Sunday 2nd November was one of those glorious autumn days that make you glad the summer is past, a perfect day for dog- walking through crisp leaves. But as soon as I took the phone call, I knew it was a day that would stay in my memory for other reasons. After a 20 year decline in health following a stroke, Dad’s last hours were mercifully swift. In the days that followed, my Mum, sister and I consoled ourselves as best we could. Endless tea drinking and walking featured heavily, and poring over old photos. Some in albums of every variety, some carefully sorted into envelopes with date and place – Iraq (1952), Wedding anniversary (1977) – others stuffed into boxes. My Dad’s 96 years in pictures.
In 1900, the Eastman Kodak Company had introduced a camera called the Brownie. Simple enough for even children to use, it was designed, priced, and marketed for mass appeal – the concept of the snapshot was born. By the time Dad came along in 1918, although there is one studio baby portrait, most of the pictures were taken by family members and friends. Blurry black and white shots of a Sheffield childhood – a back garden, a picnic at Rivelin, a church trip to the Isle of Man, the beach at Bridlington. Slightly sharper but still black and white of a youth exploring the Lake District with friends, and then moving on to the man proud to wear his RAF uniform and serve his country at home and abroad. (And who proposed to my Mum a month after meeting her! )
The late 1950’s brought colour, and people and events I started to recognise. Although the stroke had changed and diminished his voice, I could hear him clearly again as I looked at these moments in time. I could remember his daft grin and cheesy phrases – “Come to sunny Worksop” being a dig at the fact that I had crossed over to the dark side (for a Yorkshire man that means the other side of the Pennines!).
We passed photos between us with lots of “oh, do you remember when…..” , and ” is that ……?” Knowing that he had once done the same created a tangible link back to him. Would I have felt the same looking at photos on a computer screen? I don’t think so (although maybe this means I’m getting older!). So take photos of your loved ones, take lots of them; those moments might not come again. Then print the ones you cherish the most and keep them safe, for you and one day for those who follow you.
God bless and rest in peace my lovely Dad.
Jack Shillito 21/10/1918 – 2/11/2014