The snow, sparse and light, dances in the wind, bouncing off the window pane, settling on housetops and hedges, dusting white the grass and benches; everything, save the warm trodden paths and roadways. Their contrast lends the scene a picturesque air.
It occurs to me, the winter has a habit of mocking us. Around this time each year the winds ease and sunshine warms the air. Our step lightens and relieved we smile, making small talk, believing spring has arrived. But it doesn't last. After finishing business elsewhere, winter resumes, and without ado, quickly and mercilessly casts a chill cloak of sleet, ice and snow across the land. And overnight, the relaxed ambulations of yesterdays cheery pedestrians, transform into edgy, hurried scampering, as hunched and hooded, they seek their destinations. There's no time to stroll, and little time to talk. And all the while, winter laughs.
Inside, my attention is taken by the serenity of the room. The homes of the aged, I muse, are characterised by near silence; emphasised by low, unobtrusive sounds: the tick of the pendulum clock; the soft hiss of the gas fire, and the erratic whistle of the wind in the chimney space behind. And in between and around them, if you pay careful attention, the past can be discerned. Chipwood cabinets adorned with souvenirs: mementos of outings from a different age; and framed photographs of young and old, the dead and the living, whisper to me, reminding me of how things were, how they are, and how they will be.
As times gone by show themselves in the quiet, contemplative realms of the aged, perhaps, I thought, the noise of youth serves to quell its murmurings; a past that seeks to remind us of life's cycle of birth, death and regeneration. I can remember when I was young; a time when the acquisitions of the old, much like those in my mother's home, would fill me with unease; a distinct, but unrecognisable disquiet. But perhaps this is as it should be. Both ages have their time. Youth, with its excess of vigour pays homage to the present, with the future an indeterminate and infinite highway, stretching to the horizon and beyond; whilst the old honour a past inextricably bound up with the present. And their future is at arms length. The end is perceived. The road is finite.
On the nightime, as I lay next to my mother's bed, I listened to her replaying instances of her life in self-talk and dreams (impossible for me to discern which). And throughout the day, on those occasions she spoke, she talked fondly of incidents and people long gone; of a half-brother, Sonny, whom she loved, who through illness, died young; and of a father incomparably kind. Frail and breathless, but not broken, she smiled and chuckled as she spoke, a glint in her eye.
If we are lucky enough to endure into old age, then hopefully we can pull its various strands together, to form a meaningful and worthwhile whole. This is what my mother has done. Despite having outlived her first and second born children; surviving the anguish and anxiety of the blitz, when the German Luftwaffe strove to flatten her home town; and more recently, watching her husband, my father, sink slowly towards death via a morphine-induced netherworld of non-recognition and bewilderment - in spite of all this, she honours her life with its telling, in humour and good cheer.
It wasn't so long ago I showed concern about reaching the end of my life. I regarded old-age as a cruel trick inflicted upon us by an uncaring Universe; a side-effect of a blind evolution. Again, I made the mistake of looking outward for answers; stretching and straining my mind in a futile effort to elicit meaning via a meta-explanation; an all-encompassing theory to satisfy and comfort me. Now I know better. The meaning of life is in its detail. For each one of us it can be found within the particular moments, the details of our lives...
Most weekends, my mother, Janet, and I, dine out at a local carvery. When the eating has finished and we are about to begin our respective drinks (my mother’s choice is lager), we always laugh as her tiny age-shrunken face, set beneath a black woollen hat, beams, as she raises her glass and toasts, “Cheers! First today!”
Cheers mom! And thanks… for everything!