Memories fade and turn into a Kodak wash of yellow-green distant summers. Like instant photos in reverse, they start bright and crisp and slowly dissolve into white nothingness, everything covered in dust or snow.
Something touched up a memory today, brought back the vivid colours and deep shadows of tunnel black.
Wherever we went in the car, my dad would always drive. I didn’t know that my mum could drive until I was about 10 years old. On spotlight-bright days of 1970s summers, I would be sticking to the faux-leather seats in the back of a 1968 cream coloured Austin Mini. I’d kill to own it now. My parents bought it, brand new, for £500 with a full tank of petrol and a free year’s Road Tax. They sold it ten years later. For £500.
The seats were deep vampire red and so were my legs after they’d been welded to them for sprawling hours at a time in the August heat. Minis had back windows that would open a crack on a small shiny hinge. Not that it was worth opening them; air whizzed past and didn’t bother to pop inside and help me breathe.
My dad was stubborn, like his son still is. He loved words, like his son always has. He wrote unpublished short stories, like his son once did. During the summer months, he would walk down the garden and back and be in possession of a tropical eight-week tan, the lucky old bugger. My mum would lather him up with Ambre Solaire oil. Factor 0. This wasn’t something you coated yourself in to protect yourself from the sun; you used it to fry yourself alive. Summer smelled of coconuts and my dad’s outdoor skin. In order to match him, I’d have to spend a whole summer in the sun and wait for my freckles to join up.
In later years during my early teens, I would read Yeats’ poem, Death; “a man awaits his end, dreading and hoping all” and I would find it contrary to my experience. For my father, who, by his own unexpected departure, taught me about death’s corporeal finality when I was 18 and we were just beginning to be friends, had also taught me not to dread it. And he taught me not to fear it. But, like all his lessons for me to become not even half the man he was, they came indirectly, not as lectures or words of wisdom, but through stories, or actions, or small and telling gestures.
As we drove the many summery miles, on bumpy roads that throbbed through heated haze, we would inevitably pass a cemetery. My dad would always shout a buoyant ‘Good Evening, friends!’ (or ‘Afternoon!’ or ‘Morning!’) out of the car window in the direction of the stone testaments to lives been and gone. I imagined I could see the inhabitants of that final place, nebulous figures like drifts of smoke, sitting in deck-chairs by their earthy beds, laughing happily with their companions, like a gathering of contented gardeners on an allotment, and all of them raising a glass back to us in a cheery hello as we zoomed by.
Death, it seemed, was just a frivolous and endless party.
Four of the five people in this photograph are still laughing as they raise their glasses and smile at the one who remains; at that small young boy who is now only two years younger than his dad was when this picture was taken.
Sometimes, through happy tears, there’s warmth and brightness in the oldest of memories.
Nan (obscured - and obscure sometimes), Great Uncle, Dad, Me (aged 3), the Mini, Great Aunt, 1971.
Photo Booth, 1976. Me, Mum, Dad.