By RIchard K. Munro
I know what it is to love a father and to lose a father.
“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” is an old Irish saying.
NE OBLIVISCARIS..DO NOT FORGET.
People you love never die entirely. They live in your mind in, the way they always have lived within you. If you remember them well enough, they will speak to you and sing to you in your dreams. When you open an old book, a letter or note will drop out and you will hear their voice again.
The Silent Ones can still guide you, like the milky gleam of long-extinguished stars guided Odysseus or St. Brendan in dark nights and distant seas. When I look up from my desk I see books, art reproductions and curios that had been gifted to me or had belonged to my parents.
When I look from my dining room table I see the old Hamilton upright where we all sang, joyously, old songs while my mother played. It gave us pleasure, then, to sing songs that had been favorites of Aunt Annie (whom I never met she died in Scotland in 1936), Auld Pop, Auntie Nelsie, Granny Andy. It gives pleasure now to sing songs that my mother and father loved and when I sing it is the only time I forget that they have died. For they live in song and in memory.
My father loved Shakespeare and this was quoted by Robert Kennedy when speaking of his beloved fallen brother from Romeo and Juliet:
When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
My father died Sept 27, 2003 in Germany of all places (he was visiting my sister Pat when he fell and broke his hip in 2001 he never fully recovered). Curiously, I could never forget this day because I have known this date for most of my life. Some years ago my father and saw an exhibit to Medal of Honor winners in Washington DC with my uncle Norman (Major Norman Eliasson) and Norman pointed out the DOUGLAS MUNRO -not a close relative but a Munro-who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Guadalcanal on September 27, 1942. My father said, “That’s a date you should always remember.” Then later I went to my sister-in-law’s birthday while she was studying to be a nurse in Tarragona, Spain -the only time I happened ever to coincide with her birthday while I lived in Spain. It was on September 27. And the afternoon of the day my father died my sister turned over her “poetic quote of the day calendar”. On September 27, it had a quote of Robert Burns. It was the only Scottish author in the entire collection. Truth is stranger than fiction. But it goes without saying Sept 27 is a day I will remember as long as I live. We all know the date of our death, of course, we just don’t know the year. But the date is waiting for us up there somewhere. Ten days away, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand. Only God knows. But the date is there waiting for us.
I was lucky enough to spend but three weeks with my father in Germany in that last summer of 2003 before he died and we had a lot of laughs our last night together. It was a happy time though we all sensed it was last note of an “auld sang.” We sang a lot of songs, told a lot of stories and had a few drinks. He said goodbye to me at the airport the next morning. I remember it all as if it were yesterday. I remember the last day I saw my mother as well and Auld Pop.
And my father had a good death. He did not suffer. He lingered a day or so in the hospital listening to his favorite songs and arias. My sister said she could see tears forming at his eyes so she knew he was listening.
My father had a stroke when he was 63 in 1978 and almost died but recovered by about 90%. So those last 26 years were a special gift. My mother was an RN and she nursed him back to health. He was 89 when he died and until he was 87 he was very vigorous and healthy often traveling to Europe and California. His last ten years he just stopped driving. He felt his reflexes and vision were not good enough.
My father’s illness had a big impact on my life because I had to drop everything and think about supporting myself. I had been accepted to some graduate programs but without any significant financial aid so I passed and spent the next ten years in exile myself often on the fringe of the English-speaking world. From then on I did all I could so my father would not worry about me or worry about bills. He always would call me and say, “How’s yer wee JO-B? (Joe-b)”. He felt if you had a job and money coming in your could advance in life or at least not be homeless.
It was not as easy as I thought it would be. I had almost no money no car and no phone. I only had a PO box. I worked at many jobs which included unloading rail cars and digging ditches. In a way it was a prison sentence and exile. I just carried on hoping for the best. I felt I was sinking into poverty and there was only one way out. Hard work. Eventually, my economic life stabilized to the point I could return to school but it was a near thing. For years I simply did not have the time , money or energy to return to school. That’s a lesson I share with my student’s: “the early learning ’tis the bonnie learning and you will never be younger to learn.” For many of us life gives us only so many cards so you have to play them when you can.
How long will we live? Some of it is sheer luck. One of the healthiest and athletic men I ever met was General Pershing’s grandson. He was killed in his 20’s in Vietnam and it was a shock to me. I had a science teacher in high school and he was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was just in his 30’s. At OCS a Sea Knight helicopter crashed and 23 Marines were killed. So you never know. Of course, Auld Pop killed many men and probably saw hundreds if not thousands of men die. He saw his commanding officer killed as dawn broke May 10, 1915 (Captain Dick MacDonald Porteous: “Auld Port”. He said after that the NCO’s and subalterns fell so quickly they didn’t even learn their names. By 1917 his company had no officers, no NCO’s just one Acting Corporal (him). He always said, “Save yourrrr luck for when it counts because soonerrr or laterrrr you will rrrroll snake eyes,” Auld Pop was a great believer in luck and he believed everyone had only so much luck. So you shouldn’t ever tempt the devil. He believed in the Devil and in the power of evil:
There’s a wicked spirit
Watching ‘round us still,
And he tries to tempt us
Into harm and ill.
“Sain yersel’ frae the Deil and the Kaiser’s grenadiers” (Shield yourself or make the sign of the cross to save you from the Devil and the Germans) Tapa leat AUld POP would say, ‘ LUCK TO YOU!” To him that was the best thing you could wish anyone.
Genes are an advantage of course. “The Blood is strong” as the old Highland saying goes. But lifestyle is also important. Auld Pop died at 76 but he smoked three packs a day and had been gassed in the Great War so his lungs were shot by the early 1960’s. Today with transplants and medicine they might have been able to extend his life. HIs father lived until he was 86 so most of my forebears (if they were not killed in war or lost at sea) lived until their 80’s or 90’s. So I figure I have an even chance to make it to 80 or 90. If not, as Auld Pop used to say, “What’s the differ?” because you will never know the difference.
And we can count it as a blessing we knew our father and loved our father over many years. I had the blessing of the friendship and love of my father for almost 50 years. By contrast, my wife’s father died when she was four and she has no memory of her father. My mother was three when her father was killed and she had no memory of him also. She only knew him from family stories, old photographs and from his record collections.
So I am stoically satisfied. I am much closer to the end of my career than the beginning of it. This distance learning is somewhat bizarre to me. It is partially effective but in education, it is the Matthew effect. The rich get richer (reading Defoe, Dickens) and the poor get poorer (doing little or nothing). One cannot expect a reluctant student to become an ardent autodidact and this is partially what a home schooling student has become. All one can do is light a candle and pray for them. I have been a teacher a long time I know you cannot command anyone to learn. All you can do is encourage them and invite them to learn.
I hope to live long enough to get to know my grandchildren so perhaps they will love me more and have some memories of me. It is not likely I will live long enough to see them graduate from college or have a career or get married. It is highly unlikely I will personally know my great-grant children but I bless them all the same and say TAPA LEIBH (good luck to them!)
One of the things I plan to do in these days is to write a philosophical and biographical letter to each of our grandchildren to be opened when they graduate from high school, college or get married. I will write it in the languages I know so they will know that part of my life. I might even record part of it.I also will prepare music and readings for my funeral Mass. I hope when that date comes it will be a celebration of life and a bonnie gathering of the clans.
After all I survived the 20th century.
I know I won’t survive the 21st century.
But as Auld Pop used to say: ” Ye canna live foriver”
He loved Kipling and would quote fragments by heart
“When first under fire an’ you’re wishful to duck,
Don’t look nor take ‘eed at the man that is struck,
Be thankful you’re livin’, and trust to your luck
And march to you front like a soldier!”
So we, here, now, have to soldier on as well.
“When the cholera comes – as it will past a doubt –
Keep out of the wet and don’t go on the shout,
For the sickness gets in as the liquor dies out,
An’ it crumples the young British soldier.
Crum-, crum-, crumples the soldier . .”
This time of plague will end.
And most of us will be here at the end.
So be thankful we are living and trust to our luck.
This lament is for Donald Bàn MacCrimmon who was killed at the Rout of Moy in 1746. It was his death and the death of his cause but symbolically the death or near extinction of Gaeldom as well.
|Tuireadh Mhic Criomain||MacCrimmon’s Lament|
|Dh’ aidh cèo nan stùc mu aodann chuilinn||The mist of the stacks is about the face of the Cuillinn|
|‘Us sheinn a’ bheinn-shith a torman mulaid||And the fairy woman has sung her sad song|
|Gorm shuilean ciuin san Dun a’ sileadh||Gentle blues eyes in the fort are crying|
|O’n thriall thu bhuainn ‘s nach till thu tuille||Since you left, and will never return|
|Sèist:||Chorus (after each verse):|
|Cha till, cha till, cha till Maccrimmain||He will never return MacCrioman|
|An cogadh no sìth cha till Maccrimmain||In war-time or peace he will never return|
|Le airgiod no ni cha till Maccrimmain||With neither money nor possessions he will return|
|Cha till e gu bràth gu la na cruinne||He will never return ’til judgement day|
|Tha osag nam beann gu fann ag imeachd||The sigh of the hills is weakly departing|
|Gach sruthan ‘s gach allt gu mall le bruthach||Each stream and brook go slowly down the hillside|
|Tha ealtainn nan speur feadh geugan dubhach||The birds of the sky are sad in the branches|
|A caoidh gu’n d’fhalbh ‘s nach till thu tuille||Lamenting that you left and will never more return|
|Cha chluinnear do cheòl san Dun mu fheasgar||Your music will not be heard in Dunvegan in the evening|
|‘Smac-talla nam mùr le muirn ga fhreagairt||And the echo of the ramparts mourning in answer|
|Gach fleasgach us òigh, gun cheol gun bheadrach||Each handsome man and maiden without music or merriment|
|O’n thriall thu bhuainn, ‘snach till thu tuille||Since you left us and never will return|