It’s my Dad’s birthday today (well technically today, although it won’t really be his birthday until I’ve gone to bed and had a nights sleep!). I was chatting to some visitors to the island today as I was doing the teashop who wanted to unload all their Scottish notes as ‘it’s really hard to get rid of them once we get home’. I laughed and said I didn’t want them either. We compared notes on who had come from the furthest south and realised they were from just about 15 miles along the south coast from us. They are heading back down there though, while I fully intend staying here. We discussed the differences between ‘home’ and here briefly, agreeing it was another world and much further than just the 600 miles and a ferry trip that is the geographical distance. Rum can be such a bubble, particularly living as we do without landline telephone and with patchy mobile signal. I am poor at being in a place with signal, and a fully charged phone, at the right time for family to sit and chat and me not to be either cooking or eating my dinner. This means that actual contact and the day to day being in each others lives has slipped away over the last 4 years since we left Sussex.
It means sometimes we don’t even manage to mark birthdays, it means that we are far from the days when my children knew their grandparents, both uncles, aunt and cousins and were in such regular contact it would have been unusual for a week to go by and the minute details such as wobbly teeth, new skills, what we had for dinner would all have been shared. Instead I am a distant stranger of an aunt to my younger niece and particularly my nephew, someone who they know mostly from amazon parcels arriving (more or less on time) for their birthdays and maybe stories told of me to them by my brother or sisters in law or older siblings (although my youngest niece has been here several times). In some ways it is easier to deal with the fact we are so distant by not having that constant contact – life is so very different for us here, caught up in the day to day dealings of Rum, of our croft, of local life. The conversations between folk here are so very specific to life here that they would be humdrum and boring to anyone else. Similarly we are so out of touch with the mainland life we left behind that the lives of our family all the way back down in Sussex are hard to frame over the phone and re-immerse ourselves back in.
Instead, while it likely does not help at all in terms of maintaining communication I carry them all with me around in my heart and head. Every single day I think of the family I do not see – those who have been here and walked on this island I imagine walking alongside me, commenting on the river and how high or low it is running today. I hear my Mum comment on the full moon, my Dad ask about how long until the broody duck hatches her eggs. I hear my sister in law advise on some aspect of gardening or laugh about something one of the children has done. I picture the three cousins who have been here many times running alongside Davies and Scarlett as they hurtle down the croft hill. I look at my children growing faster every day or so it seems and rather than rue and regret not being around to celebrate my little nephew growing from baby to toddler to little boy instead I imagine him clapping his hands with joy at our piglets, splashing in the muddy puddles while my brother and I share a look, remembering when we were that age and wondering quite how it happened that we got to become grown ups and parents.
I am not with my Dad today in person, raising a glass to toast him Happy Birthday, bringing out a cake laden with glowing candles while a group of his children, in laws and grandchildren gather to sing and laugh and take photos. I am not there. But he is here with me, as he is every single day. Happy Birthday Dad.