sledging when school was closed because of snow. We had free rein to wander where we liked on local land, I explain. I tell them about how my dad made his living from the farm, the market gardening and working with livestock for other farms. In school holidays, weekends and light evenings I would spend hours and hours working with Dad, handling live stock, driving tractors to work the land. I was being lined up to go into farming; to follow in his footsteps, in a way. He was much respected, had loads of contacts and was extremely knowledgeable and skilled in his field. I also tell them how my childhood, although relatively poor and simple, was very loving. We had lots of fun.
I then lead on, as we near the top of the valley side, telling them how things on the farm didn’t work out quite right and resulted in Mum and Dad having to sell the farm to settle the bills. How we moved into a cramped rented house on land which Dad used to work for the landlord in lieu of rent. At the top of the hill we leaned on a gate. I point out some more insignificant features of the surroundings, then continue with my story.
“Dad didn’t really recover from selling the farm and had to make a living from working for others. Unfortunately, not being amazingly astute or greedy, he always undercharged and was remiss at getting money in, whilst always working hard, long hours and doing favours for his friends and acquaintances.”
“After two years of this and severe cash flow issues and his stock deteriorating on rented ground, Dad decided he couldn’t take things any longer and killed himself.”
A long pause, and we turn to walk back down the hill – a few minutes pass. I ask “What do you think then?”
Youngest replies “We knew Granddad died before we were born and didn’t ask how or why in case it upset you, Dad.”
I am pleased she called him Granddad.
“Is there anything you want to know?” I ask.
Both reply “No, so long as you’re OK that’s all that matters”
Lump in throat!
We wander back to the car, me alongside one of the girls and wife with the other…but all together. Idle chit-chat and the occasional laugh.
I’m pleased to have told the girls, pleased that I was careful to tell them about my history and good times with Dad and the good things he did, immediately before I told them about the “end”.
The kids seem to have accepted what happened and, aged 14 and 16, weren’t particularly young when I told them. However, as we had lived at a distance from “my roots” for all their life there was minimal likelihood of anyone else telling them – so there was no time pressure.
I don’t think there is an ideal way of presenting history like this to the kids. However, it’s important to me that Dad is remembered for the good part of his life. I hope I presented the facts in such a way that, when we get the photos out, my daughters can think about their granddad in the way I’d like them to think of him. And they know the whole story now.