I remember that Christmas a couple of years ago as if it were yesterday. The names of those involved in making the WW1 film, where at the end soldiers from both sides meet up to sing ‘Silent Night,’ was still scrolling on the screen when Amy, my son Jack’s fiancée at the time said.
‘It’s ‘Morecombe and Wise next. It’s a repeat, but still it’ll be a good laugh.’
That’s when my Mum asked where her Grandson was. I still remember the concerned look on Grandad’s face as her told her.
‘He left just a moment ago. Didn’t look to clever either. I reckon it could have been the film.’
Taking off her glasses she looked towards the lounge doorway.
‘I didn’t see him leave do you reckon he’s alright?’
That was enough to prompt Amy to get up and move towards the door announcing.
‘He’s ‘Post Traumatic thingy’ has been bothering him a bit today.. I’d better check.’
Even though it was twelve months since he’d had to retire from the Army, he was still trying to come to terms with his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. It had us watching him like a hawk which is why his Mum followed Amy out the room.
Reappearing a few minutes later, Amy announced. ‘We’ve checked every room in the bungalow and his coat’s gone.’
‘Maybe he’s popped out for a walk round the Orchards,’ suggested his Gran. Moments later, knowing the problem he was still trying to come to terms with. His Grandad and I, Overcoats and Hats on with orders to find him, were hurrying across the bitterly cold yard. Half way to the gate that leads out to, Pipp’s Apple and Plum Orchards, our family business Dad said.
‘We don’t really need torches.’
I guess that like me he was worried and felt he had to say something. Even though it was obvious our presence had triggered the automatic floodlight system, making the yard brighter than daytime. As we reached out to open the gate that led into the first field, the system timed out, leaving us in darkness.
Dad touched me on the shoulder and pointed towards the Packing shed as I reached for the torch in my pocket.
‘There’s a light in the shed Bill.’
We walked quickly to the door and entered. Although there was no sign of Jack, we did see the rope complete with noose hanging from a beam.
‘Jack,’ I called out, ‘you OK son?’
It was stupid question really, what with his recent behaviour. Immediately he appeared from one of the packing bays and stood there with an expression, somewhere between sheepishness and annoyance, on his face. Without saying a word his Grandad walked up to him and flung his arms around him. Immediately the lad began to cry. I looked over the boy's shoulder and his granddad and I saw that like me, he had tears rolling down his cheeks.
‘What we going to do?’ I mouthed.
Dad blinked and shook his head.
I knew I couldn’t take him back to his Mum in that state, so I suggested that we go and sit in the office for a bit. I switched on the electric fire and took out my almost full bottle of whisky from the filing cabinet. I whipped out three used mugs, and poured a generous helping into each.
‘Now this is what I call Christmas spirit,’ joked Dad a little later as we sat around the desk sipping our Whiskey. ‘Single Malt, your taste must have improved Bill, after the stuff you used to drink.’
Once again Dad was talking just for something to say, for when he ran the business up to a year ago; it had been his Whiskey we drank. Then Dad suddenly looks at his Grandson and say’s.
‘Do we have a serious problem Jack?’
I thought it was being a bit blunt, but then Dad always was a bit of a straight talker. ‘Haven’t the people at the MOD place been able to help you?’
Jack nodded without looking up.
‘A bit but I still get really bad days.'
‘And you reckon what you have out there, will answer your problem?’
‘I guess so,’ he mumbled.
‘OK, well I can see why it would be a solution, but before you go any further I’d like to tell you something about your family history, if you will listen. Will you listen? I mean really listen?’
Jack nodded and looked up.
‘Good. Bill a touch more of that whisky, if you please.’
Having no idea what he was about to say, I just added to the three mugs.
‘Nearly 100 years ago after the 14-18 punch up, your Great, Great, Grandad, came back from three years in the trenches. Like you, he too had memories, as well as having lost some toes from foot rot. When he got home he met and married your Great, Great Grandmother. I remember her she was one strong minded woman. She talked him into renting and then buying a few fields, with some run down Apple and Plum trees in them. Time went by they had three sons and those fields became the start of the Orchards we work today. Then World War II started and my Dad and his two Brothers were called up, my Dad was the only one to survive. Like you he came home trying to forget. It was you’re Great, Great Gran and Grandad got him through it. He married your Great Gran and they had me. Against their advice, I too joined the army. In fact I enjoy it so much I finished up with some special outfit helping the Yanks in Vietnam. Your Gran will tell you, how many times my nightmares have woken her.’
‘Then it was your Dads turn, unfortunately he came home from the Falklands not only with bad memories but also with half a leg missing. You don’t need me to tell you how well he has come to terms with that.’
‘I suppose what I’m trying to say is that some things take a while to come to terms with. But the choices we make to cope with them do not have to be made on our own. That’s what families are for, to help you make a choice or even to give us a shoulder to cry on.
Jacks Grandad, pointed towards the packing bays.
‘Out there, is one solution to your problem, unfortunately it doesn’t solve the problems of those that love you and are left behind. Do you see where I’m coming from son?’
Jack remained looking into his mug a moment before answering.
“I see what you mean.”
“You give your young Amy a chance, along with the rest of us. After a while, God willing, you’ll wonder what it was all about, especially when the kid’s come along.”
After that we sat for some time in silence finishing off the bottle. Then Jack gets up and walks out to the packing bay. Taking down the rope he undoes the noose, coils the rope, and hangs it on the usual hook as if he were tidying up after a day’s packing.
I’m not saying that the Christmas spirit and Dad’s blunt talking solved his problem, but it was enough to make him consider the options. Later, we left the empty whisky bottle and three mugs on the desk and returned to the bungalow. We went back into the house singing our own rendition of ‘Silent night’ we made the excuse we had been talking family business.
I knew that I'd have to tell Jack's Mum the truth; she was looking at me suspiciously.
‘Well you missed a bloody good laugh on TV.’
This year the family, now including Jack and Amy’s noisy three year old twins, will again be staying with us. So I expect it will be another traditional visit to the packing shed for some single malt Christmas spirit, followed by carols.
About the author
Derek Corbett retired from the Petrochemical Industry as an Engineer in 2004. Having had a story (Natural Recycle) included in an anthology published by Bridge House Publishing in 2015 and some success at Writing club level. He decided to see how his writing, that started as a hobby in 1984, would be received when attempting to get it published.