Whatever that means
I drove back into the village on the road I don’t normally use but I was heading for the boats having only used the camera as a photocopier during the rest of the day. It’s not meant to be symbolic or anything although I suppose it’s hard to avoid.
It’s been a long couple of days. I spent most of yesterday in Glasgow on a mercy mission to try to kick start a jittery freeview box – my parents’ connection to a world of rubbish telly. Well, get it working or buy a new one. And Sainsbury’s cashed in on my failure.
I was home long enough to have dinner when the phone rang. My dad. Mum had died. She was sleeping deeply when Ellen and I left earlier. Deeply enough that Ellen shouting at her to wake up hadn’t caused any stirring and, in the middle of sleeping, had simply stopped. Don’t know when. Dad had nodded off too in the way that people with unstructured days are inclined to do. To be honest, it was surprising but not shocking. Unanticipated but not unexpected. There had been declining health for a long time and deterioration in her physical co-ordination and mental acuity. There was concern that she was still driving and concern about what would happen, how she would cope, if she couldn’t drive. But when I left her sleeping on the sofa and my dad in his chair with the paper, my thoughts were more on her future need for care than any immediate concerns.
Yesterday, she was more reminiscent of her own mother than at any time before. I’d noted similarities already and that – those dreadful years of decline and dependency from being a vibrant, feisty wee Glaswegian granny to being a wee confused lost soul – I would never have wished on mum. So although it’s sad that she’s dead, I can’t feel too sad that she’s died.
After telling Ewan this morning I went back to Glasgow. Sudden death creates delays and involves more officials so it’s all admin and tea drinking until next week, sorting through and organising the stuff of a woman who seems to have kept every official letter, notice, receipt, used cheque book, instruction manual ever received. To her credit she did at least write on the envelopes what they were for. There’s a mountain of shit from charities – “free gifts” and appeals. She seems to have got herself on some brokered list of soft touches. A well that will dry up straight away.
It’s quite a therapeutic thing to do in a mundane, making yourself useful sort of way. And there’s also plenty of gallows humour in the madness of it – the homespun bureaucracy, the childhood photographs and the scraps of remembrances filed away.
I drove back around midnight last night listening to Radio 4 and thinking. Buzzing a bit from too much thinking and from tea and diet coke. Right at the end of the programme that followed the film programme – Something Understood – they read a passage from Paul Auster’s Brooklyn Follies that made sense at the time, made me think of the value of this place and made more sense after today’s rummaging through paper and thinking how, in spite of it all, there’s so much that is still unknown, unrecorded, missing. It went,
Most lives vanish. A person dies and little by little all traces of that life disappear. An inventor survives in his inventions. An architect survives in his buildings but most people leave behind no monuments or lasting achievements. A shelf of photograph albums. A fifth grade report card. A bowling trophy. An ashtray filched from a Florida hotel room on the final morning of some dimly remembered vacation. A few objects, a few documents and a smattering of impressions made on other people. Those people invariably tell stories about the dead person but more often than not dates are scrambled, facts are left out and the truth becomes increasingly distorted. And when those people die in their turn, most of the stories vanish with them. My idea was this: to form a company that would publish books about the forgotten ones. To rescue the stories and facts and documents before they disappeared and shape them into a continuous narrative. The narrative of a life.