Sunday 19 May 2019

My Dad - A Tribute

The tribute I wrote and read at my father's funeral in April. Some of which includes references to memories in earlier blogs. I shall continue to feature my stories here. 

When Dad took his last breath and slipped out of this world on March 14, being with him became one of the defining moments of my life. As he lay there I did not see the elderly man locked in the fossil of Dementia which had become his prison. I saw the boy running free around the streets of Rangoon, Burma, boxing and wrestling, and swimming in Great Lakes with his friends. A time and a land, with its pythons and tigers and golden Buddhist temples, so very different from our own.

I saw him with his sisters and brothers, and his nieces and nephews, singing along and dancing around a gramophone player. This vivacious family one of many in their mixed community described as the cafe au lait of Burma because of the colour of their skin, prejudices as described by writer H E Bates in the Jacaranda Tree. I feel proud today dear daddy to be one of your offspring and the clan of cafe au lait!

As he lay there I saw him and his niece Diddy, only three years younger than he, as children carrying a pole over their shoulders with a great bag of money dangling from it as they tried to escape with their family when the country became over run by the Japanese. The pole and bag eventually left in the jungle as they become too exhausted to carry it anymore.

I saw the boy watch helplessly after they were captured as his baby niece Clare and then his father died from disease.  The mischievous boy aged 12 who suddenly had to become the man of the household alongside his elderly and frail mother, sister Theresa and nieces Diddy, Ann and Collette.

As he lay there I saw the boy named Taro (brave boy) by the Japanese officer Capt Tomamoto educated in America who befriended Dad, the officer who tried to protect him when he was badly beaten by another after putting a fly down the back of his shirt for a joke.

I saw the boy who become a man when aged about 16 he packed his rucksack and jumped on a lorry to take him to the city to find a job, his nieces weeping at his departure, after he heard during the same evening his doctor brother in law complain to his wife about all the hangers on living with them after the war.

I saw the young man who had by now lost both parents with letters in his wallet from his mother and a book of prayer dated 1948 from his Aunty Kitty, both of which I have here today, arriving at the docks in Tilbury, England. I saw the man he became looking cool and sophisticated in the best clothes his money could buy going to jazz clubs, Maxine’s and the Tahiti Club in London, and then being captivated by our beautiful mother who he met at a new year’s eve party. We still have the love letters he wrote her on the back of Senior Service cigarette packets. 

As we left the former old vicarage looking over green fields where Dad spent his last days and took his last breath, I thought about his very own unique circle of life. The trouble he sometimes had fitting in. If my London-born mother felt like a square peg in a round hole where we grew up as children on a large council housing estate in Cambridgeshrie, you can imagine how he felt. But he and mum made it our home, the home where all the kids on the block were welcome to come and play and did many times, and have a lick of the curry spoon on a Saturday night.

I can hear dad now singing affectionately to me as a small child ‘Little Coquette Why You Keep Foolin, Little Coquette.’ I hear him telling me off in no uncertain terms when I misbehaved and how after he always came to my bedroom, where I had been sent, to sit with me among the sheets and blankets I had pulled off the bed in petulant rage, to talk about why I had been reprimanded. I remembered when as I grew up how Important he said it was for me as a woman to get a good education and a job to always maintain my independence. I recall how he wept and fell down on the bed where he was folding up laundry when I said I was leaving home to set up home with my boyfriend. I knew you would come home and tell me this one day, he said. I recall his joy at my successes and the despair he felt at my personal tragedies.

Dad in the last couple of years as Dementia stripped you of your personality you would sing over and over again the line from this song. 'Isn’t it a lovely day to be caught in the rain? As long as I can be with you it’s a lovely day.' I hope now somewhere in the midst of time and space you are eating see byan curry, boudee in the boungee, kow sway, mohinga and sagla chi, spending endless lovely days with your mum and dad, listening to Hoagy Carmichael or Al Bowlby on the gramophone - perhaps you’ve introduced them to the songs of Frank Sinatra or Simon and Garfunkel - in a house on the shores of Inle Lake or the Irrawaddy as the sun sets. Now wouldn’t that be a lovely day.

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