Sunday, June 21, 2009

For fathers and Brits

On Friday evening, Josh and I were lucky enough to have attended a cocktail party hosted by the officers of a British Naval vessel visiting this port. I was struck by the contrast evident with the officers with whom Josh serves and the British group. I dare say, and here is where it will be really great if Josh forgets to read a few posts; these British they are charming, social, (dare I say it?) fun, and not the least bit self-conscious regards their own social graces which are (and you could say I am a tough judge) notably perfect anyway.

For a sparkling moment here or there, I was reminded of my own Grandfather, Harold "Red" Turnbull; a master of our spoken language in a formal way with a far more broad vocabulary than I have found conversationally elsewhere, even in graduate school. He was a comfortable, warm person whose voice never belied a mite of nervousness in dealing with his fellow man. He was the kind of man you wanted to know: A gentleman, yes. A friend, always. But a Brit, you see, through and through and in my experience, different than the American assumptions of both those terms. He was, as they say, comfortable in his own skin in way many are not. Why? I only wish I knew. But I hung about with Grandpa, and visited the UK with him, and I can tell you assuredly, there were more like him there. I have found none like him here until this group.

With Grandpa, one had the sense everyone, including him, was absolutely certain he was okay, just pitched right with world. He always looked swell, and never thought very much about it because swell was his natural way. He smoked, he drank a little but not with any interest or real commitment. And he sang or hummed virtually constantly, he was a remarkable musician naturally, a gift my Mom surely inherited to have become an opera singer. I mean: He was a charming man. He smiled, even when he was burdened: He never laid it on your plate with even a shadow of a frown.

He was the sort unafraid to talk to a powerful person, a beautiful woman, or a scoundrel and he took the same, "Very pleased to meet you" tone with one and all. He had a British accent but beyond that, no affectation (which I have always thought was glaring terror rearing its head, anyhow). When you called Grandpa Turnbull and asked something of him, no effort would be spared to be at your side in a time of need. He was a good man. The kind who never would say he had something he had to do, wonder what was in it for him, or had to stop to change his clothes thinking maybe he could look better. He just came: With his broad, handsome smile, earnest handshake, old tweeds, and without judgment and he lent a hand to human beings equally: He and my Mother have always been known for this quality, this open kindness, humanitarianism, understanding, decency. Call it whatever you like: In most parts of the world, they just call them good.

I loved him. He was my best friend for all the years we both lived. When he was leaving us, I flew home from Charleston. It was a cold spring day and his exit took grace, elegance, and shimmer from my days in ways I still uncover and which cause my heart to stall in a bit of agony with no less fierceness or regularity in all the years transpired since that gray March day. I would go back if I could. Yes. I would leave all of this here, knowing perfectly well you will tell me I am a poor Wife and Mother for saying so. But I would, though I will know you are right for admonishing me regards this fairy tale nonsense. But you see, as my own children arrive, I very much need him. I am lesser without him. For them. And indeed for you. Selfish, only in a distant way. I feel foolish for explaining this as one would very much have to have known him. But once they did, we would never quibble again over whether or not one of us should get to him, with a camera and notebook and not miss one syllable.

Yes. Your suspicions are correct. He was our king. We worshipped him. We ache still as if it were just this day we lost him at a young ninety-two. But you'd have done, you'd have done too, I promise you. I know you a little, and the reasons you come here each day. That is all about him.

This past Friday, I had a conversation with a British officer hailing from not far away from where Harold Turnbull began his life in Hartlepool, England and I caught mesmerizing glimpses of him in the accent, the easy certain elegance, and the even handedness of a British officer we are now lucky to know. How I miss our man and the sound of his voice. But how lucky I was to get to speak with Dave. I thought it such a gift to meet him, especially on this Father's Day weekend.

Rather ghostly coincidence, is it not?

An elegant, shimmering, good Father's Day for you all.

5 comments:

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Lovely, lovely, lovely post. What a swell man he must have been.

Blushing hostess said...

AAL. You are another of this ilk, I am very sure. Be well.

tintin said...

Your beautiful memories took me back to some of my own. A night in a Bermuda bar with four British naval officers from a Portsmouth submarine. I wasn't attracted to any of them but we all had a swell time smoking Cuban cigars, drinking and telling huge lies about our military service.

My own Grandfather was head of Armed Forces Radio in Germany circa 1960-63. A beautiful voice timbered by cigarettes and booze. I try to be like him but always fail.

This post is much more interesting (and better written) than the china pattern above. More, please. Cheers, big ears.

Blushing hostess said...

Tintin. Bermuda. A bar. Sounds like a paradise full of good lies and navy rum.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could load up some of those armed forces recordings to your site? Just another layer of you I know many would treasure... just a thought.

You don't have to thank me, I spread sparkling genius for free on Wednesdays...

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Very nicely said. It's nice to know there are others of that kind lurking about, if one could only bump into them now and again.

I wonder if it isn't travel and the old military service that brings it out?