Jane Leyland lives in Auckland but grew up in England. She attended the ‘Best of Life Writing’ at Auckland University in 2012 and belongs to a life writing group that formed following that course. Recently she published A West African Memoir (2014) the story of her experience as a VSO teacher in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1965. This book can be purchased at: www.bryanleyland.co.nz
My father was a man of few words. He abhorred the art of ‘making conversation’ and avoided social situations wherever possible telling us that if we had nothing sensible to say we should say nothing.
We adored him and vied for his attention, but he was a remote figure in our lives. Not because he went away, but because he lived his life to a very different timetable to ours. He got up after us and would lie in the bath whilst we had breakfast and got ready for school. Later he’d depart for the surgery. He had a very extensive practice that covered much of the New Forest in England. In those days doctors still visited their patients in their own homes. Often he didn't get home again until eight or nine at night, by which time he was tired and not wanting to bother with our chatter.
My most cherished childhood memories are of the few times he did spend with us. When we were very little he would sometimes take us on his weekend rounds but after a while he would only take one child, at a time, because we got bored and squabbled, waiting outside the patient’s house.
When I was about ten I loved to watch him in his workshop. I had to stay quiet and not touch anything. Occasionally he would explain things to me but I didn’t usually understand. It didn’t matter. I just yearned for his company and had found a way to be with him that was acceptable to both of us.
I don’t think he had a happy childhood and, perhaps because of that, he had vowed that he would never let a young patient leave his consulting room without first getting the child to smile.
He worked tirelessly for the townspeople and was admired and loved by all. It was just that he sometimes seemed to forget about us.
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Deborah thanks Rangimarie Kelly and Pikau Digtal for website design and artist Karen Jarvis for her image ‘Writers at the Devonport Library,’ (2023)