There’s a bucket in a shed right outside the back door. Unremarkable. Entirely remarkable. That shed is big enough for tools hung on nails in wood walls, big enough for margarine tubs full of screws. It’s wet enough for the screws to be rusted in rain and too small to work in by far.
Before this minimal thing sheds had names. The Goat Shed, The Chicken Shed, The Duck Shed, The Shed Shed, the Car Shed, the Other shed. All but the Car Shed had good uses… getting to school in a car with as many wing mirrors and yes, just the once, doors, as there were when we left home was a luxury. Everything else was necessity. It’s how, why and what we all lived on.
Goats were milked for breakfasts and teas. Milk was strained through white cloth to make foul-smelling cheese, or to split to make whey for warm soda bread. I loved the animals but nothing that came from them – apart from the bread that my mum made. And the bright yellow eggs from the hens. Still now they make all store eggs look anaemic. So maybe it’s just the goat milk I hated. Well that and the fact a toddler / pre-teen’s middle section is the perfect (PERFECT) height for goat horns to hurt with precision. And for geese to peck at for that matter, it’s amazing I’m all fully intact!
Anyway’s, I was a pre-teen, soon to resent not being in a city or any place filled up with music and punk and all the good and the bad that comes with. And none of these jobs were his only. Everyone chipped in but me. I think of all this in seconds, memories come like a flood. Caught in the bucket just by the back door.
I’m cramming rocks and pebbles around the sawn stem of a Christmas tree to make it stand straight in that bucket. It’s the same stainless steel that stars in pictures of Jenny and Patsi and Di – goats we owned or looked after or kept – licking the sweat off his ears as he milked them. Until this year, tree fixing was his job.
I’m watching TV with Ma with my glasses on, proof if none else was needed that I’m firm and fast past my pre-teens. I’m even wearing his slippers because they fit me almost snug and my feet are still icy-block cold. I am literally stepping into his shoes.
That bucket holding the Christmas behind me, it’s a well of loved memories to draw from. And as I sit in the living room he sat in, with glasses on just like he wore, with his slippers that I’ve now named as mine… I’m a placeholder, same as his new living state. There’s some pride, welling up with trepidation. There’s some sadness, some love, there’s a missing. There’s a missing and again there’s a missing.
This Christmas will be different I know, but with as much warmth and love as any other.
(And just how we got to this post, right here is where it all started….)