Remembering Charlie

Monday was the birthday of my late father, Charlie. He would have been 88 years old. That's him in the photo, standing in a street in York with my mum.

He was an ever supportive influence in my life, softly spoken, strong, thoughtful and eternally optimistic. He was probably better thought of and more kindly remembered that he realised.

He was a hard worker, my dad. He was also a dreamer, full of ideas and thoughts. He did his best to improve himself so that he could support his family which often meant we only saw him at weekends, a treasured forty eight hours when family time was spent out walking, maybe driving in the countryside, or in the garden. A country lad at heart, my father usually found a way to drag us out into nature.

When he retired, my father decided to research his family history. I can remember the trips he took to London and Edinburgh (sometimes with my mum and on other occasions alone) and holidays spent traipsing through overgrown graveyards in Scotland. One of his great regrets, and frustrations, in researching his family tree was that he hadn't listened to the stories told by his father and the gossip and news that was tossed around at family gatherings.

My father always saw himself as a 'workhorse', head down, get on with it, don't complain. He failed to value the other more lyrical side of his personality. He was a storyteller, describing his childhood in Scotland, his adventures in London, and the colourful people he had met on the way.

More recently I've picked up the reins from my father to continue his research. I've even started writing a blog about it. My parents have left me an immense amount of paperwork, books and photographs, in addition to my father's genealogy notes but I now share my father's frustration. I wish I had listened to my parents more. I wish I had asked them questions about the mountain of photographs, many of people unknown to me. I wish I had written down the stories they told me. All I have now are patchy, threadbare memories of those stories.

Will my children bear the same frustration when I am gone? They are happy to listen to my stories now but a lifetime is such an immense thing to track and more importantly remember, how can anyone retain it all, every second, every breath, every thought or heartbreak? Even the most romantic biographer must decide what should be included and what should not. But maybe that is the magic of memory, to filter out the unnecessary debris, retaining the gems of our past.

So I have a new project, to keep a record my life, including the stories that I tell my children, as a keepsake for my family. At the least, it will be an interesting writing exercise. At the best, it may provide us all with some clarity.


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