Link back to Chapter 28
Emma and I went out to Northwood on the Saturday of the first weekend of September; the rest of the family joined us for supper that night, including Becca and Mike. Mike had moved in with Becca earlier that week and they cheerfully admitted that the flat was still a mess. “He’s not exactly a minimalist!” Becca said with a twinkle in her eye, and Mike smiled ruefully; “I’ve got rather a lot of stuff!” he said.
Sarah had started school again on Thursday, and when I asked her how it had gone she said, “Okay, thanks. I’m going back over some ground I’ve already covered, but I’ve been out of it for nine months so I’ve forgotten most of it”.
“How’s the leg holding up?”
“Mostly okay; I’m going to go easy in the gym for a bit”.
“That’s probably a good idea”.
“Yeah – the doctor told me to listen to my body, and if I start to get sore I’m supposed to ease up”.
“For what it’s worth, I think you’re amazing, Sarah Irene”.
She smiled shyly; “Thank you”.
Alyson had been watching this exchange, and a few minutes later she came over to me and said, “You’re always so encouraging with Sarah, Tom; thank you”.
“Not at all; she’s amazing. When you think of where she was nine months ago…”
“I know – it’s hard to believe she’s come so far”.
“So has Rick”.
She nodded; “Yes – and I’ve seen a lot more of him over the past nine months, too”.
The air was tense between Rick and Eric, and I could see that the disagreement between them was still not resolved. Eric was going into his last year of high school now; Rick had told me that his marks were reasonably good, but he had no interest at all in taking a business degree or any other kind of university education. He and a couple of friends had formed a blues band and had played a couple of times at open stages in the Oxford area; to Eric, this was what his life was going to be all about, and he refused to listen to any other point of view.
Rick was intensely frustrated, and he had let off steam with me a couple of times since our return from Canada. “I don’t understand him”, he said to me one night over a pint at the ‘Eagle and Child’. “I don’t understand why he’s not even remotely interested in having a backup plan. Blues musicians dreaming about successful careers are two a penny in Oxford; surely he can see the odds aren’t exactly in his favour”.
“Sometimes people just don’t want to see things”, I replied.
He stared at me; “So you’re on my side on this issue?”
I shrugged; “I like to think I’m not on anyone’s side. I know I’m glad Emma plays her music for fun; I don’t know how I would have reacted if she’d told me she wanted to make a career out of it”.
“Emma would never have been foolish about it like Eric; that girl’s far too sensible for that”. He smiled ruefully; “I should have taken parenting lessons from you and Kelly!”
I took a sip of my beer and sat back in my chair, stretching out my legs under the table. “Kelly was a lot smarter than me about this kind of thing. We’ve got a nephew – Dan Rempel – who went through a really rebellious patch when he was a teenager; he and his dad went head to head all the time and neither of them would back down. But Kelly had a way with Dan; I guess it helped that she wasn’t his dad or mum, and he felt comfortable in our house. John – that’s his dad – was in a confrontational rut with him, and once you’re into that, it’s hard to get out of it”.
Rick nodded; “Don’t I know it? How did they get into it, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“No, not at all. John’s a farmer and he could be obsessive when it came to work. His dad died of a heart attack when he was young; I never knew him, but apparently he was the kind of farmer who works all the time and never takes a break. John took after him, and he had a heart attack too, when he was in his mid-forties. He used to ride Dan hard, and Dan didn’t respond well to that”.
Rick gave me a rueful grin; “I can hear some of myself in that story”.
“Yeah, although that wasn’t all there was to it. Have you ever heard me talk about Corey Reimer?”
“The name’s vaguely familiar, but I can’t quite place him”.
“He was Kelly’s cousin, one of Hugo and Millie’s kids. Dan’s his nephew; Dan’s mum Erika is Corey’s sister. Anyway, Corey was Dan’s favourite uncle, and he was killed in a car accident the first year I was in Meadowvale – spring of ’83. Dan took years to get over that; it was like he had this deep well of anger inside, and it just came bursting out like a volcanic eruption when he was frustrated or provoked”.
“Eric’s got that anger too. I think most of it’s directed at me”. He shrugged helplessly. “What can I say? I’ve been an absentee dad to them for years – for as long as they can remember. I can’t really blame them for being mad at me, can I?”
“There’s no point in beating yourself up over that”.
“No – but I can’t dismiss it either. It’s a factor, whether I like it or not”. He looked at me, and I saw the frustration plainly on his face. “You and Emma get on so well with my kids; I’m really grateful for that, but I must admit I envy you for it, too”.
“It’s easy for me; I’m not their dad, and I don’t have the history. And Em just has a natural sympathy for people having struggles”.
“She knows what it’s like, I suppose – not the struggles with her parents, of course, but you know what I mean”.
“So what would you advise me, bro?” He smiled awkwardly; “I must admit, I’ve gained a whole new respect for your wisdom in situations like this!”
“I don’t feel particularly wise, but I know what Kelly would say”.
“She’d say that you’ll never get him to listen to your ideas while he thinks you’re his adversary. And he’s not going to stop thinking of you like that unless you make the first move, and come over to his side a bit”.
“You mean I should just accept that he’s going to try to do music full time instead of going to university?”
“You don’t necessarily have to accept it, but you have to stop pushing him on it. More than that – you have to figure out what’s making him tick as a musician, and why it’s so important to him. And you have to be patient, because it’s taken him years to get into this adversarial rut, and he’s not going to get out of it fast”.
“Patience is not something I’m very good at”.
“Well, maybe now’s the time…”
He looked at me in silence for a moment, and then he nodded slowly; “You may be right”, he said.
Emma’s two months of playing music with Jake and Ellie had brought out her bluegrass side. I heard her playing with Eric on Saturday afternoon in my mother’s music room; she was singing one of Ellie’s bluegrass songs, and Eric was filling in a nice lead guitar part for her. I stood in the doorway and listened, enjoying the high lilt in Emma’s voice and the easy, instinctive way Eric’s fingers were moving over the strings of his acoustic guitar. When they were finished I applauded, and they both looked up and smiled at me.
“Nicely done!” I said; “I didn’t know you were a bluegrass musician, Eric!”
“That’s because I’m not! But the chord structure’s easy to follow and it’s not hard to fill in a lead part”.
“You guys sound really good together”.
“Thanks”. He gestured toward a hard-backed chair in the corner of the room; “Why don’t you come and join us?”
“Maybe later – I’ve been sent to tell you the food’s just about ready”.
I had forgotten how much I liked Mike Carey; I had gotten to know him a little when he and Becca came to visit us in Meadowvale the summer after Kelly’s death, and I had quickly warmed to him. He was gentle and soft-spoken, and he treated my sister like royalty. He also had a real talent for getting along with people; he had an easy conversational style, and he was an attentive listener.
His quiet voice, however, made it difficult for my father to hear him at any distance, and so we had quickly taken to seating them together at family gatherings. He was sitting on my father’s left for supper that night, and when the meal was over he was the one who noticed that when my father got up from the table he stumbled a little, and favoured his right leg.
“Are you all right, Mr. Masefield?” he asked.
My father shook his head; “My right leg’s been a bit sore for a couple of days”.
I saw Emma look up suddenly, and I knew what she was thinking. “Where’s the pain, Grandpa?” she asked.
“As I said”, he replied testily, “it’s in my right leg”.
“But where in the leg?”
“The upper leg – the femur, isn’t it?”
Becca was at his side immediately. “Let me see you walk, Dad”, she said.
“What’s this about?” he asked suspiciously.
She raised her hands defensively; “Don’t shoot the messenger – I’m on your side”.
He was quiet for a moment, and then he nodded; “Sorry – I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. But I would like to know what you’re worried about”.
“I’m worried about cancer metastasizing in bones”.
He stared at her briefly, and then nodded; “Right. Should I use my cane?”
“No – just walk to the wall and back without it”.
He did, and I saw immediately that he was limping. Becca nodded; “You need to call your oncologist in the morning”, she said. “It might be nothing, but it’s best to be sure”.
“Alright – I’ll get it checked out. Can I have my cane back now?”
She grinned at him; “I think that’s allowed”.
He went to see his oncologist that week, and she ordered a CT scan and a number of other tests. The results came back a few days later: he had a cancerous tumour growing in his right femur. He was scheduled for a week of targeted radiation therapy, with a possibility of surgery afterwards to remove what was left of the tumour. “But surgery wouldn’t be my favourite option”, the doctor told him; “It can take up to a year of rehab to recover after bone cancer surgery, even if it’s just limb-salvage surgery and not amputation. I don’t think you have a year, Mr. Masefield, and I don’t think you want to spend the time that’s left to you in rehab”.
Rick and Becca and I were with him when this conversation took place; he had surprised us by asking us to be present, along with my mother. By now we all knew Doctor Khoury; she was a woman of about my own age, with short dark hair and a slight accent that betrayed her Lebanese origins. She was leaning back against the edge of her desk with her arms folded across her front, and the rest of us were sitting across from her.
“So, can I ask a question?” Becca asked.
“I think we should let your father ask the first questions”, Doctor Khoury replied.
She turned to my father; “Do you have any questions, Mr. Masefield?”
“Yes, I do. Under what circumstances would you consider surgery?”
“If the tumour didn’t respond at all to radiation, but I’ve got no reason to believe that’s going to happen. It might, but I’m not expecting it”.
“You mentioned amputation?”
She shook her head. “That would be an extreme alternative. In the unlikely event that I decided surgery was necessary, I would most likely opt for limb-salvage surgery, which is where we take out as little of the bone and tendons and nerves as we can. It’s more difficult and more complex, but recovery is a lot easier”.
“But you don’t think that’s going to happen?”
“I’ll be surprised if it’s necessary. I expect we’ll be able to shrink the tumour with radiation; we might even be able to eradicate it completely, although I don’t think that’s likely”.
“So what does the future look like for me, at this stage? Tell me plainly”.
Dr. Khoury nodded. “Well, we’re definitely in stage four now, and we can expect more metastases from this point on. They might be in the bones, or they might be in other places. This is what happens when lymphoma reaches stage four; cancer starts to appear in other places in your body”.
“So how long…?”
The doctor smiled. “I wouldn’t want to be too categorical about that”.
“But your best guess…?”
She shrugged. “Six months? Personally, I think that’s an outside figure, but I might be wrong”.
He nodded. “Six months, then”.
“Yes”. She gave him a sympathetic look; “So if there’s anything you really want to do, Mr. Masefield, I wouldn’t put it off”.
“I understand”. He glanced at Becca; “Is there anything else you want to ask, my dear?”
Becca shook her head. “I don’t think so; I think all my questions have been answered”.
He began his radiation therapy on September 20th, the day Emma started at Oxford Brookes and Colin at Oxford and Cherwell College. Each day he came into the city first thing in the morning, went into hospital for a short blast of radiation, and then went home again. By the end of the week, when he had another CT scan, he was exhausted, and when we saw him the following weekend he barely moved from his armchair, unless it was to go up to his room to rest.
It quickly became clear to us that we needed to limit the length of our visits. A gathering of the whole family wore him out in less than an hour; he could take smaller groups for longer periods of time, but still we needed to space them out to give him time to recuperate. He himself was not pleased with this development; he wanted to spend as much time with us as he could, but eventually even he was forced to admit that he did not have the energy for it.
“I’m sorry”, he said to me one evening when he was very obviously falling asleep over supper; “You’ve come all the way out here to spend time with me, and before the meal’s even over I’m falling asleep on you”.
“Don’t worry about it”, I replied gently; “It’s not far to come, and it doesn’t hurt me to come out for an hour or two instead of a whole weekend”.
“I rather liked the weekends, though”, he said sadly.
Doctor Khoury told him that the radiation had shrunk the tumour but not completely eradicated it. “In the best of all possible worlds, I’d do surgery to excise it completely”, she said, “but I honestly don’t think you’d recover from it, Mr. Masefield, and I don’t think you’d ever walk again either. Like I said before, it can take a year of rehab for a person to learn to walk again after limb-salvage surgery, and I’m almost certain you don’t have another year”.
“So what will you do?” he asked.
“We’ll keep an eye on it. We’ll give you pain killers as you need them, and there are drugs we can use to inhibit the growth of the tumour. And if we need to give it another blast of radiation, we can do that. But you need to listen carefully to what your body tells you; if you feel any sort of new pain in other bones, you need to tell me right away. I’m afraid this is going to happen again, and when it does, we need to get right on top of it”.
He gave her a helpless look; “That’s not a very encouraging forecast, Doctor”.
“No; I wish I could give you better news”.
He shook his head. “It’s no one’s fault”, he replied, “least of all yours”.
My friends were all aware of what was going on. The Meadowvale people called or emailed regularly to let us know they were thinking about us. Jim McFarlane from our church called to find out how things were going so that he could keep the prayer team updated. And of course, I talked to Owen and Wendy almost every day.
Despite our individual busyness, Owen and Wendy and I made a point of getting together for a couple of hours once a week to play music, either at Bill’s open stage or at one of our houses; we were practising our old repertoire as well as learning a few new songs, especially Christmas music. Wendy, in particular, was enjoying this. Owen and I had never lost touch with each other through the years, and whenever we had gotten together we had always played music, but for Wendy this was a recovery of a part of her past that she had lost. Over and over again in those early weeks after our formal revival of ‘Lincoln Green’ I saw her shaking her head with a smile. “Damn! We sound good!” she would exclaim, and Owen would grin at me and say, “I think Doctor Howard’s enjoying herself!”
I was enjoying myself too, and I gradually admitted to myself that it had a lot to do with Wendy’s presence.
One night during this period I woke up at about two in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. Eventually I went downstairs as quietly as I could, made myself a cup of herbal tea and then sat in the living room with one light on, sipping my tea and thinking about what my heart was telling me.
Was it really possible that I could love someone again, after losing Kelly? I had believed it could never happen. Kelly and I had been devoted to each other, body and soul; we had found faith together, learned to be disciples together, borne a child and raised her, gone through cancer and all that went with it. We had been two halves of the same soul, and ever since her death I had felt like only half a person.
I had to admit that a part of me felt guilty, even though I knew that Kelly would never have wanted me to be lonely for the rest of my life. I recognized this inner flagellant; this was the same person who had wanted to feel guilty for presuming to be happy again, the same person who viewed every recovery from grief as an act of disloyalty to Kelly. But I knew that this would be the biggest battle to date that I had fought with this inner ascetic.
I got to my feet, crossed the room and looked at Kelly’s picture in the dim light. With my eye I traced the outline of her cheek; I could almost smell the scent of her hair and feel the softness of her lips on mine. How could I possibly love someone, after losing her? But I knew at the same moment that this reluctance I felt about moving on was nothing to do with what she would have wanted. “You loved me too much, Kelly Ruth”, I whispered. “It’s me who’s holding back; I know that”.
My eyes moved in the picture to thirteen-year old Emma, smiling at the camera between Kelly and me. “What’s she going to think?” I asked myself, but I knew the answer before the question was even finished in my mind. I knew Emma would never stop missing her mother, but I also knew that she would never want me to be lonely for the rest of my life. And I knew she liked Wendy and her children and was glad for their presence in our lives.
I went back to my easy chair and sat down again, picking up my cup and finishing the last of my herbal tea. Cradling the empty cup in my hands, I said, “So how am I going to get past this, Lord? I know I’m falling in love with Wendy again, but deep down inside I’m still in love with Kelly.
“How do I get past that? Whenever I let myself imagine a life with Wendy, another part of me won’t even consider it. It’s like an act of disloyalty, even though I know Kelly’s dead and I can never have her again”.
I shook my head slowly, feeling the tiredness in my body and knowing I should go back to bed. “I don’t know what to do”, I whispered, “so could you please help me? If I’m supposed to stay as I am, give me some sense of contentment with that. And if I’m supposed to move on with Wendy, help me get past this sense of guilt I feel. I can’t get past it myself; you’re going to have to help me with it”.
At that moment I heard a movement upstairs, and then the sound of Emma’s bedroom door and the creaking of the stairs as she came down to use the bathroom. I knew she would see the light under the living room door, and part of me wanted to avoid her questions, but I waited anyway, and after a couple of minutes I heard the flush of the toilet. I sensed her hesitation, and then she pushed the door open a little and glanced into the living room. “You okay?” she asked.
“Yeah; just wakeful”.
She came into the room, her arms crossed in front of her. “Worried about something?”
“No – I’m fine, love. Just thinking, that’s all”.
“Do you mind if I sit down for a minute?”
“Of course not; do you want me to make you some tea?”
She sat down across from me and shook her head; “I’m fine”.
“Were you sleeping okay?”
“Oh yeah”. She gave me a thoughtful frown; “Do you mind me asking what you were thinking about?”
I looked away for a moment, and she waited; I knew she would never press me to say more than I wanted to say. I sighed, looked across at her in the dimly lit room, and said simply, “Wendy”.
She spoke quietly; “Are you falling in love with her again, Dad?”
“I think I might be”.
“And you’re tying yourself up in knots about it, aren’t you?”
“I kind of am”, I admitted.
“Is it because you’re worried about me?”
“A little. Not much, though; I know you better than that”.
“Good. Not that I’m ever going to forget Mom”.
“No; neither am I. That’s my problem”.
She was quiet for a moment, and then she leaned forward and put her hand on mine. “Mom would never have wanted you to be sad for the rest of your life”.
“I know. I just don’t know how to get past it, love”.
She got up from her chair, knelt down in front of me and put her arms around me. “I love you, Dad”, she whispered.
“I love you too, sweetheart”.
“Is there anything I can do?”
I shook my head; “Hugs are good”, I replied.
She leaned back a little and smiled at me. “You’ve got them”, she said; “Any time you want”.
My father’s chemotherapy sessions continued; he had regular cycles of three treatments, spaced three weeks apart from each other, followed by a scan to assess the progress of the cancer in his body. In practice this usually meant that every nine weeks he had a short break from chemo while he waited for his scan.
He was scheduled to being a new cycle at the end of October, but a couple of days beforehand he asked me if I could come out for a visit by myself one evening so that we could have a conversation about his will. The days were getting much shorter by now, and the weather had turned cold and rainy. My father was feeling the cold, and we ate our supper that night on trays around the fireplace in the living room; he was wearing a thick wool sweater with a blanket over his legs, and I noticed again how frail he was looking.
My mother had been talking to Emma; “It sounds as if she’s really enjoying her classes”, she commented.
“I think so. She’s had a lot of information to absorb and the learning curve’s been steep, but she’s loving every minute of it. The down side is that it’s kind of crowded most other things out of her life. She snatches an hour or two with her cousins and her sister when she can, but she really only sees Alanna and Matthew at church on Sundays and I think it’s been a couple of weeks since she’s picked up her guitar”.
My father frowned; “I hope she doesn’t let that go. I know she really enjoys it”.
I shook my head; “I don’t think that’s going to happen. I remember Kelly telling me how demanding her training was and how it had a tendency to take over her entire life, but it doesn’t last forever. Still, I think when Emma starts her first placement she’ll be even busier; she’ll be working twelve hour shifts just like a regular ward nurse. Fortunately for her she’ll be at the JR, so she won’t have a lot of travel time to factor in”.
“Will all her placements be there?” asked my mother.
“No – in theory they could be at any training hospital in Oxfordshire”.
“And when does the first placement start?” my father asked.
“At the end of November. If it was me I think I’d be anxious about it, but she’s not – she’s actually looking forward to it”.
“If I remember correctly you took your student teacher placements in your stride”.
“That was all bravado, Dad – I was really nervous about every one of them at the beginning, until I got settled and learned what was expected of me”.
He raised his eyebrows; “You hid that well”.
I smiled; “I did my best”.
“I had no idea you were such a good actor!”
“Well, I am a high school drama teacher, you know!”
We all laughed, and my mother said, “What about Lisa? We haven’t heard from her for a couple of weeks; is she alright?”
“Oh yeah. It’s her final year, so she’s busy, and her choir’s been practising for their Christmas concert too. I grab a weekend coffee with her when I can, and sometimes she just pops over for an hour in an evening midweek. Her German’s way better than mine, so I’m enjoying the practice”.
“You visit in German?”
“Well, I don’t speak Russian!”
My mother smiled; “Is she fluent in Russian?”
“She would say no, but her instructors say she’s doing very well. Occasionally when she wants to impress me she reads me passages from Dostoevsky or Chekov and translates on sight. Of course, I’ve got no way of knowing whether or not she’s just making it up as she goes along!”
My father took a sip of his tea. “Has she made a decision yet about whether she’s going to go on for a postgraduate degree?”
“She’d like to, but finances could be an issue. She might have to take a break for a year or two and find a job to help make ends meet. Wendy helps her as much as she can, but she’s got two children in college now”.
“I know – it can be very expensive”.
After supper my mother made a fresh pot of tea, cleared away the dishes and then left my father and I by ourselves in the living room. We sat across from each other on either side of the fireplace, mugs of tea in our hands; we were quiet for a moment, and then he cleared his throat and said, “Shall we talk about my will?”
“I want to talk about Emma and Lisa, and perhaps Colin too, because I don’t want him to be left out, even though he isn’t my biological grandson”.
“Okay – I’m sure Wendy will very much appreciate that”.
He sighed. “I’m very sorry I upset you last year when I suggested you should let me pay Emma’s fees so you could use Kelly’s life insurance money for something else. I was very insensitive about your feelings, and I regret that”.
I shook my head. “It’s behind us, Dad; no need to worry about it”.
“Alright, but let me ask you – do you still feel the same way? I’d like to help, but I don’t want to do anything at all that would upset you or make you feel as if Emma’s independence was being compromised”.
I nodded slowly. “Em and I have talked about this on and off; she’s helped me see that I was – well, I was reading past experiences into the present, and maybe not seeing that things are different now. And I know you love her and you want to help her as much as you can. That would be okay with me, Dad”.
“Are you sure?”
He sighed heavily; “Thank you. Thank you very much”.
“Can I ask if you plan to help all your grandchildren like this?”
“What about Becca and Mike?”
“If they have children eventually, I’d like to be able to help them too”.
“This could turn out to be a very expensive proposition, Dad”.
“Expense is not a concern”. He smiled at me; “You’ve never asked me about my financial situation – and that’s very much to your credit, by the way. I was quite wrong to suggest you had only come back to England to get a good share of my money”.
“Did you say that?”
“I did, actually – only a day or two after you moved back here. I feel quite guilty about that now. But anyway, let me fill you in on my financial situation, so I can give you some idea of what I can do, and what I want to do”.
“My father died a very rich man, and of course my mother died not very long after him. He’d made a lot of money in the practice and he invested it wisely. He was able to leave each of his four children a sum of about three hundred thousand pounds”.
I was astonished; “I had no idea…”
“No, of course not. I haven’t made a lot of noise about it, and in fact I’ve never used that money; I continued to invest it, and in the eighteen years since he died I’ve been lucky in my investments. The three hundred thousand he left me has now become almost a million pounds. And that’s entirely separate from my own earnings from Masefield and Marlowe, which are going to be quite adequate to provide comfortably for your mum for the rest of her life”.
I was speechless; I had known he was a wealthy man, but I had never suspected anything on the scale he had just outlined for me.
“I’m going to ask Jack Marlowe to write specific language into Emma’s bequest”, he said, “stating clearly that the gift is unconditional; I want her to know that I’m not interested in trying to control her choices in any way”.
“If you feel it’s necessary, Dad – but I’m not worried about that any more”.
“Well, I’d like to do it anyway, just so that it’s clear”.
“My plan is to leave her a sum of twenty-five thousand pounds, to be used for her education. If there’s any of it left over when she’s finished, it becomes an unconditional gift to her, to help her get established in her career”.
I stared at him; “That’s an enormous sum of money, Dad”.
He shook his head. “I’m in a position to do it, and I’d really like to do it for her”.
“Do you plan to leave the same amount to each of your grandchildren – and Colin?”
“Dad, that’s a hundred and fifty thousand pounds, without even thinking about any kids Becca and Mike might have”.
“Yes, I know, but I can’t take the money with me, and I’d like it to do some good for my family members”.
My head was spinning as I struggled to come to terms with what I was hearing. The idea of the rest of Emma’s nursing training education being largely funded by my father was momentous enough, but there was also his subtle hint that he wouldn’t need to leave any of his investment capital to my mother. Even after estate taxes, if Rick and Becca and I were going to be splitting a million pound bequest between us, the sum each of us would receive would be enormous.
“I’m sure this is all a bit overwhelming for you, Tom”, he said, “and I realize I’m not giving you a lot of time to think about it. I want to be absolutely sure you’re okay with me doing this for Emma”.
I nodded. “I am, Dad. But I think we should ask Wendy about Lisa and Colin”.
“I understand. I’d be happy for you to do that, if you’d like to. I don’t need to be involved in that conversation unless you think it’s important”.
“Why don’t I raise it with her and then tell her she can talk to you about it if she wants to?”
“That would be fine; thank you”.
“Are you going to tell the grandchildren about it?”
“I hadn’t really given any thought to that. I wanted to talk to you about it because you had such strong feelings on the issue, and because I wasn’t sure how Wendy would feel”. He was quiet for a moment, and then he shook his head and said, “You know, I don’t think I want to talk to any of them about it. I haven’t got much time left, and I don’t want my conversations with them to be influenced by any idea of obligation to me. Perhaps you and Wendy could keep it to yourselves”.
“We could do that”.
“No, I’m the one who should be thanking you”.
He smiled at me, shifting a little in his chair and straightening the blanket over his knees. “I actually have a lot to thank you for too. You and Emma have carried a lot of burdens for our family since Rick and Sarah had their accident”.
I shook my head, but he raised his hand and said, “No, don’t downplay it. From the very first day, whenever help was needed, you and Emma were right there. I’ve seen that, and I’ve thought a lot about some of the unkind things I’ve said to you over the years”.
“It’s okay, Dad; it’s all past history”.
“It’s generous of you to say so, but to me it’s very serious”. He paused, closing his eyes and running his hand over his face. “We’ve had a very bad history, you and I, and there are lots of things I regret. I never really understood you, and I don’t think you ever really understood me either. But I ought to have tried harder to understand. As I said to you before, one thing I’m particularly sorry about is that I made no effort to come to visit you while Kelly was still alive. I look at Emma now and I realize what a remarkable woman her mother was. I’m very sorry now that I didn’t make a point of coming to visit Meadowvale so that I could meet Kelly’s family. Your mum and Becca always talk about them all, and how much they’ve enjoyed getting to know them”.
“They’re pretty special people. And I’m glad I got to meet the old timers before they died – Kelly’s grandparents, the ones who escaped from Russia”.
“I remember her talking about them”.
“Kelly was close to all of them; family was really important to her”.
“I could see that”.
“What about your family, Dad? When you were young, were you close to your brothers and your sister?”
“Arthur and I were close; of course he was only a year younger than me, and we did everything together”.
“That was when you lived in Cowley?”
“Yes, in the old house”.
“The place with three storeys, and bay windows?”
“You remember it, do you?” he said with a smile. “I thought you’d have forgotten”.
“I don’t think I saw it very much after I got into my teens”.
“No, we didn’t take you there very often. My father didn’t spend much of his time at home, actually – at least, until he retired”.
“So you and Uncle Arthur were close?”
“Yes, especially during the war. My father was off in the Navy and my mother was very busy around the house, so in the evenings Arthur and I would take our bikes and ride for miles. In those days no one had very much and we had to take our pleasures where we could find them. You and Owen actually reminded me of Arthur and me when you went tramping around the countryside together. I remember you coming back late on summer evenings, full of the things you’d seen and done. Arthur and I were like that”.
“But now you hardly see each other”.
“Yes – it’s a pity life has to do that to us”.
“You make it sound as if it’s inevitable”.
“It seemed inevitable to me”. He was quiet for a few minutes, sipping halfheartedly at his tea. Far away at the back of the house, I heard the sound of my mother’s piano.
“I know that it wasn’t inevitable, of course”, he continued. “We could have chosen a different way; I expect it seems inconceivable to you that we didn’t. But we’d come through a war, and life in this country was pretty grim in the 1950s. Everyone was working hard to try to keep their heads above water. My father worked long hours, but so did lots of other fathers I knew. Well, perhaps not quite as long as my father”, he added with a smile; “He was already quite single-minded about his work, and I admired him very much. He was also a very forceful sort of person around the house. My mother never had much to say about the way things were run; once he made his mind up, that was the way it was, and she never questioned it – at least, not in my hearing”.
“So you were always going to be a lawyer?”
“Did you ever wish…?”
“That I had been able to go into some other field?” He smiled wistfully; “I was actually quite interested in music when I was a teenager”.
“Mum told me you were quite knowledgeable about classical music”.
“We had a music teacher at school who fired my interest. I had a Saturday job, and I saved my money and bought classical music records. The music teacher – his name was Mr. French – gave me good advice about what to buy. I had quite a sizeable collection by the time I married your mum”.
“Did you ever think about going into music professionally?”
“Only very occasionally. Of course, I sang in choirs in school and university. At Oriel I was in the chapel choir”.
“The chapel choir!”
He smiled mischievously at me; “I was being somewhat inconsistent, wasn’t I? Yes, I was already moving towards agnosticism, but being in the chapel choir was one of the best ways of making music at Oriel in those days. And I loved the music, even if I didn’t believe the words. English church music is some of the most beautiful ever written – I still believe that, even today”.
I shook my head slowly; “You’ve never talked very much about this kind of thing, Dad”.
“No – I’ve never really said much to you and Rick and Becca about the past, have I? Probably because I regretted losing touch with it myself. I know your mother’s told you something about that”.
“I went to work for my father, you see. Perhaps things would have been different if I’d worked in a different office, but my father was only really interested in one thing and he believed you could only be successful in our kind of work if you had that kind of single-minded commitment. And it certainly worked well for him, from a professional point of view; he built a successful firm, and he was a very, very wealthy man when he died”.
“But there was a price to pay”.
“Of course, and when your mum and I were first married I was determined not to pay it. I’d accepted the path he’d chosen for me, and I didn’t regret that – I enjoyed the Law, I always did, and I was reasonably good at it right from the start. But of course your mum and I had other things in our lives that were important to us, and somehow I’d thought we’d be able to retain some balance”.
“But it wasn’t to be”.
He looked down at the fire, the wistful expression back on his face. “I blame myself for that; I ought to have been able to stand up to the pressure”.
“I’m sure it was very hard, Dad”.
He glanced across at me; “You say that from experience, don’t you?”
“I didn’t mean to criticize…”
“No, I know you didn’t”.
We were silent for a long time, sipping our tea and listening to the faint but clear sound of my mother’s playing at the back of the house. She was playing a Mendelssohn piece, one that I recognised, and I was sure my father was familiar with it, too.
Eventually he said, “Tom, can we talk about what happened before you left for Meadowvale?”
“In 1982, you mean?”
“Do you need to talk about it?”
“I think I do”.
“Alright then. But before you start, there’s something I should say. You’ve mentioned through the years how upset you were that I lied to you and Mum about getting the job in Reading, and you were right; I shouldn’t have done that, and I want you to know I’m very sorry about it”.
“I expect you felt you had little choice”.
“I was sure that if I stayed in England you’d keep putting pressure on me to fall in with your wishes, and I was determined not to do that. And I was sure that if I told you from the beginning that I was thinking of moving to Canada, you’d do everything possible to put obstacles in my way. Perhaps I was wrong, but that’s how it looked from my point of view”.
“I’m sure you were right. I thought you were ruining your life, and I’m sure I would have continued to try to bring you to your senses and get you to see things from my point of view. And I’m sure if I’d known you were planning to move to Canada I would have found ways to stop you. I was quite convinced you were wrong and I was right. Actually, I still felt that way when you moved back here last year”.
“No, I don’t feel that way any more. As I said to you before, it’s clear to me that you and Kelly made a good life for yourselves in Meadowvale. You were happy together, and you raised a wonderful girl”. He gave another heavy sigh. “You know, I’ve spent my whole life trying to be successful in my career and make a lot of money so my family can have a good life. Rick’s done the same thing; I taught him very well. Until recently he’s been totally absorbed in his career, even if it meant spending long hours away from his family. Now, of course, since the accident, he’s been rethinking all that, and I have to confess I’m glad to see it, even though I’m sorry it took such a horrific experience to bring him to it”.
“But you and Emma have had that kind of connection from the start. When I watch the two of you together…”
His voice trailed away and he stared off into the fire; I waited, knowing instinctively that he hadn’t finished yet. After a moment he looked up at me again. “I was trying to do what was best for you, you know? I really believed that. I thought it was important to give you some financial security, so you could have a good solid start with your education and your professional life. And I really did think that the best way you could provide for yourself was to follow me into the legal profession. I know you think it was all about building a lasting dynasty at Masefield and Marlowe, and I can’t deny that was part of it, but it wasn’t the whole story”.
“I don’t doubt that, Dad”, I replied quietly, “and there’s really no need for you to beat yourself up about it any more. We’ve both done things we weren’t proud of. Like I said, I know I shouldn’t have lied to you about my move to Canada; I know you must have been very hurt when you discovered the truth”.
“Not as hurt as you were when I attacked you with my cane. There was no excuse for me to behave in that way, no matter how provoked I may have been feeling. I’ve always had a bad temper, as you know. Most of the time I’ve been able to restrain it. I ought to have restrained it that night, too. I’m very sorry, Tom; the memory of that night has haunted me for years”.
Suddenly I was unable to speak; I looked away for a moment, struggling to control my emotions. I guessed that he was feeling the same way; out of the corner of my eye I saw him take out his handkerchief and blow his nose loudly.
Eventually I looked across at him and said, “Let’s put it behind us, shall we? We’ve both got things to reproach ourselves with from that night, but I’m glad we’re doing better now”.
“So am I”.
At the back of the house my mother had switched to Bach, and I saw him listening. “Would you like to go back and join her?” I asked.
“In a few minutes. Let’s talk a bit more first; there’s so much to be said, and who knows how long we’ve got to say it? I want to ask you about Emma. You two have always been close, haven’t you?”
“We’ve definitely gotten closer since Kelly died, but we were always pretty close as father and daughter, right back to the days when she was a little girl. In fact, I think it might have started the first time Kelly got sick. Emma was just tiny; we had to wean her from her mother’s milk so Kelly could go through her chemo treatments. Kelly’s family helped a lot, of course, but Emma and I spent a lot of time together, just the two of us, while Kelly was getting well again”.
“That must have been a harrowing time”.
“Yes, it was very stressful”.
“I remember when Becca came back after she spent that first summer with you. I remember her clearly one evening talking about how serene Kelly was, even though she’d just come through a life-threatening battle with cancer. Becca couldn’t seem to get over her serenity”.
“She had to fight hard for that”.
“Yes – I remember you talking about the depression she went through”.
“It was a very difficult time”.
“I’m sure”. He coughed a little to clear his throat and said, “Anyway, I have to say that when I watch you and Emma together I feel quite envious. I regret the fact that you and I never had that sort of relationship. More than that – I regret the fact that it was mainly my manner that was at fault there”.
“I think we’ve started making up for it in the last few months, Dad”.
“I think so too, and I’m really glad about that”.
“So am I”.
“Not that we’re never going to argue any more!” he added with a wry grin. “I’m sure I’ll still act like a stubborn old man from time to time”.
“I’m sure I’ll still act like your stubborn son, too”.
He shook his head, and I saw the tiredness on his face. “Arguing’s all right, from time to time, but I don’t want to fight with anyone any more, least of all my children; I haven’t the energy for it”.
“In the end, it’s not really important, is it?”
“No, it’s not”. He put his empty teacup down. “Well, shall we go and listen to your mum?”
“Would you like to?”
“I think so – not that there aren’t lots of other things we could talk about, but I’m getting very tired, Tom, and I’d like to go and listen to your mum playing for a few minutes before I go to bed”.
“Would you mind helping me get up out of this chair?”
I took his hand and helped him to his feet. When he was standing upright, he continued to grasp my hand. “Thank you”, he said; “I appreciate you taking time to talk about my will”.
“Not at all – as I said, I’m the one who should be thanking you”.
“I’m glad we’re talking now, Tom. There are still more things I’d like to tell you about, and there are more things I want to ask you about, too”.
“I’d like that”.
“Good. Well – let’s back to the music room, shall we?”
Link to Chapter 30