Here I sit, balanced between my old life and my new. Next week sometime my beloved father in law will come to live with us. I have spent the last few days sorting papers and cleaning in the room which was my study and which is to become his bedroom. The room looks bare and empty now with only a bed and a chair and a bookcase in place, although it is a lovely room with a huge red rug on the quarry tiled floor and a deep windowsill. It looks out towards the bakehouse and across the valley. In the morning the sun streams in.
I want it to look welcoming. Ian will bring some of his many family pictures and maybe the photos of Orkney and the wallmounted map of the islands. As a working class lad from the industrial North it must have been extraordinary for my father in law to find himself spending his war on little boats patrolling the islands. He still has all their names on his tongue: Mainland, North Ronaldsay, South Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Papa Stronsay, Hoy. He will tell you how he sent food parcels home and once went back on leave with half a lamb in his kitbag, well wrapped but still oozing slightly when he hoisted it onto his shoulder. He must have been a rare soldier to be posting parcels of food to his family. He will tell you how he kept trying to send home eggs, parcel after parcel arriving with the contents shattered in the tin, until he finally cracked it (or not!) with industrial quantities of sawdust. He will tell you about a wedding between a soldier and an island girl where people wandered in and out of each other's houses and danced in the street. I wish I could get some sort of narrative tale from him, a nice, neat, chronological story with a clear progression from arrival to departure, but that's not how it works. The memories come vivid and disjointed, like images flashing randomly on a screen. The stories are mostly the same so you nod and smile as the same tale comes round and then suddenly a little nugget of something new hops out to surprise you. There is going to be a lot of wartime Orkney up here on our Welsh hill I expect.
And how do I feel about the new life just around the corner? I feel two things at once. I love my family more than I can say but I have as well always loved a bit of separateness, a bit of solitude. After my first marriage ended and before I married again I often used to look at other people's marriages and feel, not envious as perhaps they might have thought I would, but faintly oppressed by their togetherness. Not every time, obviously there were marriages which looked happy and supportive and as though they were fun to be in, but sometimes the sight of people endlessly consulting and compromising and doing things they clearly didn't want to do made me feel quite claustrophobic. The one big advantage of being on my own was having a high degree of choice about what I did and how I did it.
When I married again, while I loved my husband to bits (still do darling if you are reading this, or whether you are reading it or not!) I struggled with the endless need for discussion and agreement and with the bewildering finding that someone who was so clearly my life's partner thought so very differently from me about so much of the minutiae of life. I adjusted. We adjusted. But my independence felt like a fundamental part of me. I relished financial independence and for long periods of our married life I have spent time working away from home. Sometimes that was lonely but often it was an easy way of having some time to myself, of turning off the sense of being attuned to the needs of others and simply being myself in the silence. When I mused and mulled and stared into the darkness in the night before I decided to give up my job last year, it was losing that independence, both financial and the life which was mine and no one else's, that bothered me. It was fine. I am fine and happier than before. All of the positives of time at home and time together and freedom to do what I want have so outweighed the potential losses that I fretted about that I have hardly thought of them. But now I look at the word "freedom" in that sentence and know that the freedom of the last year is about to disappear. How will that be? Time will tell.
And alongside that there is the huge, much stronger sense that this is what families are for. My father in law has spent years looking after other people in a deeply practical,reliable, unshowy way: family, friends, looking out for neighbours. He is a special man, generous and funny and kind to the soles of his feet. It is his turn now to have back some of what he has given to others over more than ninety years of life. And we can do it. There are so many families where the demands of jobs and children would make taking on the care of someone else just not possible. But here I am, with my fluid, flexible self employment and here is Ian with his reduced working week. We can do it, so we will. It will be good to share my fire with him and to make cakes for him and to know that he is safe and happy. When spring comes it will be good to share the garden and to sit in the sun for a cup of tea and watch the hens scratch.
Life shifts and changes but the important things remain: family, children, a glass of wine, the snowdrops showing, ham and eggs for tea, friends.
Time for the next stage. Hold your nose and jump in.
Wish us all good luck!