July was always our favourite month. What with summer holidays (‘us’ teachers had it made!) wedding anniversary, your birthday, my birthday…….so many events to celebrate . There were the MacDonalds’ birthdays too, Kenny’s, Mhairi’s and Lindsay’s……..a full social calendar. Celebrations always kicked off on the 25th June – Joseph’s birthday – then came end of term nights out, school concerts, prize-givings etc., but the Feast of Sts., Peter and Paul on the 30th June, marked the end of another school year and the beginning of the big, long holidays. O joy O bliss ! Well not quite because my summer, even before I was married, usually started with a dose of ‘flu or a chest infection which I very considerately, from my employer’s point of view, allowed to develop in my own time. Indeed it was not the first family holiday I embarked upon early in July with the sun cream and the antibiotics. Hugh got wise to this and decreed that the ‘going away’ summer holiday should not begin before the 7th July.
As time went on, this pattern of illness no longer applied but it left me with a feeling of ‘impending doom’ on the last day of each school year, even up until my retiral. I had found a few kindred spirits in various staff rooms who shared this uneasy mix of emotions on a day that should have been one of the most relaxed and joyous of the entire working year. Perhaps it was because a routine was being disrupted, a communication system temporarily shut down.People were going off by land, sea and air in all directions and to all kinds of places. Something was bound to happen to someone……O don’t get me wrong, I loved my holidays and we had lots of really great family breaks : Oban, Westward Ho! Brora, Clonakilty, Skye, Dublin, to name but a few.You always saw to it that we had a special holiday every single year. Well every year except one :1966 – the year Joseph was born – the year England won the ‘you -know – what.’….you watched it with my father up at ‘The Drive’…and you were both so happy as I remember….!!!
We were lucky, though – we always had a car – all second hand mind you and some more reliable than others. Still they always got us there and back safe and sound …..safe and sound……..Remember your first car? It was a Wolseley 444.(You wooed me in a Wolseley!) It was a super car.You went to Spain in that car with Joe and Anne and James . That was in 1962. You wanted me to come but I wasn’t allowed – (‘You will be going – to no Spain !’) We weren’t even engaged at that time – and it just wasn’t done. I could never have afforded it anyway and besides,my mother was going on holiday to America.
That was the year of my 21st birthday which I celebrated with my dear friend Anne Duncan. She had kindly invited me to spend some time with her family at their caravan in Peebles and the two of us had just enough money to splash out on an overnight at the Rutland Hotel in Edinburgh. But you drove all the way to Peebles to see me before you went off on your ‘adventure’ and gave me a camera – which I still have. I remember the dress I was wearing that day. It was pink. My mood, on the other hand, was blue because you were going off to Spain without me. I didn’t want you to go and you didn’t want to leave me. I worried about you getting there safe and sound. I worried that something awful might happen and that I wouldn’t ever see you again. I waited to hear from you.I got your cards………the resort looked heavenly…..I so wanted to be with you. It was three whole weeks before I saw you again……an eternity…….an eternity………..
It is now three whole months since I last saw you, lying still and silent and cold and already embarked upon a journey further than Spain. So where are you Hugh? Did you arrive safe and sound?……What’s it like? Is it just heavenly ?…..and aren’t you allowed to send even one little postcard saying ‘wish you were here, Mosie’…….For I am waiting and I am painfully, painfully learning what an eternity really is……….
Life, though, goes on, and all the June and July celebrations have come and gone. Joe came home for his birthday and Pauline made her excellent salmon dish which was greatly enjoyed by our very small party of Joe, Catherine, Pauline and me . And Warner. Warner is Joe’s dog. It still bounds into the lounge on arrival, looking for you and waiting for your imperious command of ‘Sit!’ and ‘Paw!’ before having his ridiculous ropey coat ruffled affectionately to the soothing tones of ‘Good boy! Good boy!’
Warner, like the rest of us, is confused.
July 18th was sunny and warm .Pauline took a day off work and with Anne and the children we went, where else but to the Clydeside to have a birthday scone in your honour. Later on we met up with Joe and Catherine at the cemetery and quietly thought our own thoughts.
You would have been seventy three. Seventy three .But you weren’t a number. You were Hugh, Dad, Papa – ageless – and we thought you would last forever. Oh we could see you slowing down.We could see your impatience with yourself at times. We recognised your annoyance at having to take your medication and keep appointments at the hospital. We got used to the early bed routine ( so did Patsy and Kenny !) but you had such enthusiasm still for your football, the garden, perfecting your soup-making, political programmes, listening to opera, eating out, good wine, holidays, apples, Sunday dinner, teletext, smart clothes, crackers and cheese, supermarket snips, a good half and half pint, flowery potatoes, keeping the grandchildren in pocket money, bargain breaks, surfing the net……oh I miss you so much, Hugh………..
Patsy and Kenny arranged for a get together at Lanark Loch to mark all the July birthdays. It was a lovely day.The special birthday was Lindsay’s.Can you believe she’s thirty? We gave Kenny a bit of my favourite blue spruce for his little garden and another cute doggie for the back of his couch.Joe, appropriately, gave him some music .You would have approved his choice. Remember how Kenny always had a carefully chosen selection of tapes for our car journeys – something to satisfy even the most discerning taste (that would be whose I wonder?) Holidays will never ever be the same for any of us.
I must do something about those old audio tapes of yours…..you know the ones with goodness knows who singing the wonderful music from party times in Wright’s, McCarthy’s, McAlinden’s, Tulips’, Mitchell’s…………….I can hear all the songs quite clearly, see all the faces quite plainly and you, Hugh, playing such sympathetic accompaniments so beautifully. Remember how closely each ‘serious’ singer would guard his treasure trove of sheet music and wait patiently for his turn to sing?(‘You had to have the sheet music for Hugh. Hughie did not busk.’)
“Give us your second song first !’ would be the invitation to each new soloist amid hoots of laughter – for everyone got an encore and everyone knew everyone else’s party pieces sometimes better even than the solo singer. But as long as they had their sheet music they got a piano accompaniment like no other. And how they sang! Remember Patsy’s song,
‘Lonely I wander through scenes of my childhood,
They call back to memory the happy days of yore,
Gone are the old folks,the house stands deserted
No light in the window, no welcome at the door………’
So many faces………….. Allan Wright, Jimmy Devine, Old Frank McCarthy, Brenda McCarthy, John McCarthy, Eugene Meechan, John McIntyre, John Dwyer, Bill McCluskey, Celia McCarthy, Tom Ferguson ….. and what has become of their songs?……You could say they have had their turn, their songs have been sung, their encores played and now only the melodies linger on…….and now you, Hugh…….their accompanist……..Hugh McAlinden…….Hugh V. McAlinden ……..Hugh Vincent….. Hugo……….my Hugh………..Dear God, surely you can’t be short of pianists up there……
‘Isn’t it rich, are we a pair……..Me here at last on the ground…You in mid – air….’ I’m waiting my turn, Hugh……..but there’s no one at the piano…………..
I sit on the edge of the bed wishing I could remember clearly, every one of my birthdays over the past forty years. Many of them I spent far from home but all of them with you, Hugh, except July 1962 (my 21st) and now July 2002(my 61st). Isn’t it strange that the special postcard I have been waiting for should come via Lourdes :
‘Remembering you, especially today, Feast of St. Mary Magdalen. Hope you’re feeling a bit better,’ Love, Kevin and Anne’.
This is the same Anne who held my lovesick hand in Edinburgh, on my twenty first. That was when I could look forward with hope to your return from Spain. What hope now?
I stare blankly out at the garden. ‘You should see it Hugh. It is very beautiful,’I hear myself saying coldly.
‘What makes you think that I can’t see it?’ comes the silent response.
‘You’re not here anymore,’I whisper, tears welling up again.
‘Who says I’m not here?’
‘But I can’t see you,’ I sob.
‘You can’t see me for tears, Mosie. Look at our children, our grandchildren, our home, our garden . Of course I’m here. I’m all around. I’m in your head and in your heart. Why do you persist in talking to me if you really think that I’m not here? I am with you from the moment you wake in the morning till you close your eyes at night. I see your pain and I hear your grief. I watch you with our children and I see the love that’s there. I see them watching you closely, yes, even the little ones who desperately don’t want you to change. I don’t want you to change. I love you, I always have and I always will. Be strong, I’ll help you . Don’t worry. I am only a thought and a whisper away. ………….now , don’t you have some evergreens to plant….?…..’
When Anne and the children arrived later that morning I was busy in the garden .
‘Happy birthday, Nana ! We’ve brought you some scones and we’re going to make your lunch!’
And so we spent all day in the garden digging, planting, potting, feeding …..laughing….. because this is what I wanted to do, what I needed to do. The weather was very kind and I had a team of very willing workers, including Ciara, who watered everything from the plants to the twins.
‘What do you think, Hugh………isn’t it looking good?’
“It’s looking great, Mosie.’’
A small movement from under one of the newly planted evergreens caught our attention.
‘Oh look, Nana,’ whispered Caitlin, ‘there’s the bird again…’
Joe and Catherine came that evening and while Pauline made my birthday feast I walked them around the garden showing off the newest pots and plants which they duly admired. Catherine told me all about the new water feature in her mum’s garden and promised to bring some cuttings which she knew her mum would love me to have. After our splendid meal we sat around the table chatting about this and that and recalling past times .
It had been as pleasant a birthday as I could have hoped for.
…. to be continued…….