Blessings of Home

By Jenifer Harley

My childhood memories are like scattered pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, difficult to sort out in my brain.  Some are fleeting moments, Dad’s whistle announcing his arrival home, whilst others are whole episodes like our first holiday under canvas.


                I see so many shapes and colours spread before me as I attempt to form a picture.  The four corners are easily found, Mum, Dad and two big sisters who surrounded me with such protective love that I really can’t remember being unhappy. One of them was always there to make everything okay.  However, I quickly learned to play one against the other and my defence from either party would be concluded with the words “Oh she’s only a bairn.” “The Bairn” I didn’t lose that title until I had children of my own.


                As I fit in my recollections of home an orange tinge shines through.  A friendly girl, swinging on the garden gate greeting everyone who passed by.  “Hello there Mrs Smith, how are you today?”  I’d watch her scurry past me in her blue coat and fluffy slippers, the metal curlers only just hidden under a Paisley patterned headscarf.  She was as interesting to me as the manager of the local grocers in his pristine suit who doffed his trilby hat (the tallest man in the whole world when I was eight).


                Memories of freezing winter nights around the coal fire eating ice cream, drinking red cola and watching Sunday Night at the London Palladium, even now fill me with a rosy glow.  Held like a vice between Dad’s knees as he dried my hair on bath night. Blurry glances at the saddle brasses arrayed around the fireplace while he stretched his arms before the next onslaught of rubbing.  My face growing redder and redder as the blood rushed round and round.  Oh but I loved the paradox of feeling  the same huge hands gently testing my long, curly, hair to see if it was what my mother called “towel dry”.  Then the wondrous feeling of fresh cotton on my skin as my nightdress was thrown over my head, soon to be replicated by the crisp, starched, sheets that cocooned me in bed.


                There are of course grey, awkward sections of my mosaic of memorabilia that will not fit with the others.  Isn’t it weird how you never forget the exact spot you were when you received bad news, like the day Dad went off on his bike to fetch the doctor when Granny died.  Or the fear of going into hospital, being scared stiff and taking my dolly with me.  Coming round after the op and seeing that the doll had a bandage on her hand just like mine. Mum knew all the right things to do and say to make me feel brave.  Comforter, confessor, and controller, simultaneously.  The corner-stone who pops up all over the jigsaw as it takes shape, the link that held the early pieces together.


                Then splashes of bright yellow appear.  Laughter and hilarious times; Dad’s reaction after I insisted on having “the last word”.  An ensuing argument followed by the inevitable chase.  Me, running for my life, he in hot pursuit; tripping then falling.  Three young girls holding their breath.  The relief when we heard the sound of exploding laughter as he acknowledged the ridiculousness of his position.  The sheer delight I felt of “getting away with it” again.


                Knowing the moment I met my husband Dave that he was right for me, the heart of the puzzle clicked into place.  We were lucky enough to find a kindred spirit and love each other for who we are and not for what the other wants us to be.  We made our new home together and two lively sons brought another facet to the portrait and the heart beat even stronger.  The challenge of learning about  blue boyhood things alien to a girl brought up with two sisters.   Star Wars, Evil Knievel, Action Man, Boys Brigade and of course Football. 


                Then the dreariest black when each of our parents passed. Existing, going through the motions, angry with God, if he even existed in this strange, empty, world.


                Purple patches of pride as our sons achieved their university goals and then found their own soul mates.  Witnessing a unique expression of happiness on their faces that I could never put there, no matter how much I loved them.  The excitement as both of our extended families blossomed and grew larger.  Rainbow arched celebrations and white weddings.


                Bland, colourless sections, suddenly the times we had looked forward to, being Derby and Joan at home together became a bit disjointed.  Painting over the little cracks that appeared, as we returned to being a couple and got to know each other all over again.


                A kaleidoscope of adventure:  Domino, my birthday Beagle with his boundless energy, did not fit easily into our home.  He didn’t know or even care about following the house rules.  Farming him off to the doggie crèche with our son and daughter-in-law where he filled a blank space in their design and left a massive (but relieved) gap in ours.


                Finally enjoying retirement, freedom to holiday at will, lazy days, busy days, pleasing ourselves.  The picture is almost complete.


                But no, one amazing golden burst of joy has still to put the gloss on as Ryan, our grandson, arrives in the frame.  This tiny life force turns us all upside down, inside out and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 


                As with all old jigsaws, some bits are lost forever and other pieces pop up in the strangest of places and moments.  I’ll never be able to recreate a complete reflection of the past but I can keep the memories stored away.  And, when I feel indulgent, I’ll bring them out to count the wonderful blessings of home.