Jimmy and I had finally got all the potatoes dug up and he was piling them carefully, creating a mound about six foot long. It was about three foot wide at the base and tapered to just a few inches at the top. When he had got it made to his satisfaction, we covered it all over with straw. The straw had to be thick enough so that no potatoes could be seen through it. We then covered the whole thing with soil. One of us on either side shoveling the soil on. It was good earth, created over the forty years or more that Jimmy had been working the vegetable plot. A good thick layer of this fine tilth was needed and I recall that it was quite strenuous work. When the job was completed though I did get a sense of satisfaction at a job well done. Jimmy told me that this pile of potatoes, straw and soil was called a 'clamp' and it would keep the frost off the potato harvest until we had the time to get them all bagged up.
Mum called us then for tea, and we collected the garden tools up and began walking towards the house. The vegetable garden was on an embankment about three feet high at the side of the driveway. It was while we were walking along this embankment that Jimmy lost his footing and fell down the embankment onto the drive. As I say it wasn't a very high bank and Jimmy had landed on his hands and knees. He was soon on his feet again and apart from a bit of pain in one leg, and being a bit shaken up he appeared to be all right.
Next morning he was in some considerable pain. It was bad enough that Mum went to the nearby farm and asked Mrs Gilbert if she could use their phone to call the Doctor.
When the Doctor arrived he diagnosed Jimmy with, I think sciatica, I could be wrong. But it was a painful leg Jimmy had. He was a tough man was Jimmy, and if he stayed in his bed you can believe he was in severe pain. He was sixty four years old, so a fall like that might be expected to have some consequence.
A few days later and Jimmy wasn't getting any better. In fact he was in worse pain. The Doctor came again. I don't know the ins and outs of what happened, but an ambulance was called and they took Jimmy away to hospital.
It wasn't sciatica. It was cancer. Kidney cancer. It had been there for years just waiting for something to give it an excuse to finish the job off. A simple little fall. That's all it took. How many times had Jimmy walked along that embankment? Thousands of times, and all it took was one little fall.
Mum went on the bus every day to visit him. I asked if I could visit too but Mum said no. Why she didn't want me to visit I don't know. I still don't know why to this day.
It was six weeks before Jimmy came back home. The undertakers brought him back in a hearse. They put him on a trestle table in an open coffin in his and Mums bedroom. Mum had put white sheets over everything, even the windows. It was what they did in those days in that part of Scotland. Maybe they did it everywhere else too. I don't know. It was all new to me this death thing.
Lots of people came to see Jimmy in his coffin. People I hadn't seen before. Why they wanted to see him lying there dead I don't know. What I do know is that none of these people came to see him when he was alive. Not that I ever noticed anyway. They drank tea and ate sandwiches and cakes and sausage rolls, and said what a fine man he was. Maybe some of them meant it.
Mum asked me if I wanted to see Jimmy. No that's not right, she didn't ask, she told me to go and see Jimmy. I wasn't too keen to see a dead man and tried to say so, but Mum said it would be fine. He looks like he is sleeping.
That's not Jimmy. I don't recognise that man. Jimmy was a big, burly man. That bloke in the coffin is almost a skeleton. Mum said I should kiss him goodbye. Look Mum I don't want to kiss a dead man, especially this dead man. You say it's Jimmy, but it doesn't look anything like the man I saw just six weeks ago when we were digging the potatoes. You say he looks like he is sleeping. No he doesn't Mum, he looks like he is dead.
I did kiss him. I kissed his forehead. It was cold and hard. Like kissing marble. I'm glad I did kiss him goodbye though. I think it helped me.
Maybe if I had been allowed to visit him in hospital before he died, I might have been able to tell him, that despite all the arguments and setbacks he and I had had during the short time I lived with him and Mum, I was beginning to like him. We had begun to get on well. He was trying to be like a proper Dad. I sensed that.
Perhaps I wouldn't have said any such thing. I was a teenage boy, and a delinquent. Could I have found the words? Could I have said them even if I did find them? Possibly not. Probably not.
Here they are now Jimmy. I love you. I love the memory of you. Thanks for being a Dad, or at least trying to. Thanks for letting me dig the potatoes Jimmy. I did get them all bagged up eventually. They were good those potatoes.