My Father's Inheritance
I had an inheritance from my father although at first I did not recognise it. As a young child I simply loved what he loved—how could you not love the great rhythms and fun of farm life, or animals with personality and humour? When I was an adolescent, I was too busy fighting with my father to notice anything other than how cussed and annoying he was—or indeed, how cussed and annoying I was. The farm now threatened to trap me and I wanted to break away as soon as I could. As a young woman, I became immersed in my own life, each new phase taking me further away from him and deeper into the city.
It wasn't until I was over 50 that I began to appreciate the inheritance he had left me. What helped me to know it, was sitting with him in the nursing home during the last year of his life. We would be sitting quietly together, my hand on his once powerful arm, when his face would light up at the sound of a pigeon outside his grim little window. In the nursing home, he was severed from his natural habitat—the farm that had been his kingdom, with its lush green fields, distant mountains and the amazing array of animals and wildlife that had entertained his years. As for the flocks of wood pigeons that gathered daily on the barn roof, he had known each one that made its home on his farm. He knew the time of their coming and going, their feeding habits and their soft mating calls. He knew if one was missing on a given day and would watch for its return.
So when the pigeon outside his small window cooed, he would say: "Do you hear that? Listen!" as if he had just heard the sweetest orchestra playing. Then he would make the cooing sound himself and swing off into reverie—memories filling him, and for the moment, making nonsense of his fading mind. Excitedly, he would begin: "Do you remember when....?" and for a time his voice would be strong again, his skin glow with pleasure and there would be light in his old brown eyes. After he died, my brother and I spent many hours at the farm, walking around, breathing in memories of old times and old places. Over many weeks, we fixed the fences that had fallen into disrepair, made sure all the gates were working, sorted out the remaining farm equipment and cleared out the corn sheds. We emptied rooms and drawers that were mostly full of rubbish. On one of the last days there, out beyond the deep litter house, we burned broken cupboards and chairs, burned his old clothes, and finally, Dad's old bed. We watched the last bits of his life being consumed by the flames. No one spoke, but my nephew who was about four at the time, came over and quietly wrapped his young arms around my legs, resting his head against my knees.
Yet, as we stood there waiting for the flames to die down, we could see all around us, the inheritance my father had left us—rich memories of a childhood on a small farm in Ireland, exposure to the endless gifts of the natural world. And beauty. It was as if the whole place was anointed by beauty—all the way down Long Lane full of spring violets and primroses, past the rows of big sycamores, across the hayfields and on down to the damp, squeaking meadows. Rising beyond them, were the farms at Tyrglassen and Kincull, old homesteads rooted in the ancient hillsides.
In the distance, we could see the outline of the dark blue Sperrins framed in a great sweep of sky—mountains that had marked the limits of our child's world. Sawel, the highest peak of the Sperrins stood out that day as it had done for thousands of years. Deeply grateful for all of it, we started the car and began the long ride back to Coleraine.
Published on 23 June 2021