Sunday, June 26, 2011
My first memory of him was of us three daughters being chased with a shaving brush and of us laughing and giggling and being silly as he tickled our noses with soap suds. We must have been about three years old as we were in our Queen Street home before we moved out of town. He was in the RAF at the time and must have been home on leave.
I also remember being taken to our new home in the country suburbs and being taken around and shown what would be the home he lived in for the rest of his life. That move meant long walks through fields and country lanes picking wild flowers or blackberrying on Sundays. I also remember meeting him off the bus after work in summer and walking home with him with the sole purpose of dragging him into the corner shop for sweets. We children were left to our own devices and ran free - he once had to rescued me from the top of a tree that I had managed to climb up and couldn't climb down from.
These are happy memories - I thought that he was very handsome (he was good looking), very brave (he had fought in the war) and very clever (he flew aeroplanes and knew maths) and even his name was special (we grew up with the name Van Schaick - very unique in St Helens). All of the Van Schaick family spoke proper BBC English - no northern accents - All the men were fliers - My grandad was one of those magnificent men in their flying machines. All very proud!
Then when I reached my teens our relationship changed. He became detached, angry, restrictive and to be avoided. I thought that he had changed but the reality is that I had. I was leaving my childhood behind and in retrospect that scared him. In my teens I learned how to creep out of the house to avoid interrogation and disapproval. I learned how to sneak back in aided and abetted by a mum who left the door off the latch! I learned to get out of the way quickly if I was caught and yes, I learned how to protect myself when I was caught and walloped.The fact that I was seventeen or eighteen did not matter - I was living under his roof and his rules must be obeyed no matter how ridiculous it was to have an early curfew when I was a working woman!
It was only at my Grandmothers funeral, when I was married with children of my own, that I understood why he was so afraid of us girls "getting into trouble'. I discovered that his youngest sister had fallen pregnant at a young age - unmarried - and that one of my uncles was in fact a cousin. That must have been a huge source of shame for such a proud, upright and important family and my dad must have felt that shame in his youth and was determined it wasn't going to happen to us. He was very disapproving of any boyfriends that we girls had and it was only the bravest that dared to walk us home. We all married very courageous men!
Married and in my twenties, my dad complained that we came to visit too often and brought our children with us - especially on a Saturday when he wanted to watch the sport on his rather large TV. I am sure he was the man who first said, "Its better on the big screen!" He sat watching it in his large, sturdy arm chair - a precursor of the Lazy Boy - it was moulded to his contours and positioned so he could put his feet up on the fireplace. Secretly I think he loved us all being there and on a Saturday you had to get there early if you wanted a seat. Our house already bursting at the seams with the six of us children grew elastic walls as six adult children and their husbands and wives all vied for an empty chair and a clean cup in the sitting room while assorted grandchildren ran riot in the front lounge. The volume of the TV escalated especially when the horse racing was on, and at times he would doze in his chair while bedlam went on around him!
He would complain that he got no peace, that our kids broke everything and that his alarm clock went off at irregular hours in the middle of the night after our visits - but we knew it was all a lot of hot air and that he loved being in the midst of ever growing family!
When my mum died suddenly, the men in the family took him out while we girls sorted all my mums things out. Never demonstrative, he came back in floods of tears and said he wandered how people without a family managed when death robbed them. That evening he introduced me to his special whisky. It must have been a fine Scottish malt - I don't remember the name, only that it was in a black ornamental jug inside a red silk lined box. I didn't like the taste of whisky but that was the finest liquid that had ever passed my lips - he touched my hand gently while I drank it ..... an apology!
He followed my mum just two years later - he was a little lost in those two years without her. The girls looked after him, the boys were his company and the grandchildren his tormentors - he loved them for it!
Twenty five years later, I can say that my dad was a handsome man, he was a clever man, he was a brave man and I am so very proud of him.