Saturday, 15 December 2007


I’m working on a poem at the moment. It’s one I wrote years ago, but I thought I’d polish it up now for a competition. It kept me awake all night, not really thinking about the poem, but thinking about the subject and the benefits (or otherwise) of hindsight.

When I was a child, we lived two doors away from an old man who, knowing that my mother had her hands full with six kids and knowing that both our grandfathers had died long before any of us were born, took it upon himself to be a surrogate grandfather. He took the older three of us to church every Sunday (his pocket full of caramels to keep our mouths busy during the sermon). He walked us all over the countryside and looked after us when Mum was busy. I have no doubt that he loved us all dearly. But for reasons of our own, it seems none of us ever really loved him back.

Don’t get me wrong. He never did anything bad. He was a good man. I don’t really know what it was about him that stopped us returning his love. Maybe it was his strictness, his insistence on using our full names (I have always hated being called ‘Katherine’) or the fact that he expected us to treat him as a grandfather. I’m not really sure. I was too young at the time to really think about it. But I never felt like his granddaughter. The day we left to come to Australia was the first time I ever saw a man cry, yet I felt no emotion in return. That’s what the poem’s about.

In hindsight, I would love to be able to go back as an adult and meet this man, because I now know just what a good man he was (even if he did insist on calling me Katherine). In fact he was a complex, flawed human being who would make a great main character in a novel.

My mother still has the medals he won in World War I. He wasn’t a great soldier. He was a conscientious objector. War went against everything he believed in. But he was no coward. He joined the Ambulance Corps and saved many lives in the midst of battle. I don’t remember him ever talking about it, yet as an adult I admire his stand and his courage.

The long ‘walks’ he took us on generally ended at the house of some old lady or man who, he told us, were ‘friends’. In fact, he hardly knew some of them, but took it upon himself to visit the sick and elderly to cheer them up. After all, he was only a young man of eighty himself.

Taking us to church allowed my mother to go to the early service on her own before we got up, happy in the knowledge that we would go later. She would get back in time to make sure we were breakfasted and dressed. Then she had only three little ones to take care of, instead of six, when Dad set off for church (he was in the choir, so couldn’t take us). Without Mr L, we would probably not have gone to church at all, and church has always been a part of who I am.

Apparently, he had a daughter, but they didn’t speak or see each other, even when his wife was alive. The reason was something he never divulged, but Mum knew he had grandchildren of his own that he had never met. I wonder if they ever look back and wish they could get to know him now? Or maybe they don’t know he ever existed?
It's all rather hindsight.


Catherine J Gardner / Phoenix Rendell said...

Oh my god - what a wonderful man!!! I had tears in my eyes reading your post and agree, he would make a fabulous character in a novel.

Flick said...

Ah hindsight!
PS Kate - what on earth has happened on WN? I look in so rarely but world war three seems to have broken out in my absence!