In a strange twist of fate, I am sitting writing a story about Jock – a Scots rogue, a gentleman in his eighties – instead of the short story I was writing of my father’s life for a newspaper in Hartlepool where he grew up. In the final editing of this emotional project, I lost the entire story due to a technical glitch.
I set up my computer on the big table on the back verandah, on this sunny winter Sunday, a cup of tea at hand, and still tearful about the loss of my Dad’s story, struggling to find the words to rewrite and remember him, not revere him, and sit there with one paragraph staring at me.
Suddenly Cino runs squealing in excitement to the back gate, and I hear a voice shout “Oi! Anyone home?” and see Jock’s walking stick waving over the gate. There he is, in a bright blue buggy, with his McDougall tartan cap on his head, and a wide smile on his face. “Was it you who kissed me at the Celtic Festival?” he demands, offering his cheek to my lips. “No, I was overseas”, I say. “Well, who the hell kissed me then?” he says, wild grey eyebrows furrowed, looking around the courtyard as if he might discover his secret admirer. I hug him and joke “Jock! – you just let ANY woman kiss you! And how could you possibly mistake MY kiss for the kiss of another?” He laughs with his head thrown back, and I am reminded of my own darling Dad, which was how I met Jock in the first place, as I was walking through our village of Berry. I overheard a mouth organ playing, and like a magnet was drawn to it, I literally ran to it, the sound of my father, the mouth organ, his beloved instrument. And there, in a thin jacket and one of his customary hats, busking his heart out, was Jock. I discovered I was crying, and sat in a cold wind, listening to him, with a longing in my heart for my Dad. When he finished – with a flourish, having an attentive female audience - I thanked him and introduced myself, told him off for not dressing more warmly, bought him a toasted ham and cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee, and we became friends, just like that. I learned he was born nine years after my Dad and we have shared lots of stories and secrets since then.
That was two years ago, and our visits are irregular, but always memorable. He always plays his mouth organ for me, and my heart sings. He loves Cino our puppy, and we have long, funny, interesting and sometimes moving conversations. I take him for coffee, or he comes to our house, I take him to the acupuncturist, or deliver sweet treats I have baked to him in the caravan park he has lived in with his wife for twenty years. He has a large and loving family who are very kind to him. He asked me a few months ago “Why are you interested in an old man like me?” – and then, in his broad Scots accent adds with a wicked smile, “Is it for sex?” I roared with laughter, and so did he. I was truthful, and told him he reminds me of my own father, that initially I ran to discover the maker of the magical memorable music, and now we have this special friendship, and I tell him how privileged I feel that he wants to spend time with ME. He pats my hand and his eyes mist over and so do mine for a moment. Then he says “Do I have scone crumbs on my lip?” He does, so I wipe them off.
So today, we sat in the sunshine, an old man and me, well I am old too, but the age of his own children – and we laughed and talked. He told me stories, and I listened. I made him coffee the way he likes it, with ‘one sugar two milk’, and fed him Anzac biscuits. Today he told me about leaving school at 13 “AND A HALF” he adds, his days in the merchant navy, all the ‘gays’ on board ship, adding ‘gay or nay, I don’t care’, and his parents, adding coyly “Things happened when they met. I was at their wedding!” I learned he recently celebrated his 85th birthday, and his 65th wedding anniversary. His family of sons, daughters and grandchildren celebrated with he and Mary - and then his three sons, all over six feet tall, got up on stage and sang a song Jock wrote 45 years ago, a song he had forgotten and hadn’t sung since - “a bit of a rude song” he tells me - and they got him up to sing with them. “There isn’t anything as ugly as three men over six feet all dancing on a stage” he says beaming all over his face, adding “I was so proud of them! – I think they must have practiced, but they said they hadn’t.” He says he lost his licence, hence the blue chariot he arrived in, but "I love this thing!', patting it like a dog. He also patted Cino, telling her he hardly recognized her she was so big, and she thanked him with a kiss on the mouth. We discussed our big noses and laughed at each other. I cleaned his glasses which had his breakfast all over them, and when he put them back on again he reeled back in mock astonishment of their brightness. He chided me I had not seen him since returning from New York, and then listened attentively to the stories of our recent trip to Italy, Turkey and Ireland. We laughed a lot, and I felt very happy.
Then he said he had to be going, it was going to get cold and his wife was coming home from bowls. His leg pains him as it 'has a crack in it' he says. Then his memory triggered, recites a story: "I was in hospital recently for two weeks, after falling out of the VIP car. That's how I cracked my leg. I was leading the parade as Chief at the Celtic Festival. I I founded that festival decades ago". His eyes cloud and I imagine the memories he is recalling, and I wait silently for a minute. His vision clears, and bangs his stick, "Come on girl, don't stand about, I have to go!" So I helped him down the two small stairs and into his waiting blue chariot. He then did a bigsweep of Gerald's green lawn, with a nod to Gerald who had just appeared saying “Sorry, I am wrecking the fine lawn ….” - but like a naughty child, failed to hide the small smile of satisfaction in doing so. I opened both gates wide, and he revved his blue chariot through them and down the driveway with a wave of his stick.
I never got to write your story today Dad. But thank you for sending Jock.