H Is For ‘Harry’

30 Apr

Harry was my Dad.  His name wasn’t Harry; it was George.  His middle name was Harry; everyone called him Harry.  I never knew why, if his name was George, everyone called him Harry.  His father’s name was Harry, but no one called his father George.

The Bailey Brothers in It’s A Wonderful Life were George and Harry Bailey.  My Dad wasn’t like either of them: no Buildings & Loan to dip into (too working class); no war hero (too young; and he was excused National Service because of a perforated ear drum).  He was more like Uncle Billy Bailey – sweet and well-meaning, but a bit dopey. 

Actually, he wasn’t even sweet: he was too acerbic for that.  When he felt guests had stayed too long, he told them so.  Always in a joke, so he’d laugh them out the door, with my mother saying in an hysterical aside to us kids, ‘They think he’s joking but he means it’, frantic that no one should be offended.  As far as I know, they never were.

My Dad liked to laugh and eat chocolates.  He used to steal from the sweet drawer Mum kept for the grandchildren and more than once she would say, ‘Let’s see what Grandma’s got for you here’ and find herself with an empty drawer and a skriking toddler.  In the end, she had to give him his own drawer.

My Dad loved the Wild West: movies, books, history, country and western music.  Because of my Dad’s love of C&W, I was probably the first child in the UK to know what a lady mule skinner is.

He had a double album of The Grand Ole Opry with a piece of the original curtain attached.  I expected to inherit it and I was furious when he came back to the UK and left his C&W albums in South Africa. 

It’s because of my Dad and his love for all things western that I know, if I am ever caught in a desert in a thunderstorm, to lie down flat on the ground.  Otherwise I will be the tallest point and the lightning will be gunning for me.  I read that in a Louis L’Amour novel, loaned to me by my Dad.

When we emigrated to South Africa in 1982, we had no money (one of the reasons for emigrating in the first place).  Dad was working for Sasol, a huge corporation that turned coal into petrol.  To help our miniscule grocery budget, my father the usually honest would come off shift with a toilet roll taken from the men’s loos.  One day, he heard from a colleague that the company was cracking down on staff pilfering – stationery, equipment, and so on – and he went home in a panic and he and Mum spent an entire night ripping up a hundred half-used toilet rolls and flushing them down the toilet.  What really made me laugh was that it was unmarked paper; and I doubt the company could have come in to the house asking to see it, anyway.  The price of a guilty conscience, I guess: a huge water bill.

He used to keep us kids up on school nights, playing cards.  Avoiding Mum, usually.  They were unhappily married for over thirty years.  One Christmas Eve, before letting them in the house I had to warn them to behave i.e. not have an almighty ding-dong and ruin Christmas for everyone as usual.  For the first twenty years of my life with the Hub, the minute we had a row I was leaving him, because I’m not ending up like my Mum and Dad!

I have told this story before but it’s worth repeating:  I remember one particular row that went on for months.  Every Sunday we had a traditional roast dinner and my Dad  – who loved his food and particularly his roast dinners, so he might have just been spoiling for a fight – complained that he was sick of roasts every Sunday and why couldn’t we have something else?  Mum never said a word but took his plate away and scraped it into the bin, and cooked him bacon and egg there and then.  Next Sunday we had a roast dinner, as usual…except for Dad, who was served bacon and egg without a word from Mum.  And the next; and the next; and the next Sunday after that…for six solid months, until Dad finally caved first and asked in his best little boy voice if he could please have a roast like the rest of us this Sunday?  Without a word from Mum, he got one.

Dad never complained about his meals again.

My Dad was narky and didn’t suffer fools gladly; intelligent and daft by turns; childish often; adored his three children, always.  He wasn’t perfect but it doesn’t matter: I loved him; he was my Dad.

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49 Responses to “H Is For ‘Harry’”

  1. speccy April 30, 2012 at 09:46 #

    This is not a compliment.
    That was lovely, thanks Tilly :)

  2. The Wanderlust Gene April 30, 2012 at 09:53 #

    A real person crashed his way off the page. Thanks for introducing us.

  3. vivinfrance April 30, 2012 at 09:55 #

    So that’s where you got your chocolate habit from! re: lie down flat on the ground. Otherwise I will be the tallest point and the lightning will be gunning for me – how do you prevent your bum from being the highest point around (or a round, if you prefer? Sorry, that was an anti-compliment. Go sit on the naughty step, ViV

    • Tilly Bud April 30, 2012 at 11:09 #

      Just how big do you think my bum is??

      • vivinfrance April 30, 2012 at 12:02 #

        Average, but it’s definitely not flat!

        • Tilly Bud May 1, 2012 at 08:46 #

          You appear to have studied it a little too closely for my comfort…

  4. jmgoyder April 30, 2012 at 10:20 #

    I loved reading this mix of bittersweet – he looks like such a character!

  5. roughseasinthemed April 30, 2012 at 10:33 #

    Ah yes, I could have been your mother, so to speak. When my father complained about my artistic culinary delight of a quiche, I did the very same thing. You don’t want it, fine. In the bin.

    Are you going to write the matching pair to this one about your mother?

    • Tilly Bud April 30, 2012 at 11:11 #

      I should, really :)

      Your poor Dad :)

  6. viveka April 30, 2012 at 10:49 #

    Thanks for bringing dad … with you to us. Wonderful written post.

  7. Harry Nicholson April 30, 2012 at 11:13 #

    That was a breathless read and it pulled all the way to the end.
    I enjoyed the dinner story hugely.

  8. SidevieW April 30, 2012 at 11:59 #

    Lovely tribute to a very real man.

    (ps should I report him to Sasol?)

  9. bluebee April 30, 2012 at 13:05 #

    An enjoyable reminiscence to read, Tilly. Your mum was a man of steel!

    • Tilly Bud May 1, 2012 at 08:48 #

      That she was, to put up with him. Of course, he had to put up with her :)

  10. Pseu April 30, 2012 at 13:21 #

    Harry suits him, I reckon.

    (my G’father had three first names and he was known in different circles by different diminutives of those names. Quite confusing for a little grand daughter.)

  11. klrs09 April 30, 2012 at 14:37 #

    Good morning! Just want you to know I’ve nominated you for a Kreativ Blogger award. The details are on my blog — you are under no obligation to accept or follow through with the details — I just want you to know what a fantastic blogger you are and how much I enjoy reading and sharing your words!

    • Tilly Bud May 1, 2012 at 08:51 #

      Thank you! That’s really kind of you :)

  12. laurieanichols April 30, 2012 at 15:16 #

    That was simply beautiful, an ode to Harry. Having lost my father too soon, I really appreciate your post.

    • Tilly Bud May 1, 2012 at 08:53 #

      I’m sorry about your Dad. Mine was 62 when he died, eleven years ago. It’s always too soon.

      • laurieanichols May 1, 2012 at 13:08 #

        Yes, mine was 63, so young. I always feel sad for the kids because it’s always comforting to have grandparents.

  13. benzeknees April 30, 2012 at 18:03 #

    What a nice tribute to your Dad! I’m sure he would appreciate knowing you loved him despite his faults!

  14. Al April 30, 2012 at 18:14 #

    A sweet testimonial from a devoted daughter. We dads do our best, warts and all. I lost my father when I was 19. I still lament that he never met my wife or kids or they him.

    I loved this story, Tilly Bud.

    • Tilly Bud May 1, 2012 at 09:01 #

      That is too young to lose a parent. I’m so sorry, Al.

  15. Tinman April 30, 2012 at 19:39 #

    Oh, Tilly, this was lovely, you’ve made him come alive for all of us.

    You are probably still the only person in the UK who knows what a lady mule skinner is.

  16. judithatwood April 30, 2012 at 22:42 #

    This post is very timely for me; Dad and I are at loggerheads, so it’s nice to hear about better relationships!

    • Tilly Bud May 1, 2012 at 09:02 #

      My Mum and I were there a few times :(

  17. Aspergers Girls April 30, 2012 at 23:53 #

    This was a heart-warming story. It really kept my interest. You write well. I loved the roast beast part. I could picture your dad. You managed to weave humor and a sweet love…very nice. :)

  18. belleofthecarnival May 1, 2012 at 01:18 #

    A beautiful tribute to your Dad! I bet he was always entertaining :)

    • Tilly Bud May 1, 2012 at 09:03 #

      Hello Belle! Not seen you here in a while.

      He was :)

  19. Perfecting Motherhood May 1, 2012 at 05:22 #

    Haha, that roast dinner story is priceless. Be careful what you asked for? You sure had interesting parents and I’m sure life was never boring at your house!

    • Tilly Bud May 1, 2012 at 09:04 #

      There is that, I suppose. But then, war is always interesting, if a little uncomfortable :)

  20. David McGowan May 1, 2012 at 21:16 #

    Great post, Tilly!
    Both mom and dad are gone now and I miss ‘em.
    I particularly like the mention of C&W and Louis L’Amour since that’s what I play (less & less these days) and write. (Thankfully more and more)

    • Tilly Bud May 4, 2012 at 11:59 #

      I’m coming over to check you out!

  21. colonialist May 1, 2012 at 22:57 #

    Of course, the story of the roasts steals the limelight!

  22. Viciously Sweet May 1, 2012 at 23:29 #

    This was a really well written. I think your Dad was quite a character!

  23. terry1954 May 2, 2012 at 15:25 #

    so beautiful

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