The Boy, his Sisters and the Magic Horse is a Tibetan tale retold in a collection by Gioia Timpanelli. The story opens with the father digging a hole and telling his son to get in, because his son refused to hunt and kill animals for food. He inscribes “Open or not as you please” on the slab he slides on top of the boy. I have always been in awe of the son’s compassion for his parents at the end of this tale.
Folktales are full of warnings about fathers who trade their daughters, abuse, or imprison them, or worse. Some children get precious little from their fathers. And I’ve been thinking about mine.
My father had good timing, at odd times.
Waking us three kids up, to stand in our PJs and wellies below our big coats, in the knee-deep snow of the back garden to wonder, open-mouthed, at the flickering Aurora Borealis in a velvet sky, late, late one January night.
Accompanying him on each Sunday walk as a child, taught me patience and to enjoy the peace of nature, as we crouched waiting for native finches to be caught in the traps he’d set. I still like bird-watching. Here, at last, is a close-up of the shy Buff-colured Rail from one of my daily walks.
On occasions he has surprised me with simple gifts, like this letter in response to a book I sent him (“The Cunning Little Vixen, illustrated by Maurice Sendak). It’s the only evidence I have of his handwriting. (“Hen” is a Scots form of familiarity with a woman)
One time when I was visiting, he was very proud of a large white shell he’d picked up on the island of Coll in the Inner Hebrides. “You can have it,” he said.
On another visit back home, he slipped this to me.
“It’s a Penny-Spitfire.”
During WW11 he and his pals in the RAF workshop near Reykjavik, used to make them, on the fly, from a copper coin, and give them to the WAFs they liked, to pin to their uniforms.
When I was younger I fought a lot with my father … arguments, tantrums, name-calling. The last fight was in my twenties. I stormed out of their sea-side caravan, fuming into the gloaming for a good long walk and got back hours later. The caravan was dark. They’d gone to the pub … and by a park light, I saw pinned to the door was a torn, brown envelope, and written in my father’s hand.
“Come home. Meg, ALL is forgiven.”
Well, that did it. Peace ever since.
All photos and text by Meg
Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.