In our estate there is a house. And in that house there is a home. But it is a home with something missing. Someone forever gone and forever unforgotten.
It is a handsome three-bedroomed corner townhouse. Different from most of the other houses. Outside and in.
In it lives a still young enough Dad and his half-grown son. Mom passed a year ago. Cancer.
In the house just across the way, a man still in his early 40s lost his wife some years previously, to leukemia. When she died, aged 40, she left a son not long past toddling age and his sister a couple of years older.
Their stories, their tragedies.
I looked across at the corner townhouse this morning as I walked Stadler and Waldorf, aka our doggie duo Bella and Lily.
I took in the tall two-story edifice, the red-bricked bottom half and the plastered walls of the second storey, still pristine and creamy white, unlike the wine-red lichen-pocked facades of the adjoining abodes.
The mother of the house had a job done on the lichen about three years ago.
As we ourselves did.
A small company was in the estate cleaning the outside of a number of houses that were being remediated for pyrite.
Spotting a business opportunity, the head guy came door to door offering to clean down the outside of our houses using a super duper technique for which he claimed to be the sole agent in Ireland. Or something like that. They would do it for half the usual price, for €300.
We went for it, the only ones in our cul de sac to do so, and we still see the benefits every time we walk towards our house on the park side of our estate: those walls still creamy white, bright and gleaming.
And I got to thinking about the passage of time. And my lichen-stained bones that no super duper process can rescue from the ultimate in time’s ravages.
We all have to die sometime, but, as Leonard Cohen said, there’s no need to participate so actively in the process.
I grow old, as must those of us who remain.
I ache in places and all that, but it’s much better than the alternative.
Hopefully, I have still much to do, see and experience.
But who knows?
Those who know me know my age, or can make a damn good guess, but I have never revealed my age in these ramblings here.
I think of my old Aunt Nancy who died aged 104, but would not give away her age for years because she felt – and she was right – that people treated her differently when they thought she was “elderly”. Took her less seriously.
And this was a woman who had many, many golden years to come when her husband was cut down with a stroke, and she embarked with gusto on a new phase in life as carer, stroke club founder and all-round force of nature.
She drove till she was in her mid-90s and only stopped when the doctor eventually made her.
No … no … I am nowhere near that ancient, but I am nonetheless an older dad, to two young teenagers, still in the low foothills of life’s vast mountain of adventures.
I am conscious that my time is limited, and so find myself sometimes not taking in the milestones on our kids’ journeys as deeply as I should, because I want to get on to the next ones. To not miss out on seeing them grow … to adulthood and beyond.
Like those two Moms in our estate.
I suppose I have to separate those aspects of my life that will respond to a good shake-up, hose down and lichen removal process, and those irredeemable ravages or losses I cannot avoid, or resist.
And endeavour to make the best of what I have got, for as long as I have it, maybe.
So to ponder or contain those mixed feelings of the other evening when my daughter and her pals clopped into the kitchen in their made-made-up finery, to say good-bye before they went out to a friend’s Mom’s birthday party in a function room down town.
My daughter looked so pretty and I wanted to cry, without being seen, and I smiled deeply and fearfully inside. Taking in her peachy-creamy young beauty and thinking of all that life has in store for her and her cohorts, her brother too.
Good and bad.
Some of these things I will witness, or share with them. Others …
I pondered too the lichen that will attach itself in time to that zestful beauty and the cracks and fissures that will come.
Some removable, some not.
And not all of which I can help them with, no matter how long I stick around.
Still better than the alternative.
As I hasten down the ages, I know that old seniority and its slowing down and ultimate stillness are not that far away.
Indeed it’s a lot closer chronologically than my own first giddy forays into a crazy world of heart-jumping longing, love and loss, uncharted adventure and accidental career paths.
And yet, those indelible days of first kisses and last buses are forever fresh in the recalling.
And I think again of those indomitable white-haired ladies singing at Aunt Nancy’s funeral, a song called Where We’ll Never Grow Old, and the sweetly melancholy of the words they sang with all their beating hearts:
All our sorrow will end and our voices will blend
With the loved ones who’ve gone on before
Never grow old …
And the celebratory lament that is one of my favourite Tom Waits songs, Take it With Me, comes to my mind, and the lines:
Children are playing at the end of the day
Strangers are singing on our lawn
It’s got to be more than flesh and bone
All that you’ve loved is all you own
Not a young man’s song, but not an old one’s either.
One still gathering lichen.
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