Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: In-Law(s) (05/08/08)
By Fiona Dorothy Stevenson
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A big, braw Scotsman of venerable age, his strategy on first being introduced to a son’s new girlfriend was to call her “Miss-what-you-can’t-catch.” A deep-throated chuckle accentuated the unorthodox greeting. For the first weeks of acquaintance with the family you remained – to him – “Miss-what-you-can’t-catch.”
Dad was a racehorse trainer. Rising well before dawn every morning, his first task was to take the horses to the local racecourse for exercise. Then he made breakfast for the family, always including nourishing, traditional, Scots oat porridge. After breakfast he visited the stables, giving the stable hands their orders for the day. Next, he gave his attention to the daily papers. An unvaried routine except on Sundays, when he took all the Sunday papers to the toilet in the garden, and there he spent an uninterrupted hour or two taking in the news, especially the Sunday funnies!
Several times in the week he visited the local markets, driving into town in his small half-ton truck. Going with him was quite an adventure. His driving license had long expired; road rules and speed limits were ineffectual. He simply started the engine, pointed the bonnet of the car, and clamped his foot to the accelerator. Oncoming vehicles were showered with abuse for driving on the wrong side of the road – and you don’t have to guess who really was! – and passed with hairs-breadth misses. Arriving at the markets, he abandoned the vehicle, and passengers, while he attended to his business. He did not wait for dilatory passengers to return. Traffic policemen, seeing the small brown Austin hugging a fire hydrant, would shrug and put their notebooks away. Ned was a local character.
In the years I called him ‘Dad’ I heard him speak ill of no one. Wrongdoing and unkindness distressed him. He recognized that there were evils in society, and his brows beetled when he was disturbed or angry, but he didn’t try to change the world by speculation or discussion.
He was often amused by the eccentricities of human nature, especially those of the racing fraternity. I still see his eyes twinkling while the family was suffused with laughter over Mrs. Liquorish’ latest exploit. Mrs. Liquorish always had her hair especially styled and colored to match her latest race-going outfit, and she never wore the same outfit twice. She didn’t follow fashion, she led the way. For those who followed it was a peculiarly grasshopper experience.
On the last occasion I visited Dad I holidayed with my mother, visiting relatives. Dad was retired. Many things had changed. He confessed that he really missed his almost daily visits to the markets now that the markets had moved to the outskirts of town, and he was no longer allowed to drive. I offered to drive him out to the markets in his little blue Datsun, and we made a firm date.
Markets open early. I was there betimes. Dad was ready. He reversed the Datsun onto the road. “It’s quite a steep drive, and I know the road and the controls,” he said. I closed the garage door. Dad stayed in the driving seat. “They’ve changed the roads since you lived here. I’ll just see you through to the main road.” Off we went. At first I was anxious. Then I remembered and shrugged, putting away my anxiety like a notebook, and enjoyed the drive out to the markets. But I made sure he parked in a delineated parking area.
Dad spent a happy morning visiting with the few old friends who were still there. There were now no horses to buy carrots for. Mom was gone, the family reduced to one son living at home with Dad. Their wants were few. We made a few small purchases for old times sake.
By mid-morning Dad was beginning to slow. The markets were now crowded. We found a teashop and relaxed before driving home in time for lunch. Dad drove. His voice was husky when he thanked me – yet again – for his day out. I was returning the following day to my own family. It was the last time I saw Dad alive. And it was an oasis for both of us.
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