Mike Kilpatrick is a scientist cum journalist who has dreamed about writing a book for far longer than he has spent writing one. Deborah Shepard’s Memoir Master Class at the Michael King Writers’ Centre was the spark for his Frankenstein’s monster.
I can see him now, sitting on his chair, quietly, humbly. He is wearing a shirt and tie, a pressed pair of trousers and brown brogues. His glasses sit on his nose, there for the crossword puzzle and the glances at the television. Invariably he has his pipe. The smell of burning tobacco still fills me with nostalgia.
This is Jack, my grandfather. His full name is John Sim. I never could quite fathom where the derivative came from or why, but it was what he answered to from those he loved. He was one of ten children, born just six miles from where he lived and died, in the north east of Scotland.
He spoke infrequently, not because he had nothing to say but because I think he valued the peace and quiet. But when he did it was always worth it. There was never a harsh word, a curse, or a raised tone. And I knew he was so very proud of me. I don’t remember him ever saying those words. But he was. And I of him.
I realise now the image in my mind is largely from a photograph of him and my nana on their 50th wedding anniversary.
That is how I want to remember him.
THAT is how I WANT to remember him.
But it’s not.
Instead when I close my eyes I see a dying man, half-naked in bed, a colostomy bag from an earlier battle with cancer attached to his torso. And I feel anger, anger at the doctor who had previously waved off my granda’s back pain, saying flippantly that he hoped he would be as healthy as John when he reached 85.
This time my granda calls me Robert, the name of his eldest child, my uncle who by then was in his fifties. I’m in my early twenties and the man who fought for his country with distinction, the man who was at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, the man who raised four children, the man who picked me up from my Friday night job every week in his rattly old red Ford Fiesta, the man who was MY granda, is gone. Not yet physically, but that will come very soon.
Too soon. Too. Fucking. Soon.
A few weeks ago he was healthy, a man of his age. And now I know I’m never going to see him again.
Eventually the anger subsides, his spirit washes over me and I remember again the moments we shared. Picking berries, random trips in his old car, watching wrestling, drinking tea from the grey and white cups, just sitting there in his presence. A man of immense stature. My granda.
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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)