Memories Of Dad

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.

Bluebells growing on a woodland bank

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.

Bluebells along a path through a wood

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.

Close up of bluebells

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.

Bluebells growing with young ferns

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.

Leaves hanging over bluebells

I’m celebrating Dad’s birthday with these pictures of bluebells in Sunnyhurst Wood, Darwen, where he often took us.

81 Replies to “Memories Of Dad”

  1. Happy, happy birthday to your dad! Such a lovely tribute. My Dad also died too soon—he was 54—and I never really got to know him that well. Your father truly was ahead of his times, and I wish more people were like him.

  2. You will not be surprised, I think, to know that I have finished reading this with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. The daughter-dad thing is profound, and you have captured it beautifully in word and in image; together they make a memorable and touching portrait of your father. I especially love that second image, the one with the bluebells bent toward the path that disappears under the trees. So poignant.

    I am saddened that you lost him so early in life, and I salute you both on this occasion. Your mum and sister, too. What a legacy lives on!

    1. No, not surprised, given you spent so long caring for your father when he was older. Thanks for thinking of my mum and sister. They will appreciate it. Me too!

  3. Wonderful memories of your dad. I was lucky enough that mine lived into his 80s, but I still miss him and would love to have a conversation with him again. (He died in 1990.) He was a gardener, and gave me my own patch to grow peas, which I ate straight off the vine. Thanks for sharing and giving me back some good memories as well.

    1. Thanks for sharing the story about your own father. There’s no sweeter treat than garden peas fresh off the vine. You’ve reminded me of another time.

      One year Dad grew potatoes in a bucket. He must have explained about it and my sister and I were excited so we pestered and pestered for him to say we could dig them up until he was worn down and finally agreed. I remember squealing with joy when each potato was unearthed, even though most of them were no larger than perhaps a bean. We scrutinised the roots and pointed out every last pea-sized potato.

      I remember them being cooked and eaten too. Mum cooked some ‘proper’ potatoes and our diminutive ones were presented beside them in a little bowl. The contrast must have struck me. I knew it hadn’t been the right time and that, as the older sister, I was mainly to blame, but I don’t remember any other vegetables from my youth like I remember these. I would love to say they were tastier – I doubt they were, but they were ours.

    1. I had been intending to add some flowers, perhaps auricula primulas, but when it came down to it, I suddenly realised bluebells were the only choice.

  4. Beautiful memories of your Dad and wonderfully told. He sounds like someone I would love to meet. Thank you for sharing your touching memories.

  5. A warm and loving post, told beautifully. You’ve brought back happy memories of my own father, who, like yours, was an important influence on the things that matte in my life. A lovely birthday tribute!

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