The rain has been beating down hard against the house in such rage that I went to inspect: it was a hailstorm, on the 2nd of May. My Dad, Jack Rushton, was always in tune with nature, more so than he sometimes was with people. He’d have known if the hail was unusual at this time of year or par for the course. He would have been 90 today. He died too early by any standards: my sister and I never got the chance to relate to him with truly adult minds. Of course some of his messages stay with me.
His love of plants, animals and nature placed the natural world at the centre of things. He knew that English bluebells were the delicate ones, with flowers that hung from just one side of the scape.
He helped make sure my sister and I had the kind of childhood where climbing trees, inspecting stones in streams, crossing moorland, hanging around other people’s allotments, collecting horse pooh for roses, growing plants from seeds, cramming the yard full of so many pots you could hardly wind your way through it, and dissecting owl pellets to see what they had eaten would always seem normal. He’s the reason I’ve climbed trees wearing high heels (or at least, that’s what I’m claiming). Funnily enough my sister isn’t wildly keen on gardening, although she loves the natural world – she got the sporty genes.
Dad was left handed, in an age where left handed people were ‘corrected’ to use their right hands. That seems cruel now – I suppose that’s some mark of progress, although he would be horrified that we are in grave risk of destroying life on the planet as he knew it. I wonder how many types of living things we have lost since the day we lost him?
He never learned to drive, despite taking lessons. He gave a bird a glancing blow while learning then decided it just wasn’t for him. Walking was part of his daily life.
We did not grow up with a male role model who never showed his emotions. We teased him for silently crying, listening to The Incredible Journey being read on Jackanory at the bit where the old dog, Bodger, finally makes it home. He’s the reason I cry at some point during all the best Doctor Who episodes (or at least that’s what I’m claiming).
He worried. He impressed on us that if we got lost in our home town (a valley) we should head downhill and take it from there. I haven’t been lost so far, but if I do…
He told me that eggs were good, cheap, nutritious food for students on a budget so often that it became a joke. Repeated concerns that one of us in our student digs would set a chip pan alight were more aggravating as we did not even own a chip pan (that might have been a joke that went over my head).
When I was a toddler, I wore a splint at night to straighten a wonky leg. Mum splinted me downstairs, in front of the fire, then Dad carried me up to bed. He took great care that my leg didn’t bang on the wall but seemed to pay scant attention to the wellbeing of my head, which made the short trip up the dancers memorable. My sweetheart tells me that was a joke too – a father’s tease – but I’ll never know for sure, not being able to ask him.
He was an environmentalist many decades before it became fashionable, telling us not to use too much detergent as it would find its way into our waterways and hurt the fish. His insistence that we shut doors to conserve the heat may have been more a result of his parsimonious upbringing (even now, I prefer doors to be shut).
He loved our holidays to North Wales, but each year, before we set off to walk with our suitcases to the train station, he would stand before our tiny front garden and lament the buds he would not see flower. He did not like us to pick flowers, particularly not wild ones, though he turned a blind eye to daisy chains or dandelion clocks and the odd posy of roses. That may have been why he once made the mistake of buying Mum plastic flowers which she consigned to his equally tiny greenhouse. He knew where wild orchids grew in unlikely places, including on the grassy verge of a rarely-walked path along a bus route: the route he had met Mum on when the bus was halted for some time by an accident.
As a teenager, I was happy to note that Mum and Dad still walked up from town hand in hand though, of course, it was not all romance. We were a normal family and squabbled like one. Dad lamented that every (football) goal ever scored was obscured by a female backside, human or canine. It sounds like a wild exaggeration, but I’m forced to admit I wouldn’t have remembered this if he hadn’t had cause to reproach us at least now and again. Did they not have replays back then?
He died after three years or so of illness, suffered bravely, although tears would stream down his face after an operation when Mum arrived to visit him in hospital. He never really acknowledged what was the matter with him, as if saying it out loud would make the prognosis worse.
I accidentally chipped his cup when visiting Mum one evening a few months ago. I neglected to put the light on and bumped it against something when aiming for the kitchen sink.
It’s funny how the smallest offenses can seem the most unforgivable. If he had been here to judge, in terms of the goals this keen sportsman missed and the countless other griefs daughters accidentally, thoughtlessly, impose on their fathers while growing up without a backwards glance, the chipping of the cup would no doubt not have been rated by him too high up on the scale.
But the cup had outlived him by decades and, in recent years, I noticed my mother had been drinking her tea out of it, her companion one from the same era having finally gone the way of all things. She didn’t say a word when I confessed I’d chipped Dad’s cup, but I knew that she would not have too many mementos of him in her daily life.
Later when I mentioned I’d been looking for a similar cup for her, this house proud lady told me it was not too badly chipped and she was still using it. That’s love for you.
I’m celebrating Dad’s birthday with these pictures of bluebells in Sunnyhurst Wood, Darwen, where he often took us.