I have no idea how tall he was. In my mind’s eye he is tall, larger than life with excellent posture, but I could be remembering him the way we all saw him rather than as he really was. He was always dressed properly- it’s hard to imagine him slobbing around in a dressing gown. I never caught him without his signature shirt, jumper and proper corduroy trousers. His lifelong adherence to uniform could have been born during his time in the army, or simply from being alive in a time when wearing a hat was mandatory for gentlemen. His life was huge; raised in London in the 1920s, he was encouraged by his mother to speak ‘properly’, but a gently defiant cockney accent could still be detected up until his final day. I’m convinced the way he rushed the word ‘darling’ is the way the word was intended to be spoken.
His hands were big and confident. Even after his 90th year gifted them a gentle shake, they still permitted him to lift a cup of tea in tandem with any member of his expansive family. Those hands were intelligent; they produced wooden toys that have entertained four generations, they wrote us poems on our birthdays, and created flawless drawings of flowers I can’t name. I wonder if everyone would accumulate this many skills if they were given 97 years on Earth, but quick consideration leads me to the conclusion that he must have been magic. His soft, lined hands held decades of history, along with my chubby infant fingers.
Kind, blue eyes, cloudy with cataracts but still twinkling. The first eyes to catch a glimpse of my mother in the hospital, pink and screaming; the same eyes that couldn’t meet my grandmother’s in the preceding nine months. She was young, unmarried and stubborn; the enemy of a traditional 1960s father. I sometimes try to imagine the battles they must have had, but the years had softened him so much by the time I met him that the eyes I saw held nothing but joy, the harsh man my grandmother speaks of having been left behind long ago. I never heard him speak a word in anger, not even after we ruined his long cared-for hanging fuchsias by bursting them before they had the chance to bloom.
White hair, thinning away on the top, he let me and my sisters comb it as we played hairdressers practising on our willing model. It was a crisp white, like those wispy clouds that dance through the sky on a warm day. A photo that sits pride of place on his daughter’s wall is a young man that I barely recognise, with a full head of dark hair, although he does look alarmingly like my cousin. He was an impressive, dignified man, even in his old age. It’s rare to find someone who could command respect from a room full of people while sporting a pair of bright white pigtails.