The Last of the Ketchup

I used the last of my dad’s ketchup today.  It was one of the things I took from his house when he died earlier this summer. It seems to be what you do when someone dies. You take their stuff, ask, ‘Who want’s this?’ and carry it away in boxes and carrier bags, as if you are carrying them away, so that nothing is wasted; so that they aren’t wasted. 

I didn’t have a traditional father: daughter relationship with my dad. He left us when I was eight years old and my younger sister was four. He was absent for huge chunks of my childhood and adult life, had a second wife and family and until recently that is what I remember most about him, the pain of him not being there. But in his illness and old age, there was a pragmatic coming together. He needed help and I did what I could; with incredulity and tears at first but his need softened old hurt. His eyes, if not always his voice, said both ’Sorry’ and ‘Thank you’ and life became just life and death just death. No blame. No need for forgiveness.

And with this came the slow remembering, not of the tightly held misery but of the little joys that I had chosen to forget. The pearls of wisdom that he had shared with me, like, ‘You should never see a runner bean twice in May’ – a reminder not to plant the seed too early in that month, so that the first shoots come through in June, when the frosts have gone; this is a lore that I have always adhered to. And, ‘You can’t make happiness from someone else’s unhappiness’; an acknowledgement, perhaps, that peace of mind cannot come from the suffering of others. I remembered walking with him in woods and by rivers and riding pillion on the back of his motorbike (six years old and no helmet but feeling perfectly safe). In short, the landscape of suffering changed. It still wasn’t easy but insight changed the experience and I was content.

Letting go comes in different forms. It can be sudden, like dropping a huge weight that you can no longer carry. It can be slow and gradual like water wearing away stone and it can come in the re-framing of memories that surface in times of passing; the photo albums that are revisited, the cards and letters that get re-read, the stories of past events that resonate differently when re-told from someone else’s point of view. At these times, old resentments lose their fire and become silent at last.

I’m grateful for the things my father left me. His apparent indifference toughened me up to cope with the world. The attitude of independence I acquired, though needing cautious awareness, was a good thing. His illness was a struggle but also opened doors of understanding that led to the peaceful resolution of lingering hurt. I’m also grateful for the things I took away in carrier bags – the carpentry and garden tools, the shampoo and bubble bath, the yoghurt, pickles and ketchup. These bits of him I have been putting to good use, enjoying and savouring them, as I joyfully remember him and quietly let him go.



He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

– William Blake

Watery reflections

Chris Yeomans

I am brushing my teeth.  I reach across to turn off the tap, as advised by the water conservationists. In the field at the back of the house, the irrigators are chucking thousands of gallons of water onto the potato crop.  

We are told that sometime soon – in this century probably – the planet will run out of water.  How can this be, I wonder, when earth is a closed system?  Water circulates.  It evaporates and comes back as rain; it seeps down to the water table and comes back through our taps; it flows back into rivers from effluent plants.  How is is possible that it can run out?

I reflect that I don’t have enough understanding of physics, or even or geography.  Why is drought?  Boiled water becomes steam and condenses back into water.  If the water molecule is somehow split into hydrogen and oxygen, does that molecule of water disappear for ever?  And how might this happen?  I consult with my step-grandson, who tries to explain how, with global warming, water will remain suspended in the atmosphere and never fall again as rain. 

My human body is 60% water and, whilst it circulates, this amount effectively remains trapped.  If this body is cremated, is this water lost to the system?  If it is buried, is the water reclaimed? And does the amount of carbon released either way mitigate any gains? If the human and animal population of the world increases, does too much water get trapped in bodies, so that it is not available for the planet?  

If humans start to use de-salination plants extensively, will the oceans become too salty for marine life to survive?  When the icecaps melt and polar species are devastated, will this nevertheless mean more available water? Or will it mean that the planet heats up so much that life can’t survive anyway?

How fortunate we are to live in a time when streams still bubble down the hillsides and waterfalls plunge over rocks.  How fiercely we must appreciate a draught of clear, clean tap water with a cube of ice clinking against the glass and condensation gathering on the outside.  

How sweet the falling rain.

Dew on the Grass
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