Sunday Up The Braes

Sunday comes.

We fetch our summer buckets; gaily coloured, red, blue, yellow and green. In a while, the plastic pails will hold Autumn’s fruits. Dad holds hands with one or other of us, alternating as each child takes a turn to race ahead. We skip along, stopping to check the hedgerows, trying to spot the nests that are hidden there. And, when we do, a proud cry goes up.

‘I’ve found one!’

We count the eggs but do not touch. We have been warned. None of us wants to be responsible for the mother bird’s non-return. Dad’s previous instructions are always bidden; his wisdom heeded, if not always completely understood.

We examine the markings on the eggs and note their colour. Dad identifies them. Sometimes we are proud to remember their names from earlier lessons. We scan the skies for the parents and wait quietly some way off to see if any bird spotted will return to the nest while we watch.

‘They never go too far away,’ says Dad. ‘They protect their young.’

The air is fresh and there is a crispness that makes it pleasant to take deep breaths.

‘Breathe deeply,’ says Dad, ‘in through your nose and out through your mouth. It’s good for you.’

We all inhale deeply and the smell of manure sails down tubes to eager lungs. Two or three deep breaths render us dizzy. One of us starts to turn in circles, arms outstretched, going madly round; adding in a fun way to the light-headedness of the moment.

In a twirl of excitement, we reach the woods and our first activity is to retrieve our home-made swing; hidden in the undergrowth on a previous week. We always expect someone else to have found it. We are always pleased to discover that they have not.

Dad ties the long rope to one of our favourite trees. Legs astride the swing’s strong branch, we take turns. We throw our heads back laughing, shouting for a turn, laughing in turn. We swing back and forth and round and round; sometimes pushing, sometimes being pushed. We swing until the fun in doing so is exhausted. The moment of completeness coincides with Dad calling on us. It is time to light the fire.

Collecting twigs is a competition. Are they dry? Will they burn? I’ve brought most. Look at me. I’ve done well. Dad’s praises are limited, directed and precise.

He smokes his pipe and leans against a suitable-sized rock; his legs outstretched to the fire we are preparing. We place the kindling in the middle of the stones already selected and positioned in a neat circle. Dad has previously shown us how to light a fire. Little bits of dried grass catch the flame, while gentle blowing helps it along. Soon the twigs burn and the smell …….I remember it still.

 

Every time I smell wood burn, I think of Dad and those days up the braes. Childish feet walking to a known destination where freedom, fun and adventure unfolded under Dad’s sparse but timely advices.

How I wanted one of the penknives my brothers used, to whittle little twigs to pointed ends that then pierced the potatoes Dad always magicked from hidden pockets.

We roasted those potatoes on our little fire. The boys, who were older, were permitted to turn them with their pointed sticks while my sister and I enviously watched this grown-up activity and wondered when our moment would come.

The potatoes burned nicely on the outside while eventually softened enough inside to eat with tentative fingers. We slugged milk, bought for pennies from the nearby farm. Creamy milk and hot potatoes hit stomachs only aware of hunger pangs when the activity stopped. No thought was given to whether the milk had been pasteurised or not or whose germs we shared in the communal drinking.

Sometimes Dad brought his billy-can and we shared sips of his tea, made from boiling water pilfered from a cattle trough. I was afraid of the cows, sure that they resented my unsuccessful forays at their watering hole. On more than one occasion I had to be rescued by one brother or other. While I stood transfixed by a mucous-laden cow, one of them would fetch the water, patronisingly reassuring me that the cow would not hurt me.

Even after eating, the day was still not over. My brothers carved their names in a broken-down tree, alongside an earlier week’s initials. The tree was our friend and plaything. Lying on its side, from whatever disaster had befallen it; its roots were exposed in a spreading mass. Sufficient exertion on our parts raised its purpose to a magnificent see-saw. Living trees were forbidden us. Nothing else was. There was only one rule. Do not hurt anything. That one rule enfolded us and all of nature in a protective embrace. And so we played freely.

We jumped burns, found special stones and leaves and spread all our treasures out for Dad’s perusal and identification. We only partly took in his words; understanding to follow at another time.

We scattered soil onto the dwindled fire to completely extinguish its living flame. We hid the swing again. Penknives were already closed and we trod the homeward journey.

Now birds were warming eggs in nests already spotted and not. Our bramble buckets were half-empty, the contents already mostly consumed earlier in the day. Dessert before dinner. Etiquette unbound. No silly rules to be observed. Just one rule; respecting the natural order of life. And that one was strict.

Dad’s walks up the braes were an adventure, giving Mum a break with younger siblings only to be attended to. The dinner she had prepared was always eaten with less relish than her efforts deserved. Stomachs full of brambles, potatoes and milk could not enthuse. Eventually Mum learned to abandon the Sunday dinner rule on such days. A plate of home-made soup was more than sufficient.

Faces rosy. Hands dirty. Smiles wide. Sunday bath-time followed.

 

                                                                                                                        

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The Prodigal Son/Daughter – Revisited

The Prodigal Son/Daughter  (11-10-07)

There was once a woman who was left to raise her children on her own. She worked hard to try to make sure that the absence of a father in their lives would not mean that they went without. She gave them guidance and love and watched over them as if with the careful eyes of two parents.

Her youngest child got into a bad crowd and started to drink although he was too young to do so. He came home frequently too drunk to speak, except words of hurt and violence. He missed school and government bodies started to look closely at the parenting skills of the mother. They recognized that she was doing her best as her elder child was not giving her the same worries. They offered support and intervention but nothing seemed to penetrate the sense of the younger child.

Things went from bad to worse. Exam results were no good, attendance at school was at an all-time low and the police had even come calling; threatening her child with an anti-social behaviour order.

The mother cried and pleaded and prayed. One night, while the son was out drinking with some friends, they got into a fight with another crowd and some people were badly hurt. The younger child was stabbed in the leg and found by the police and taken to hospital.

The mother was called and rushed to the hospital where she kept a vigil by her son’s side until he awoke.

When he did he looked at his mother’s face and into her eyes and wept for the hurt he had caused her and the life he was leading.

On his release from hospital he went home and began to change his ways. His mother rewarded him with a laptop which she paid for so that he could study more easily and have another interest.

The elder son was angry at this and said,

‘You’re always saying how hard it is to manage on what you’ve got coming in. I give you what I can but he’s never given you a penny. Now you’ve taken out credit to buy something for him he doesn’t deserve. How is that fair?’

His mother held his two hands between hers and said,

‘You’ve never given me a moment of unnecessary worry. Your character is strong and with purpose. Your brother lost the plot for a long time and I thought he would end up in prison or dead. He’s with us again as he used to be – stronger now for what he has experienced. You both have all my love always. But when one needs me more than another, at a given time, it is that one whose needs I best try to fulfill. It takes nothing away from you and gives him the chance of a new life. And us too. For what would our lives have been with the loss of a son and a brother?’

The elder son cried and held his mother to him , understanding better the meaning of love.

Letter to Mum

(7/2/10)

Dear Mum,

I can’t give this to you or send it but maybe if I write something down it will help me and, if I can clarify my thoughts and feelings, I’ll be able to talk to you.

There’s a hole in me that’s you-shaped. I miss knowing you; knowing that you’re down the road, physically present. I miss not being able to show my love for you. The love I had and have for you – only for you – has nowhere to go. The love of a child for its parent is exactly that. Where can I send it? It isn’t lost. It hasn’t gone. But I’ve nowhere to give it or send it.

Maybe when Dad died I was able to take that love and give more of it to you. But you’re both gone now and the love is trapped inside of me. It wells up and makes me cry.

Maybe without your own parents and without my Dad you took all of that love and transferred it to us – your children and your grandchildren. I felt the measure of that love and I miss that too.

How exactly were you able to transfer it? If that is what you did. Or maybe no – one ever can. Some loves are just for some people. The love I have for all the people in my life stems from the same source but the difference is there in each one.

I want to reach out my arms to you and hear you speak to me. But I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what I’ll hear and that I won’t cope with your words. Maybe you’re already speaking and I’m refusing to listen.

Supermarket Thoughts

Tomatoes. Apples – that’s a good price but they won’t eat them. What’s the point? Buy the other ones. Bananas, take enough; they’ll do for the pieces and Rachel likes them mashed up. Potatoes – some for boiling and a few big ones for baking – those’ll do for Tuesday – we’ll have pasta tomorrow.

God, what am I making for today? Something easy.  I hate cooking after Sunday shopping. That’s not right. Sunday dinner’s meant to be special. That’s more or less what Father was saying today in his sermon.

Get a few cartons of orange juice. It’s good for them and they love it. Own brand, it’s just as good. Right, tins. I need beans, spaghetti – own brands, they’re fine. Pasta too. Get the shells. I don’t know why David loves the shells more than the bows. How much are they? That can’t be right. Must be a mistake. It’s cheaper buying two 500g than 1kg. Odd. Oh, well, get the two.

Curry paste. Buy two get one free. Bargain. They all like curry except David and Mary. And Rachel’s too wee for it. I’ll make them something else. I’ll get tuna for them. Must remember to lift coconut and cream for the curry; they don’t like it too hot. Except Claire. Have I got enough rice? Better get more anyway. You were going to stop buying more than you need for the week, Anne-Marie. Can’t budget otherwise. End up with too much of one thing and nothing of another. End up back in here on Tuesday spending all over again. I hate this on a Sunday.

I wouldn’t mind so much if I could just buy what I wanted. Always checking prices, ingredients, bargains. Got enough brown sauce. Better get red. Hardly any left. They’ll all be looking for it when we have chips this week. Right, tuna. Hmm. A pack of four. Good price. David loves it. So does Mary. Must get cheese to go with that for Mary. Cooking oil. Own brand. Shouldn’t really fry chips. But they’re tastier like that. Oven chips get burnt so easily. Or half-cooked. Or soggy if I just stick them in the micro.

I wonder what kind of vegetable oil that is. I must try the extra-virgin oil one of these days for salad. Ali said it was great. And that balsamic vinegar. Can’t afford that. Noodles – I’ve forgotten those. They should be here. Where have they moved them too? I hate when they do this. Will I hunt or leave it? David likes them. But what a mess he makes on the kitchen floor. Just as well it’s lino and not carpet. But I hate having to clean the lino. Can’t just hoover on it like the rest of the place. Brush. Mop. Must get floor cleaner.

Have to get a new carpet for Joe’s room. All the bedrooms could do with a new carpet. Even just to soundproof the place. Sounds as if they jump about upstairs. They don’t. The carpets are just too thin. Have to get new ones. At least, for Joe’s room to start. Wish I hadn’t lifted his carpet this week. Or stripped his walls. Have to get something done with it now. What colours though? Space – stars and rockets. He doesn’t want much.I could do it though. That craft programme more or less showed how.

Wish I had more time to do these things. I could quite enjoy being in the house being a mum and wife. I could get on top of all these things. I could enjoy making dinners and decorating and creating.

I’ve still got all that work to do for school. Wish I hadn’t brought it home. Och, I’ll  just have it to do tomorrow night.

Wish I could win the lottery. I’d pack it all in tomorrow. Not millions. Just enough to ease the pressure and let me come into the house. Frank could keep on working. He would miss it. Or, at least, he could take some people on and build up the business. He’ll not be able to graft like he does forever. He should have stuck in at school. He’s smart enough. Oh, well, he made his choices. Gallivanting about Europe. Now, you made your choices, too. You love him. Pity he couldn’t have had a career.

I wouldn’t have to be out working now and feeling guilty about leaving the kids. I’ll probably regret leaving them when I’m old. I might even be regretting it when they get to their teens. Maybe they’ll all flip and cause us bother because I wasn’t at home with them. I’m regretting it just now.

If I could work from home that would be a bit easier. What can a teacher do from home – apart from homework? But there’s lots of other things I can do – want to do. I want to write. If I could only find the time to do half of what I wanted to do. I’m 37. If I don’t find the time soon I won’t do any of these things at all. A bit here. A bit there. It doesn’t work.

Can’t even find the time to go out for a night. Even if we had the money. Or a babysitter. But I wouldn’t swap them for the world. I would have more as well. I love kids. They’re not easy right enough. They take some looking after. So much washing. Cooking. Cleaning. Not ironing. I hate that. People get obsessed with ironing. You don’t have to do as much as they seem to think. Thank God for manmade fibres. And the tumble-dryer. Shouldn’t really use that. Costs so much, so they say.

Have to get my eyes tested. They’re sore. Can’t see where the cereal is. Definitely not own brand corn flakes. They’re rubbish. The birds didn’t even eat them the one time I bought them. There they are. There’s too many too choose from and I’m definitely not buying chocolate covered anything. Imagine. For breakfast. Fair enough, a bar of chocolate with a coffee for breakfast in the morning but chocolate crispies – disgusting. Porridge. Rachel likes that. No salt for her yet, though. Margarine. Funny how none of us likes butter. Own brand margarine – pretty good. Milk – loads of it. And Frank or I will be here again getting more by Tuesday or Wednesday. Can’t store all we use for the week.

And bread. Tons. At least I can freeze that. Cheese. Where’s the cheese? I like it strong. So does Frank. But not the kids. Will I get two kinds? I love that creamy pepper cheese. It’s too fattening, though. I’ll get it anyway. Did I pick up crackers? Frank and I can have some cheese and crackers tonight after the kids are in bed.

Might even get a bottle of red to go with it. A few cans of lager for Frank. After they’re all bathed. That’ll be nice.

I’ve still got all that school work to do. I’ll see. I might leave it till tomorrow. I hate doing schoolwork at the weekend. Don’t know why I bring it home on a Friday. The intention is always there but I never get the time until Sunday and who wants to do it then? Except I do, sometimes. And it’s not fair on the kids or Frank. That’s their time with me. I’ll leave it till tomorrow night.

That’s the meat in. I’m sick of looking at pork and chicken. A nice bit of stew ,or hamburgers even, would go down a treat. Mad cows. Wish I’d never heard of them.

Better get soap powder. And squeezy. Floor cleaner – nearly forgot. Have we got enough bin bags? I think there’s only a small roll left. I’ll get more. We’ll use them anyway. Oh, nappies. Two sizes. Rachel needs maxi now. David won’t need his much longer. He’s doing well. Just a nappy at night now.

I’ll get a sweet for them tonight. Their weekends nearly over too. Chocolate for Frank and me. A variety bag for them. Crisps for packed lunches. Got the cold meat too. Joe likes pickle on his pieces. There’s enough left in the cupboard. Red wine. Some lager. Juice for the kids. Is that me?

Have I forgotten anything? Probably. But I won’t know till I get home. Oh well, too bad. Can’t think of anything just now.

Look at the queues here. Which one will go quicker? I won’t go to her. She talks to everybody and takes ages. He’s quite efficient. They’ve nearly emptied their trolley. That’ll do for me.

I wish somebody would unpack your trolley for you as well as pack your bags at the other side. I’ve got to fill it up, unpack it, put it into cupboards, freezer, fridge. Cook the stuff. I’d be worth a fortune if we didn’t have to eat.

‘Could I have a packer, please?’

I stack too high. That meat’s ready to fall off. I could probably have done without those bin liners. And those sweets. And the wine. And the creamed cheese. And they’re eating too many crisps.

Och, you’ve got to live. Have some respite. ‘Give the cat the canary’ as my Mum says. We don’t get out much. We don’t go for burgers every week or go to the cinema often. A few sweets with a video tonight. It’s a weekend treat.

They were out at the country park too. Rachel could do with more fresh air. I should go with Frank and the kids to the park. But it’s the only time I have to catch up on the housework. If I wasn’t working it would be different. I could have Rachel out every day down the street. Buy what I needed just for a day or two. I would probably save a fortune.

‘How much did you say?’

Bang goes another seventy quid. Well that’s between seven of us for a week. Except, Frank or I will be back here midweek spending another £20 on things I’ve forgotten today or things we’ve used up or need – like milk or bread or eggs. Shit, I’ve forgotten the eggs. Too late. I don’t care. I’ll get Frank to get them when he comes for more ice-cream. Shit, I’ve forgotten the ice-cream too. Too bad. I’ll make custard. I should have shares in this place – never mind points.

Better get money out for that Big Issue guy outside. Poor sod. There but for the grace of God…. That was a good sermon today. Father really hit the mark. Do your best. It’s all you can do. I’ll make something nice for tonight. Pork chops, boiled potatoes, peas, carrots. Corn for David. Wish I’d remembered the ice-cream. Maybe I’ll get Frank to nip down to the café for some. They like that even better.

‘Keep the change.’

Must read this Big Issue if I get the time.

(2-2-1998)