Sunday, 17 August 2014

R.I.P. Eric Thorpe



Last Sunday my father in law died peacefully in our local hospital, aged ninety-five, from kidney failure.  Four days earlier he had slipped into deep unconsciousness and we knew he could no longer be treated.  From then on Ian and I, hugely supported by our son and daughter and their partners, who live reasonably locally, kept him company night and day. Our other adult children, who live far away, provided their own support by phone and text.  How does anyone manage these things without the loving support and care of adult children, I wonder?  When my mother died last year I felt it too: we were not alone, the next generation were with us, taking their share, looking after us in their turn.  It is a good feeling. 

I felt as I do now about blogging when my mother died. Partly I did not want to blog.  There are some things which need privacy.  But I also knew that if I did not mention something so important, if I blogged about gardens or lemon cake or walking on beaches, I would in a sort of way be lying.  This blog is not for baring my soul, for public self analysis or therapy.  Often it is for the things in life that give me pleasure: cooking and eating and books and gardens and making things and the very beautiful place in which I am lucky enough to live.  It marks out the year, follows the seasons, shares the celebrations that punctuate the year with family and friends.  Every now and then I have a bit of a rant about things I hate: bullying, unkindness, consumerism, our society's obsession with looks and celebrity.  It is a blog about my life and if I did not tell you about my father in law's death I would start to feel that the blog was a bit of a pretence, in fact I might just have to stop blogging altogether.

So while this blog is not a place to be sad in I would like to tell you a bit about my father in law.

Born in 1918 in the industrial North West of England, Eric was a Rochdale man to the soles of his feet.  He was the youngest of seven children and I suspect was indulged a little by the whole family.  He certainly grew taller and stronger than his elder brothers which they always claimed was because he got more food as a child.  His family were truly poor in that way we have all forgotten about now. There was no question at all that he could stay on at school beyond the age of 14.  All the children had to work.  Eric loved school and didn't want to leave.  He didn't necessarily have an academic sort of intelligence, although he was bright enough,  but he had a natural quickness of mind, an ability to make people laugh and a way of handling people which made him popular and well loved throughout his life.  He was easy to get on with, always ready to give people a hand, a lover of gambling who nevertheless never bet more than he could afford (which wasn't much!), a devoted father, a man totally incapable of doing anything other than looking on the bright side.  He was very profoundly of his time, growing up in the twenties and thirties and raising his family through the fifties, and of his place, a Lancashire milltown.

The only time he spent away from Rochdale was when he was posted to Orkney for the duration of the Second World War.  Somehow being sent to Orkney was very typical of Eric.  Yes, there were dangers undoubtedly and, despite being a soldier not a sailor, he served on the boats which supplied the many bases on the islands.  He was lucky that he did not suffer from seasickness.   But it was a dangerous place.   There were deaths in Orkney, in fact the first civilian to die in the war was killed on the islands.  The following is an extract from the website which documents the landscape and history of Scapa Flow in Orkney:

It was still the early days of the war but already Goering’s Luftwaffe were wreaking havoc on the home fleet in Scapa Flow, and 16 March 1940 would be a date that the people of Orkney would never forget.
That evening at around 8pm, 15 Junkers 88 enemy aircraft were reported over Scapa Flow and a number of high explosive bombs were dropped causing a fair amount of damage and injuring seven Navy personnel. Anti-Aircraft guns opened fire as did ships' guns, but despite early reports of two aircraft being shot down, no losses were recorded by intelligence reports.
As the raiders fled the scene, the aircraft still with bombs flew inland and decided to jettison their bomb loads some four miles east of Stromness as they reached Brig o'Waithe.
On hearing the raiders overhead, Jim Isbister and his wife Lily rushed to the door and amidst the falling bombs, they pulled two passers-by - Mrs Burnett and Mrs Jane Muir - inside for shelter.
Just split seconds later, a bomb fell on Miss Isabela Macleod’s house across the road and as Jim rushed from his house to go and help, another bomb exploded killing him instantly. Miss Macleod although wounded, managed to crawl from the wrecked cottage and Mrs Muir was slightly injured by splinters. Fortunately Jim’s wife Lily and baby Neil survived uninjured.
In total, five people were killed and nine injured in the raid.  Jim Isbister became the first civilian to be killed by enemy action in World War II. A service was held for Jim at St Magnus Cathedral, conducted by his brother-in-law Rev. TG Tait, and Rev. J MacLeod of Stenness, after which he was buried in St Olaf’s cemetery.
But Eric came safe through the war.  He had plenty to eat, perhaps more than he had been used to as a working class boy in the industrial North West.  He loved Orkney.  As an older man he would trot out his stories of Orkney, worn smooth by the telling,  to make you smile or laugh but he would always at some point tell you "It was the land of milk and honey".  He loved the fact that he could send food home and had all sorts of stories of working out how to send eggs or, on one memorable occasion, a leg of lamb, home to his mother, sisters and wife-to-be.
Other than Orkney, his whole life was Rochdale until he came to live with us in December 2010 after his first ever spell in hospital.  He had very limited horizons in many ways.  He had no desire to travel, unlike his wife who chafed at the restrictions which hemmed her in as a working class woman whose health was poor.  Give him three meals a day and the chance to lay a bet on the horses, people to chat to, a bit of TV to watch and he was happy.  When he lived with us I used to find this narrowness of view both extraordinary and from time to time extraordinarily annoying.  How could he be so little interested in other lives, other people (except family), other countries, other foods, the whole glorious panoply of rich and complicated life?  It was as if, faced by a tapestry which covered an entire wall, he insisted on looking at one dark and dirty square inch in the bottom corner.  But perhaps that was the secret of his undoubted contentment with life.  He didn't want much but he knew what he did want and he took pleasure in it right until illness overshadowed the last weeks of his life.  How many people manage to live a truly happy life?  Eric did, in his small corner, and in it he did a great deal of good and very little harm.  He was a good father, a good grandfather, a loyal worker, a good friend, a good man.
Whenever I hear the quote "Bloom where you are planted" I think of Eric.  His roots were deep.  Perhaps you can't have deep roots and wide horizons.  Yet he took what might have seemed an unpromising start in life and he lived that life cheerfully, with energy and good humour and love.  He honoured his relationships with a deep and wordless loyalty, caring for his wife through her many illnesses, looking after his ailing brother in law, doing his best for his daughter, son and grandchildren.  It wasn't a financial best, he never had much money, although what he did have he was generous with.  It was an emotional best.  There was never any question at all that he loved you and gave you that love unstintingly.  He asked very little of you in return. 
Eric was one of nature's gentlemen.  I am glad to have known him and glad to be married to his son.  I will miss him.

34 comments:

  1. Beautifully put Elizabeth. Condolences to you all.

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  3. What a rich life Eric had in all the ways that matter the most. My sympathies to you and your family.

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  4. This is another lovely blog, Elizabeth, well written and so readable. Condolences on the death of your father-in-law and yet to everyone who knew him - he lived life to the full. Your tribute to him is everything he would have wanted it to be.

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  5. Beautifully written. He was obviously a wonderful chap and will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with you.

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  6. What a fantastic blog Liz. I loved learning a little more about Eric's life. Though I cannot claim to have known him well, his general contentment with life was glaringly obvious to all; in focusing on 'the dark and dirty square inch in the bottom corner' of the tapestry he was able to draw out the beauty in it. I doubt there are many people in life, myself included, who will ever be as content with their lot as Eric......too distracted by the brighter colours or the more dazzling images in the tapestry to dwell too long on any one part. 'Bloom where you are planted': that he certainly did xxx

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  7. So sorry to read this Elizabeth, my sympathies to you and Ian.
    There were many in my own family who lived in the dark and dirty square inch too, especially of that generation.

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  8. Your preamble suggested you worried a bit about how to blog in the aftermath of your father-in-law's death. You needn't have.This post hits exactly the right tone, honouring his life, the space he took up in his small corner, and it links him to the huge tapestry in your metaphor, beautiful stitching on your part.

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  9. Thank you for sharing this with us. My sincere condolences to you and your family.

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  10. So beautifully written, Elizabeth! A man who loved life and didn't want much. Condolences on his passing.

    Blessings and Bear hugs, too!

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  11. I do understand why you had to write this, Elizabeth, and I'm glad you did. It was a beautiful post and gave us, in few words, a good idea of the man.

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  12. Thank you for posting this. It was wonderfully written. With Sympathy from New
    Zealand.

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  13. What a lovely way to honor your father in law......my condolences to you and your family.

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  14. In this beautiful post you have also written about the seasons - the whole season of his life in relation to this odd world of ours, and how his season touched yours and that of many others. The love and care of your children is them going through their own sequence of seasons. Every one different, but each the same in the end. How it is lived is what matters, and he seems to have made a fine job with his.

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  15. How typical of you that in paying this beautiful homage you also raise such a fascinating question (with a great image). I have no immediate response to the questions it poses - about the nature of happiness or the costs of limited horizons - simply because it needs thinking about. I know I relish my small pleasures of every day, so much that I hate going away even though that brings other pleasures. But relish and hiding are not the same thing. Thinking, thinking....
    And thinking of you all too. XXX

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  16. What a lovely tribute and the picture you've posted has Eric's wonderful smile, which I remember well from the all to brief times I met him.

    Hugs to both you and Ian xxx

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  17. Such a beautiful, heartfelt tribute. I am so sorry for your families loss.

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  18. He lived a long life. May he Rest in Peace.

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  19. Deepest condolences on your loss and how beautifully you honoured him in this post!

    XO
    WWW

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  20. A beautiful and moving tribute Elizabeth. Thinking of you and my sympathies to you and your family.

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  21. A beautiful and heartwarming tribute to a man who lived a full, and rewarding life. My heartfelt sympathies to you and your family.

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  22. It sounds as though, in his own particular way and as a man of his time, Eric lived his life to the full and it was a long and happy life too, which is as much as any of us could possibly ask. A completed life. And in the end it is love that survives us, and he was loved and that love has passed down the generations which is wonderful. A moving tribute.

    This must be hard for you, Elizabeth, so soon after your mother's death too. I hope you will find peace and consolation on your mountain, and in your garden.

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  23. A lovely tribute to your father in law.

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  24. That was lovely to read. Your father-in-law sounds like such a nice man. Sad to read of his passing. So many of us yearn for so much more in our lives. To be truly content with "your lot" is such a blessing. Hugs and condolences xx

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  25. Elizabeth, may I send you and your family my condolences. May I also thank you so much for this tribute which allows us to feel that we also know something of this natural gentleman.

    xo

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  26. I remember you writing about your FIL coming to live with you. Of the shepherd's hut. Today the love shines out both ways. My sympathy to you, your husband, and the children who have lost their grandfather.
    These are not easy posts to write and share, but there is some solace in making and leaving a record of a name, a face, a story, a particular life lived.

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  27. I just came about finding your blog. It sounds like you were so blessed to have such a lovely man to call your father-in-law and he was blessed to have you as well.

    Winter

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  28. A life well lived. I send my condolences - but also feel a sense of celebration. I do think some people are very happy not biting off more than they can chew and enjoying everything local without the need to deal with the whole world.
    His generation had a much more limited set of possibilities - but just as much chance of happiness!

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  29. What a lovely and moving tribute to your late Father-in-law. Those that go before us should always be mentioned, their lives are something we can all learn from. My deepest sympathies to your family.
    Ar dheis Dé a h-anamh dílis.

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  30. What a beautiful tribute, sending condolences from Singapore, and hoping you find peace amid yet another loss.

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  31. Wow, what a handsome gent! Great face, he had. Loved reading this post - it's good for us to remember that those who came before us faced a lot of hardships that we will never have to. It built who they were, and explains a lot about their outlook on life. Sometimes smaller horizons make people feel safe - especially if they've seen what life can dish out. I understand both the yen to travel (I think of Scotland every single day) and the desire to make a life centered around my home. I used to be a flight attendant, was all over the place all the time. Now I've got a job 15 minutes from my house, and I rarely drive anywhere except local shops and work. My small horizons are cozy, and comforting. Blooming where I am planted. I still miss Scotland, though.

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  32. Sorry for your loss. What a fine man. xx

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  33. Hello Elizabeth,

    What a touching tribute to your father in law. A very full life which influenced so many others. Wonderful.

    You are in our thoughts and prayers.

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