95th birthdate, a memory of the 1985 birthday, and an unexpected tribute

Today would have been Dad’s 95th birthday. I went to see Mum, in the Home where she now lives, but she had only limited awareness that it was his birthdate – “well, he’s dead” she exclaimed. For some time after he died, my first wife Brenda and I would take Mum out on or around his birthdate. I see from her diary for July 23 2000, when he would have been 78, that we went to Dunham Massey, a National Trust house and park in rural Cheshire. “Lovely man, like Joe, kind and caring but worriers”, Brenda wrote of him. Three days later she was diagnosed with cancer.

Dad’s final birthday celebration was at the Grove House Hotel, just down the road in which he lived, and where our wedding reception had been held. I think that it was the birthday before that in which I played a minor prank on him. That evening, we drove to a hotel, Edgeworth House, in Bebington, which we had visited before, but which I had discovered had closed (it would later become a nursing home). I drove deadpan into the driveway, to “find” the place boarded up…..I pretended to be horrified. We had to go back to Wallasey to the place where we had already booked a table. Afterwards, my wife told me that Dad had twigged early on that the visit to the closed hotel was a set-up, but he didn’t reveal this to me!

Last week I went to see an event to commemorate another date – the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen. In the interval, on a hot summer’s evening, the doors to the flat roof of Wallasey Central Library were opened. A lady, who was a school friend of my sister’s, but whom I had only seen briefly at my aunt’s funeral, came up and introduced herself. Inter alia, she recounted how her own father had died when she was 10 years old, and that my Dad was like a second father to her. She recalled many meetings in the front lounge at his house, with Mum getting tea in the kitchen while Dad talked to her about her future career. I remarked that, truly, you often think that, 30 years later, there will be nothing to discover about him, but here was another instance to prove me wrong. I was pleased to learn this, but it must have been an effort to tell me about Dad so many years later. He’s certainly not forgotten.