Let Me Rest
by Alfie Geeson
It was November 1977 when my Dad and I started getting to know each other again. I'd made my mind up that, when my tour of duty finished in 1979, I was coming out of the Military. I had taken an apartment in my home town and was using my leave to make the place habitable.
The bell rings, and I hurry to open the door, there is my Dad, in old corduroy trousers and a flannel shirt. He knows that his home improvement skills passed over me on their way to some future generation. So he's come to help me. He's carrying enough stuff to re-furbish Buckingham Palace, paint, brushes, tables, scissors, paper and all manner of things I don't even recognise. We don't smile, or embrace each other; we haven't been able to do that since 1963.
In September 1963 Mother was killed in a traffic accident, I was with my group on an operation with the Dyaks in Sarawak and wasn't informed of her passing until we came out of the jungle in December. I immediately decided to fly home, aware that I was much too late for the funeral, but wanting to comfort Dad.
I arrived home within days and entered the living room. My Dad stood in the centre of the room, I went towards him, arms outstretched, wanting to tell him how I felt. There was a blank, vacant look on his face, he brushed past me and turned to look out the window.
He told me much later that he just couldn't understand why I didn't get to my mother's funeral, and that he was badly hurt by the fact that I wasn't at the graveside to "sing her to sleep".
My dad had never been in my new apartment before, the truth is we don't talk a lot, I am often not sure how to talk to him, but sometimes it can be easier when we have work to do. Within minutes he's taken over the job. He soon has pasting tables erected, and is slapping wall-paper on the walls, and unlike the strips I'd put up, it stays on the wall.
''Dad, '' I say to him, ''You always do the work, I pass you the brushes and paper but I never learn how it should be done. Why don't you show me how?''
The question hangs in the air for a while, and then his voice from the top of the ladder,
''Alfie, pass me the six inch brush now!"
Within two days the apartment is papered from top to bottom, every piece of wood has been liberally coated with paint. We sit on a couple of chairs and I look at him.
Is this frail looking 72 year old the giant of a man who used to run up the stairs to scold me? Is this the man who taught me how to tie flies and cast them, like a true fisherman, into the secret pool he and I called our own? Is this the man who once chased me for miles across the fields because I accidentally used a four letter word?
No, it isn't. This is someone for me to worry about, someone around whose cold shoulders I want to wrap my coat, someone for me to protect, someone for me to look after. Someone I need to care for.
When I was young, we would fight, like most fahers and sons. There would be no cooling off period between rounds, it was a battle that lasted from my adolescence until I married. We didn't hate each other; we just disagreed constantly with each other.
It's been a satisfying two days, we sit there together on level terms. Maybe he wasn't the best father, maybe I wasn't the best son, but I realise that I will never be ready to cope with him leaving. I know I'm luckier than lots of my friends whose fathers died when they were still locked in that battle that neither of them really wanted.
We sit in silence, he looks across at me, and very quietly he says
'' Alfie, I've never told you this, but the time that I and Bill Sharman were under that rock fall, I really did think that you were going to be collecting the insurance''
Dad was a coal-miner and some years ago he and another workman had been buried under a rock fall for many, many hours. Rescuers toiled for a very long time to get to them. There was very little air remaining in that dark place when they got Bill and my Dad out.
''I really didn't think we'd ever get out of there, I thought it was going to be my tomb'', he says.
He sounds a little bashful, as if knowing that he should have told me this before. His own death has never really seemed to interest him. I'm glad he just told me this, and I feel that we are now the two men of the family who have our own secrets. And I'm glad he doesn't have to go down that black hole again.
It's a month later, and we agree to meet in our local pub, The Duke of Wellington. We stand together at the bar drinking pints of bitter, then he hits me with it.
''I've been pretty ill the last few weeks Alfie; I've been putting my affairs in order over this past week.''
He took a long drink and emptied his pint glass.
'' Don't worry about what's going to happen to me, the insurance will pay for my funeral.''
He turns away to order more beer. Something breaks inside me. When he turns back I'm crying, hot tears springing into my eyes so suddenly that I'm almost choking.
''I don't want you to die,'' I manage to say.
"I don't want the insurance to bury you! I'll pay for your funeral.''
''Oh, Alfie.'' he says, taken aback, totally at a loss
'' I didn't want to burden you with it.''
I can't find the words to tell him that I want to be burdened with it, that it is my birthright. That when the time comes I want to stand at the graveside and "sing him to sleep". I reach out to put my arms around him, and again, but only for a split-second, he pulls away from me, then he looks closely into my eyes and wraps his arms round me.
There we stand in a bar-room full of tough, hardworking miners, both of us crying, with our arms around each other, my father patting me on the back and saying
''It's OK Alfie, it's all OK now.''
And not one of these hard men says a word, they know that this father and son are talking to each other again, and that finally, and together, they are mourning a dear departed wife and mother.
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