It was a bright blustery spring day in Washland and everyone was in party mood. Any Peg who was a peg was out. The jeans were practising their jiving, skirts and blouses were chattering excitedly and even the velvet curtains, normally very aloof and hung up were out for an airing. Dolly Dishmop was so excited she kept jumping off the line and had to be tied on by her pigtails with Angela's old red ribbons so she spent the whole afternoon pretending to be a trapeze artiste.
Johnny's socks hung there as well, neat pairs, clean and fresh, two to a pin beside his Dad's special woolly ones. Great big thick navy blue socks that went up to his knees and that he only wore when he was going fishing.
They had been fishing on the lake that weekend and Johnny's dad had caught a pike. It wasn't a record but a big one all the same and they carefully removed the hook and weighed it. His dad then took a photo with Johnny sitting beside it on the bank then quickly returned it to the water and watched it swim away. Then they packed up, called in to Gran's on the way home to collect mum and Angela, then had a bath and an early night ready for school on Monday.
Angela loved her Gran. She was sort of round and dumpy with lots of cuddles and she made things. Things like butterfly cakes, knitted toys and jumpers, folded paper hats and finger puppets although she was a terrible cheat and a very bad looser whenever Angela beat her at snap. They were just a very ordinary family. That is, until the day at the beach.
The outing had been carefully planned. Gran sat in the back of the car between Angela and Johnny handing out boiled sweets. A large cardboard box was stored in the boot full of juice and sandwiches and biscuits and crisps. There were buckets and spades, a ball, towels, sandshoes, sun cream; everything that you could want. Mum had told dad that he wasn't allowed to take his smelly fishing tackle and rods. But Johnny knew a secret. Hidden under the car bonnet beside the battery was dad's hand line and a small tin of sardines.
The weather was perfect.
It was one of those late September days with hardly a breath of wind. When they arrived Mum got everything organised for them to carry, Dad said something to Mum about checking the battery and winked at Johnny and Angela and Gran skipped across the sand like a pair of six year olds. Towels were spread out, the big box was placed in the shade under an umbrella, Mum gave them all an extra layer of sun cream just in case then got down to the serious work of relaxing in the sun. Gran put on sandals, hitched up her dress then followed Angela to the sea for a paddle. They came back breathless and Angela announced that there were hundreds and thousand and millions of baby fishes swimming in the water. Johnny looked at Dad, Dad looked at Johnny then they were off to investigate.
The tide was coming in over the hot sand and at the water's edge where it was quite warm was a shoal of elvers. Further out, gulls were diving and bobbing in the water. Mackrel! They set off toward the rocky point where an inky black cormorant was standing patiently with its wings held out to shade the water, occasionally making a sharp stab into the sea. Before you could say fishhook they were up the rocks for a safe vantage point with the hand line baited. Dad showed Johnny how to uncoil the line so it didn't tangle, let him lob it into the water then sat back and waited. And waited, and waited. They didn't catch anything; just a small crab and lots of coarse seaweed but that didn't matter. When the bait was finished Johnny said he was hungry so they set off back down the rocks and headed for Mum. On the rocks Dad slipped and Johnny had to wait while he got his breath back. Going across the sand Johnny teased him about being a slowcoach and said he would eat all the sandwiches. Mum asked them where they had been and what had they been up to (as if she didn't know). After the pick-nick Mum, Angela, Gran and Johnny went for a walk to find rock pools and Gran got squirted by an anemone. Dad said he was a bit tired and stayed to look after the things.
Johnny and Angela slept soundly that night and hadn't heard any noise or seen the lights on the ambulance and were surprised to see Gran when they got up for breakfast. She patiently explained that Dad hadn't felt well and Mum had gone with him to the hospital - just in case - but that they would soon be back home and it was getting late for school So off they all went.
Meanwhile at the Intensive Care Unit Dad had been stabilised but it had been close. Mum had spent the night waiting for news and was eventually allowed to sit beside him. The doctor had told her what had happened and she was in shock and disbelief.
How could that happen? He was only 30 only old men have that. The things everyone thinks of. He didn't smoke, was fit, lived for the outdoors and his fishing, he rarely drank; but a nurse explained there was no real reason, heart attacks just come out of the blue sometimes. There was nothing to be blamed.
His recovery was long and difficult and mum had to work extra hours at the supermarket to try and make ends meet. With the visiting as well she was becoming worn out. There just seemed to be so little time. Gran helped as much as she could but was getting on herself and had arthritis. Some mornings Mum looked puffy eyed and one day Johnny caught her crying and he put his arm about her and gave her a big cuddle.
Back in Washland things weren't quite right either. The grass on the lawn had grown longer than usual and a pair of jeans hung limply on the line from the day before because it had rained and no one was there to take them in. Poor Dolly Dishmop didn't get to swing on rope anymore either. She was kept clean enough but now she spent her time outside stuck in a milkbottle with her hair all coarse and straggly. Sometimes Angela would sit on the back doorstep and tell her not to worry about daddy, that he'd gone to the hopipal, and that he'd soon get better.
Even in the best houses things sometimes don't go to plan and one morning everyone had overslept. In the rush Johnny hadn't noticed that his socks were mixed up. At school some of the children had picked on him and started to call him names. Normally Johnny could handle himself but it had gone on right through morning break and started again at lunch. Johnny Oddsocks, smelly feet, Johnny Oddsocks, Johnny Oddsocks on and on it went. Finally at line up another boy started pulling his ear, whispering that his Dad was going to die and punching him in the back. Johnny could take no more, turned round, screamed at him to stop it and hit him on the nose, which made it bleed. He was in deep trouble.
He sat for what seemed like years in the secretary's office until eventually he was called in to see the Headteacher. His Mum was there. He told her about the way Johnny's work was falling behind and about the fight. His mum explained about Dad, how Gran wasn't getting any younger and that she was doing her best but it was hard with the extra hours and Christmas coming. Johnny just cried and cried and finally he was allowed to go home with his Mum for the rest of the day. At night Johnny and Angela were let into the hospital to see Dad for a few minutes and on the way home Mum took them to McDonalds for their supper.
When Johnny returned to school nothing more was said, the ringleader had learnt his lesson and Johnny settled down to his work and soon caught up. By end of term he was back in the top group. Johnny liked being back beside his pals and everyone was starting to get very excited about Christmas. There was talk about bikes and playstations, games and food and sweets. Johnny knew there wouldn't be much that year and had only mentioned to his mum a fishing book he had seen.
Christmas comes soon enough as it always does and Mum, Angela and Johnny had put up the decorations and the tree. All the cards from school were on red strings pinned to the wall and there was one special card each for Angela and Johnny from Dad on the sideboard with a big soppy one for Mum in the middle that Dad had asked one of the nurses to get. Things would be different but they were all determined to make the most of it.
Meanwhile Dad had been busy too. He had got up and about as soon as the doctors let him after the operation and worked hard to get himself as fit as possible. He was also a bit of a favourite with the nurses who were pleased to have a handsome young guy on the ward even if he was spoken for. He could also chat to the older men about fishing and his old motorbike that he had when he first got married. He mucked in and made fly cups of tea and was a regular round the ward pushing a little trolley with one hand and the drip stand in tow with the other. The only real problem was, would he get out for Christmas?
That was difficult, a drain kept blocking and every time he asked about getting out the doctors would shake their heads and say that he would have to wait and that it would be the Consultant's decision. It was only a week before Christmas and he was beginning to get a bit depressed as he watched some of the others being packed off home and the ward emptying. Two days to go and it began to look as if it would be New Year at the earliest. Then Mum had a word with Sister and asked if she could help. It was all very non-committal.
Finally in the afternoon the Consultant came back to give him another examination and he was told he could go. The hospital was on standby over the holidays, one of the duty staff had caught flu' and every possible bed was needed. Dad was so excited he nearly had another attack!
That evening the children were taken round to Gran's and Mum went back to collect Dad. By the time they drove the 15 miles from the hospital dad was stiff and sore but he was HOME! On Christmas Eve, Mum worked the morning at the supermarket while Gran and the children got a taxi and came back to see Dad. Gran peeled potatoes and got as much ready for the big dinner then Angela and Gran make mince pies while Johnny made some jelly. Mum came home, Johnny carried in the last of the shopping and helped Mum get the tea ready. Finally Mum and Gran sat down to watch Coronation Street and Dad was allowed to supervise while Angela and Johnny did the washing up. This was to be the best Christmas ever.
At bedtime, Angela and Johnny were warned not to be up too early because Dad needed to rest so at six o'clock Angela woke and went into Johnny's room, shook him awake and asked if Santa had been. No amount of shush and shut up go back to beds would keep her quiet so he held her hand as they crept downstairs in the dark to the living room. Angela opened the door and just stood rock still. Johnny peeked round the door and by the lights from the tree could just make out all the presents under the tree. He put on the light and there on the sofa beside a huge teddy was Dad wearing a woolly jumper, jeans, his old fishing socks and a Santa hat to keep warm. Across his lap lay a long thin brightly wrapped parcel and a small square box with a big label on.
We will leave our little family now to the intimacy of their own Christmas, celebrated in their own special way. Before we do though we will let Mum, the real heroin in this drama, have the final words as she comes to the door behind Johnny.
Merry Christmas everybody! Who would like a cup of tea?
Frog © 2001