Guest Contributor Wendy Unsworth
Now that the festive season is upon us again, most of us try to take some time to pause from our busy, everyday lives and turn thoughts to friends and family, both past and present.
We all remember our loved ones in our own special way and, for me, the legacy left to me by my father is, I believe, a strong part of the reason I am here today, amongst this wonderful community of writers and readers. And yet, he lived in a different world to the one I now inhabit; I find that both sad and fascinating in equal measures.
My dad died a long time ago, almost thirty years, actually, of a brain tumor in his early sixties. He never had the chance to own a computer or a mobile phone. He didn’t know about the World Wide Web. He did write letters but, as far as I know, never wrote anything creative. But he did love words. It has taken me a long time to realize that fact.
Ever since I was a little girl people said I got my ‘green fingers’ from my dad and it’s true, I can remember way back to the time when he would give me little packets of flower seeds and show me how to sow them. When I was still in primary school, I conscientiously watered a sunflower every day until it grew way over my head. I thought it might be a beanstalk. It wasn’t, but it was another love that my dad was nurturing in me, even though at the time I didn’t know it.
But back to the words… As I began to explain, my dad was a simple, hard-working man. He could be, what I interpreted to be at the time, quite impatient and aloof. Now, that I have raised a family of my own (and one-half the size that I grew up in) I realize a house with four kids all spread out in age wasn’t the easiest thing to manage. He was hands on, would often cook Sunday lunch, and he liked to do DIY but was never any good at it.
He served in the army, in the closing stages of the war and when it was over never got any other chance to travel the world, though he would have liked to. He had a lot of curiosity about things he had never seen. When I was a young teenager, we would often sit up late on a Saturday night, long after Mum had gone up to bed and he would like to theorize about how the pyramids were built and what the future of space travel might be. He always had his own strong opinions, and he liked to expound them in his own rich, often quirky language.
And it’s the language thing that I wanted to mention because, although he wasn’t a literary man my dad clearly had a great love of language. He had favorite quotes from books and poems that he would often incorporate into ordinary conversations. I can see him now, getting up from his chair and announcing ‘I will arise and go now…’ quoting from The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats and revelled in the alliteration of the ‘lake water, lapping with low sounds’ and would repeat the line often.
Dad also liked to make up words.
I was quite far into my grammar school years before I realized that obstroculous wasn’t a real word at all. I wrote it in a school essay and was rewarded with red underlining and a cluster of question marks in the margin. I looked it up, dumbfounded, as it was a word I had known all my life around my dad. And English mattered to me at school. It was the subject I was good at. Imagine my surprise when I found out the word didn’t exist!
I confronted my dad about my less than perfect score on my essay and he, rather sheepishly, told me that the word he routinely mispronounced was obstreperous, but he disliked it and thought it sounded like a medical condition, so he adjusted it to a word he thought more fitting. And it wasn’t the only word that had undergone this treatment; I requested that he tell me anything else I should know before I fell foul of my English teacher again.
At that time and age I thought this habit of my dads was rather odd and embarrassing, but as I grow older, I realize that it was just a part of Dad being dad and it was one of his pleasures in life.
I never adopted my dad’s habit of actually changing words that I don’t like but, as he became ill, I realized I didn’t want his inventions to disappear completely from our family and began to occasionally use a few of his strange forms of words, mainly in jest, and in his memory.
Only the other day my daughter and I were discussing our gardens. We are both keen growers. I asked her if she had considered trying to grow beans and she instantly quoted,
‘Nine beans rows will I have there and a hive for the honey bee.’
It gives me a warm feeling to think that these small but significant traditions run through families.
Thanks, Dad, for a love of words (and plants)
The Lake Isle of Innisfree is a beautiful poem. Do look it up if you don’t know it; I am sure you will love it.
If you enjoyed Wendy’s post, let her know, at Wendy Unsworth, and as always, I’d love to hear from you. Talk to me. Tell me your story and look for me on Facebook at SheilaMGood, Pinterest, Bloglovin, Twitter@sheilamgood, Contently, and Instagram. You can follow my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.