By Phil Chambers
The only items remaining in the sitting room were an old armchair, a couch and a sideboard. Everything else that had made up the identity and the very soul of the room had been removed. Indeed, it was the same for every room in the house. All that remained were the big pieces of furniture that nobody wanted and which were due to be collected by the charity shop this day.
For the past few weeks, Paul and his sister Mary had been going through the house dividing the contents into separate bundles – one for keeping, one for the charity shop, and one for the skip outside the door. Now the final stage had arrived and once the house was finally cleared, the keys would be given to the auctioneer.
It was just three months since his father had passed away and now it looked as if the home they all grew up in and loved so much was passing away also.
All the little things that seemed to have held the house together had been taken away – the ornaments, the books that had lined the shelves, the fittings and the furniture. All that remained was the shell of the house and the memories.
As Paul wandered around the house waiting for the van to arrive he became aware of noises in the house – the creaking of doors and floors and windows – the sounds amplified by the emptiness of the house. It was as if the memories of years gone by were moving around the house, preparing to leave also – it made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and overwhelmed him with a deep sense of loss.
Each room he went into brought back so many happy memories, memories of growing up with his sister and brothers. Memories of his mischievous father and the games he would play on each of them and how he would throw his head back and laugh when he caught one of them with a joke.
As he entered the sitting room he could have sworn that he saw his father sitting in the armchair. Sitting there overseeing the final cleanout with a smile on his lips. Over the previous eighteen months, ever since the stroke had left his right leg paralysed, his dad had spent a lot of time sitting in that chair each day.
Paul, whom he always referred to as his helping hand, and his wife Jean, who lived nearby and had not started a family yet, had looked after him taking turns to call in to see him every day. His sister Mary lived on the other side of the city and had her hands full looking after her four young children.
Now he was gone and soon the home would be gone also.
Every evening he would be wheeled in his wheelchair down to his local pub to have two pints – and two pints only – and meet up with all his buddies.
He would then go home contented and ready to face another day mostly confined to his armchair. Throughout all of this he never complained and never gave up his independence and retained his sense of humour right to the end.
“You know Da,” Paul said addressing the empty chair, “you were a right old codger. At times it was hard to tell if you were winding us up or just being difficult. I know you loved testing us, but you know something – this will of yours just takes beating – what in God’s name were you thinking of?”
To my eldest son I leave and bequeath my car. Treat it with the love and respect it deserves. It didn’t have ostentation but it did have reliability and it served me well.
“For crying out loud Da – Michael lives in New York. Did you expect him to bring your 1995 Nissan Micra out there with him?”
And to my darling daughter I leave and bequeath all my gardening tools – including my precious glass house. Always stay close to nature and stay grounded and you will find happiness.
“Da – she lives in a fourth story apartment in Leopardstown. She doesn’t even have a window box!”
And to my son John I leave and bequeath all of my DIY equipment. They have helped to make this house a home. Don’t be part of the Disposable Society – most things can be repaired or improved.
“For crying out loud Da, apart from the fact that he now lives in London – If you gave John a hammer he wouldn’t know which end to catch hold of.” And finally To my son, Paul, I leave and bequeath the picture of the Sacred Heart that hangs on the landing. Look into it deeply Paul and it will look after you well.
“What in the name of God were you on about? I can tell you – you have caused some confusion in the family but, having said that, you also gave us a lot of laughs and I am convinced that as usual you were only trying to give us a final message on how to live our lives. But Da, you know that the most precious thing you gave us was the way you taught us how to live each day with respect for ourselves and for others. We didn’t need or want these Special Bequests. You gave us everything.”
Walking out to the hallway he looked up the stairs at the picture hanging at the halfway turn on the stairs.
“You know, Da, I remember well the day Ma brought that home from the sale of work. Three foot by two foot – and she carried it all the way from the parish hall.”
“Where do you propose we put that Mary,” you had said. “Don’t worry Paddy,” she had replied, “we will find a proper place for it. There will always be room in our house for the Sacred Heart as long as I live.”
One hour later, Paddy was hanging the picture in the stairwell, where it has remained ever since.
Sometime later his mother added a paraffin lamp with a red globe on a little table in front of it. Then, no doubt due to fears of fire and to get rid of the smell of the burning paraffin, Paddy had fitted an electric lamp with a red flickering bulb to the wall beneath it. Both of which added to the fear the picture instilled in the children.
“Do you remember, Da, the day you told us that no matter where we were, the eyes of the Sacred Heart were on us? There would be no hiding from Him!!
And true to tell, no matter where you were in front of the picture or at the side – the eyes were always staring straight at you – it added to the mystery.
“If we were up to any mischief, we would run past the picture for fear of seeing His eyes looking at us. At other times He would seem to be smiling at us, but whatever it was those eyes were always following us.”
When he told Jean that his father had left him the picture she just burst out laughing, saying, “Expect the unexpected and you might just guess what he was going to do next. It is so like him to do something like this, the old rogue. Anyway, if it was good enough hang in your parents’ home – it is good enough for our home. We too will find a place for it.”
Paul was brought back to the present by the arrival of the men from the charity shop. Not wanting to witness the removal of the final pieces of furniture, he went out into the back garden.
Looking around the garden he was shocked to see how the garden had become a jungle in just a short period of time. For years it had been his father’s passion and had been the pride of the road. Every hedge would be trimmed to perfection. Every potato drill would be inch perfect and every onion, lettuce, carrot and cabbage row would be as straight as a ruler. When his father could no longer look after the garden Paul had tried to help out – with little success.
“Hi Da,” Paul said out loud, “do you remember the day I decided to trim the hedge? Remember I brought my electric hedge trimmers and you laughed at it. You said only a hand clippers would do the job properly. I was so pleased with myself when I had finished the job – in half the time you would take. You took one look at it and with your usual wit said ‘Dear God what will the neighbours think?’. I’ll tell you what they will think – they will think that I was blind drunk when I cut it, it is so crooked! And then to add insult to injury you added – did you ever think of going to Specsavers’.”
“Hi Mister, that’s the lot cleared, do you want us to take the picture of your man off of the wall?” came the shout from the kitchen door.
“No thanks, I’ll look after that myself,” replied Paul as he went in to check that the men had cleared everything and finally closing the door behind them.
Then, having already removed the little light beneath the picture, he gently took the picture from the wall and carried it out to his car. “Dear God, it’s a mess – it’s covered in dust and cobwebs and appeared to be held together with cellotape and thumb tacks – the whole back is falling apart.”
Then without looking back he closed the door for the last time and drove straight to the auctioneer’s office and handed in the keys.
When he arrived home he put the picture in the garage with the intention of cleaning it and repairing the back of it before hanging it. He then poured himself a whiskey and with tears running down his cheeks raised the glass and said, “To you Da, you were the very best – we will all miss you.”
The following weekend, having agreed with Jean where to hang the picture, Paul set about cleaning it and having removed the thumb tacks and the cellotape off the back the cardboard back fell off and Paul shouted, “Oh my God, Jean come here quick!”
When Jean arrived she found Paul ashen faced staring at the back of the picture and there neatly spread over the back of the picture were, what looked like, hundreds of fifty Euro notes and a small note attached to the centre – for my helping hand. Thanks. Love Dad.