My grandfather had such a wonderful garden. For as long as I can remember, a couple of times each year I'd make the journey down the coast with my family. Looking out the car window at night, knowing we were nearing our destination by the headlights reflected from pine trees lining the roads near my grandparents home. Clear in my mind, is the bleached nature of the foliage, the harsh contrast, before the light moved past and they disappeared from view.
Turning into the large yard, and driving between their house and the holiday cottage, my young eyes would take in the light reflected from the fruit trees scattered around the back lawn. Peaches and plums. Apricots, and nectarines.
I remember the day well. Driving down that mountain, knowing that I was on my way to say goodbye. Ashamed of the fear I felt, as I descended to say goodbye. The fear of not knowing what to do, what to say. I'd never been in this position before - living in a family of longevity, the thought of death barely ever entered my mind. These people, I've known from before the first moment consciousness was remembered, as static as night and day.
Guiding my car down the twisting curves of a mountain road, descending ever lower, and all that's running through my mind are the words of my mother.
"Be prepared for a shock. He's lost a lot of weight."
Underneath my grandparents home, was a small laundry. Concrete floor, and a twin-tub washing machine, drying racks and a smell I've never been able to place. I think it was nothing more than the scent of countless cycles, detergent and damp clothes, combined with old appliances - built to last forever - like the refrigerator rattling in the corner.
This room had shelves lining the walls, and I can not remember a time when it was not lined with glass bottles, filled with preserved fruits. Yellows, oranges and reds, surrounded by sugary clear liquid, slightly tinged by the fruit it contained. Metal lids, sealed tightly, keeping everything fresh.
The concrete was cold and damp, but the colour of these jars gave the room life.
I'm still not sure how I managed to walk into his room. All I can wonder is, whether I'll be able to recognise the man lying within. I'd never been around cancer, never seen up close the devastation it is capable of inflicting. I didn't know whether I'd be visiting my grandfather, or a stranger.
Walking into his room, I saw a man, covered by a blanket of hospital white, sitting on a seat near a large glass window. He was undoubtedly a little thinner, his skin a little slacker. But there was no denying the light in his eyes. Fear melts away, as I recognise the smile.
It's not a bad room...well, as nice as a room you are destined to die in can be. The sunlight shining through the large glass windows is warm, and strong. The expanse of river outside is wide, sparkling blue and gold. I don't have too much to say. What do you say to someone when you know it's the last time?
This day, I discover that my powers of conversation are a thing of habit. Different phrases, interchanged to different circumstances. None of them fit today. Nothing I can say seems significant, not a word coming to my mind. I'm painfully aware of how many of my conversations begin with the words "How are you doing?" So for the most part, I sit, and I listen. As my father talks, normal conversation, in an abnormal situation.
"I'm going to go down to the house, I'll mow the lawns"
"The mower hasn't been used in a while, you might need to put some oil in it"
"Oh, ok, do you have some?"
"Check in the garage..I think there's some in there."
"I thought I'd spray the nectarine tree too."
"Yes, it needs a spray. There's some spray under the house...it should be in the black container - there may be a couple, it'll be the one that's half full".
My grandfather used to mow for a lot of people in the area. Living on the coast, in a reasonably small town, just far enough away from the major centres to be a haven for the retired - not enough work to sustain those still needing to maintain an income.
He had a couple of lawnmowers. The regular push mower, years old, needing the spark plugs cleaned every now and then before it would turn over. Then there was the ride-on mower, the vinyl seat cracked and old. Perfect for trimming the large blocks common in this area.
I remember at times, when he'd be gone for a while of a morning when we were visiting, mowing the grass for the locals no longer capable of carrying out the task themselves. I was amazed at his stamina at times - like the time we went rock fishing down off the head, clambering onto the top of the perfect place to throw in a line. Worried that he'd not be able to make it to the top, until he swung himself up the broken rock face, following us all with ease.
And I sit. And I listen. And I think of the conversations I've had with my father, and how similar they are to the conversation I'm listening to now.
"Not bad weather we're having at the moment"
"Yeah, it's been pretty good lately. We could use some more rain though, it's been a bit dry."
"Yeah, it is a bit dry. A spot of rain would be good for the garden. The strawberries are looking pretty bad".
For the first time in my life, I see myself in my father, with perfect clarity. I hear these two men, listen to the pauses between their words, their phrases. The silence that makes so many people uncomfortable, the lack of words so many seem compelled to fill with banality, words for the sake of noise. I listen, feeling completely comfortable in the silence.
I once had a housemate, who made a comment one day. "You and your dad could talk for an hour about the grass". And I guess he was right. Now, I have the chance to sit quietly, and see where this comes from. I finally see, through my father, and his father, how much we share. So many times, I've felt that my relatives are related by blood alone. Finally - almost too late - I find that this soul of mine has been touched by their existence also.
Three silent auras combine, for the last time.
A while back, my father gave me a jar of preserved fruit. Peaches, bright orange in a clear sugary liquid. Grown on the fruit trees in my parents back yard, young trees growing older, producing more fruit every year.
A simple glass jar, lined with crescent shaped slices. The glass is clear, but the steel lid shows the evidence of rust, cleaned as well as can be. The rust of a time spent in a damp laundry, sitting cold under a house.
Different fruit. Different hands. But the tradition remains.
I sit in the warm winter sun, in a room of death white. My body is here...but my soul is safe.
In a world of lawnmowers and nectarines.
One of these days, I'll plant myself a fruit tree.