AFTER THE STORM by Harry McAvinchey


dad on envelope #2 COLOUR EDIT 1

It is a curiousity how the brain edits the electrical storm that crosses  the many floors of the mind. Lightning flashing while synapses blast and turmoil , ripping changes across dimensions and oceans of shardy, tarnished memories.

I’m in a bar sometime in the late 1950s or possibly the very first or second year of the  1960s. That near-mythical decade that those living through took mostly for granted .We had no idea  then how such a Big Deal we  would make of it  all and , in turn, it would be made of  in retrospect. I would have been eight, nine or ten. If it was one of those time travel films , I  could  possibly maybe pin-point the year with greater exactitude by whatever pop song was playing on the soundtrack.This isn’t some film though. This is only a life-blasted  recollection  and you know what a trickster memory can be.

I’m sitting on a bar stool with my bare legs a-dangle. I’m wearing short trousers back then. In front of me is a tall half-pint beer glass.I always thought of it as a particularly elegant sort of glass. It is a graceful shape and design. My father would have called it a “sleever”. That’s what it’s pronounced like but it may have an old unfamiliar Gaelic/Scottish/Irish  pedigree lost in the mists of time. It is full to the top with an orange mineral drink .This is a rare treat! The orange drink sold in bars couldn’t taste any more “orangey” than it did back then.It tasted like one of those big “Outspan” oranges you only really saw at the bottom of your Christmas stocking or at the Big Christmas Party in the City Hall that your auntie got  you tickets for every Christmas. At home , Mum might buy little tins of “Cremola Foam” .You put a spoonful of this bicarby powder into a glass of water and it fizzed up like a weak lemonade.Supermarkets didn’t exist back then and lemonade wasn’t sold to rolling children in quarter gallon packs. This “pub”  lemonade was the real deal though. This was a rare treat to be carefully savoured,  like the way the little boy slowly consumes that creamy cake in the film “Cinema Paradiso”.Like that unearthly cake , this libation must be sipped slowly ,as an art-form, each mouthful  played  and squeezed of all joy.

Beside me ,my father is sitting drinking his pint of black stout.Bluish smoke is coiling up from his untipped Gallagher Blue cigarette.Specks of floaters are being caught in the  sunny light shafting  through the  gloom of the early afternoon bar. There is no one else in the bar so early in the afternoon and it’s an unusual occurrence. He must have taken me to the optician or the dentist or maybe my mother  had just had a baby…one of my younger sisters…and he  was keeping me away from the commotion of the household. He was gossiping with the barman, possibly telling him  one of the “Legendary Stories” that he could regale company with and which everyone in the family would soon take for granted.

 What a memory he had!

 A natural storyteller.The stories were all true too. We would hear them all oft repeated over the years. It may have been the one about the old sentimental lush who would go on a “bender  on the drink” and would have an occasional “Lost Weekend” that would last all week. During one of these, he continued to feed his little donkey for four days after the poor beast had died . As my father would put it …”He forked in a ‘fod’ of hay every time he passed its stall , call an endearment ,even though the little creature had long expired” .A Monty Python story in real time. Or it might have been the story about the ghostly visitation that had disturbed him and his friend while working  “down country” on a bricklaying job , staying in digs. During the night , much to their consternation, an unseen  presence  had sat at the bottom of their bed across their feet. They were to discover the following morning that someone had hanged themselves in that very room.We loved to hear him tell that one.

Memory is an odd thing. I can only fix  a mere handful of those outings with my father . When I was older , we were never ones to share a pint down at the pub like some father / son relationships evolve. We would share an interest in old black and white gangster films on television with jimmy Cagney  and Humphery Bogart or Laurel and Hardy comedies which I grew to love and appreciate. We never really shared a pint in a pub though.He’d seen a few things in his time. He had been in London during the World War Two Blitz and had met his future wife, my mother, there. They had a whirlwind romance and had married within about six weeks, honeymooning in Brighton . In his life he had travelled to many places in the world such as the Middle East and America, always open to new and novel experiences.

He lived to a grand old age of ninety-three but it all began to unravel some ten years or more before his death.My first inkling came in what is sometimes referred to as “The Man Who Forgot It Was Christmas”. I fix it in my mind in much the same way I remember film or book  titles such as “The Man Who Never Was” , “The Man Who Knew Too Much”…”The Man Who Would Be King”.

My father , with his storytelling memory, like a steel-trap, was gradually robbed of that great ability to entertain a room with his drollery. My mother was already dead and he lived without her, on his own for some twenty-odd years .A small tradition had evolved where he would always have his Christmas dinner at my home, since my mother’s death.Everything had been arranged as usual .All the fine-tuned Christmas tweaking that women especially love to do.I went to pick my father up to bring him to the festivities which were already getting under way.The turkey almost done .The ham resting .Wine opened to breathe .The hundred-and-one fine little details that my wife is so extraordinarily good at . My  three daughters full of Christmas glee, fussing about, still opening presents. The Big Christmas Dinner moment beckoning….

When I drove up to pick him up, my father was in bed sleeping.He had no idea that all of this revolved around his appearance. I had reminded him several times over the previous days but  he had literally forgotten Christmas.

It was the first intimation that something was seriously amiss. Other  strange  things began to occur, in the days, weeks , months and years following. For example, he would make the same breakfast over and over until the little plates of unfinished meals began to clutter up his fridge and oven. It  finally, incrementally , dawned on us all that my father was suffering from dementia and he was no longer safe in his own home. The cruelty of this illness cannot be over-estimated.

That same storm of electricity that lashed across my brain and  time-travelled my memories back to the 1950s  gradually deposited  my father, a stranded survivor of his shipwrecked life, somewhere lost in space and time in a jumble of 1920s and 1930s and 1940s  memory landscapes. I’m not sure to this day if he remembered any of us at all. He gradually lost the use of his bodily functions and his ability to converse.

Eventually he needed full-time care in a nursing home.The impossibility of his situation left everyone close to him bereft. I visited him most days to help feed him his dinner and  talk to myself because he was no longer there.

 I always left the nursing home with a lump in my throat. I was glad when he finally died .Glad for him and glad for all of us.

7 Responses to AFTER THE STORM by Harry McAvinchey

  1. Pat June 27, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    Very moving Harry, a sad story to which too many of us will have to bear witness or experience ourselves at some point. My childhood memories are equally hazy and only reach back to the 70s! My own grandmothers golden age was characterised by struggle after struggle as her body gave up in piecemeal fashion. She passed away recently and hand on heart, her passing was met with equal part sadness and happiness.

    Just as an aside, Its funny how not many people comment when the topic is something we can all relate to and agree on!

    • Jude Collins June 27, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

      If they don’t comment, Pat, it’s because Harry has written a (very effective) piece that has nothing to do with politics. We’re kinda mad about/hooked on politics in this neck of the woods – hardly surprising, when you think of recent history. But it can be frustrating to see something as accomplished as this receive comparatively little attention. But you know and I know and Harry knows (stop blushing and kicking that wall,Harry) it’s a splendid piece. Thats enough.

      • paddykool June 27, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

        Many thanks for the kind comments Pat and Jude. My alter -ego would just like to say that it was all my fault! …Thanks for the kind words of encouragement, Jude ..Like it is said about music,,,the “doing” is reward in itself…

  2. paddykool June 27, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    just to further compound the tricks of memory and give further colour to this story…the film was not “Cinema Paradiso” but the equally sublime “Once Upon A Time in America”…….like I say that trickster of memory is a Loki of the keypad…

  3. Norma wilson June 28, 2014 at 9:59 pm #

    Hi Jude,
    I have been catching up on your blogs. This one is very emotional for me. My own Mother passed away almost two years ago, I nursed her at home for the last year of her life. I kept the little syringe that administered her morphine every day. I think females remember more than males, my memories are as fresh as if they were yesterday!
    I miss my parents so much, and my brother that hung himself. The sadness at times is unbearable.
    On a more lighter note, just back from Rome, what a beautiful city, called into Frankie, but he was not in, his place is very grand.

  4. Jude Collins June 29, 2014 at 9:37 am #


    How nice to have you back. Seriously. But you must give credit where credit is due – this is all Harry’s work, not mine, alas.

    Btw I heard Frankie wasn’t well. You didn’t put anything in his coffee , did you??

  5. Norma wilson June 29, 2014 at 10:30 am #

    Hi Jude,
    Sorry to hear that, we were there Tuesday, all the seats were being put out fit his Papal mass on Wednesday. It blew my head off, the sheer size of the place, it was beautiful.
    Glad to be back home, I missed it, never heard a thing.
    Missed you too Jude, was awake until three in the morning playing catchey up.
    I was delighted with William and Neill, and also how very well they were treated? It’s good to talk, missed PK as well.
    So guys look forward to hearing you’s all, oh and before I forget, we moved house recently, it’s definitely flag free, and like William, the big day shall be spent having a Braai, that’s South African for BBQ.