Hello, I’m back,
I haven’t written a newsletter for a while, in fact, until the last week I hadn’t written at all for a few months. On the 18th January 2022, the most important man in our family passed away. David John Hawkes, our dad, and I think most importantly to him in his later years, Gramps, and great Gramps.
I’m going to tell you a little about him, and share some of my favourite photographs. I’ll do another news letter over the weekend, and I promise that that will be back on subject, but for now, let me tell you about my lovely dad.
Dad loved his family, children, dogs, telling stories and bad dad jokes, music, dancing (in his younger days), a bit of karaoke, and Spain. And he was much loved in return. He had old fashioned values, good manners, and a positive outlook for the best part. Although, I should mention he did predict that Russia was going to do something terrible. An avid newspaper reader, and follower of news, he spoke at length about his concern only the week before he went into hospital. He read reports about Russian military planes being escorted out of British air space, of submarines supposedly off course off the coast of Scotland, and wagging a finger at me said, “When Russia are in the news this much something bad is going to happen. You see if it doesn’t.” He was right.
Although during that last month we knew he didn’t have long to live. With covid restrictions he was only allowed one visitor in hospital, me, and knowing he didn’t have long, he wanted to come home. When he did, we were told he might have up to three months, as it turned out we only had this wonderful man who was the centre of all things family for three more days. To say we were devastated is an understatement, but logic tells us that for him it was a much better outcome and he was ready to go. I don’t dwell on those last few days, instead I think about the laughter, the hugs, and the comfort that just knowing you had him brought. But now we don’t. Now we rely on the wonderful memories we have, and I have to say it is almost impossible to have any sort of conversation about him without a smile, or more likely a laugh. Dad told a good story, and he had many, some we’d heard many times, but you never minded, because for the best part, they were either amusing, interesting, or shocking. Sometimes all three.
Born in 1938, dad’s family were not well off. Before the war his parents and the five children lived in three rooms in a Victorian house near the centre of town. When the bombing of Bristol began, they would have to run to the bomb shelter. With the iconic Bristol Suspension Bridge in sight, my grandfather would load his bicycle with the younger kids and get them to the shelter as quickly as possible. My dad, used to the search lights filling the night sky, would be balanced on the handlebars. One night he decided to help, shining their torch at the shadows of the planes overhead. As you can imagine this cost him a severe slap around the ear and he didn’t do it again. For the latter part of the war he was evacuated to Weymouth. He loved it there, and tucked under a floorboard in the loft of the house is a note with the names of the group of evacuees and the date, with the message they were evacuees from Bristol. He often wondered if anyone had found it.
After the war the family moved into one of the newly built council houses, which seemed like a luxury, but money was still tight. Dad can remember his shoes being pawned until payday when they were retrieved in time for church on a Sunday, before the process started all over again. The tales of the wooden clogs when one of us needed a new pair of shoes was aired on many occasions. While her children were still young, my lovely grandmother spent a year in hospital with TB, and they had to go to a children’s home. Although my grandad visited every week if he could, my dad and his siblings agree it was the worst of times. Their guardians, in his words, were ‘cruel swines, who had not an ounce of care or compassion for their wards’.
I could tell you lots of stories about his childhood, but the one that sticks out for me, is the one where he became infamous for punching a nun in the stomach and calling her ‘Bloody cruel’ for humiliating his brother in front of the whole school. His experiences of the church in his childhood taught him little about the comfort some people find in religion, but on the contrary, taught him it was to be feared and never trusted. He made it very clear that his funeral was not to be a religious ceremony.
As a consequence, during the service, which was a real celebration of his life, and so many people attended they had to stand at the back of the chapel, the songs we played for him were: Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers, Wind Beneath My Wings by Bette Midler, The Green, Green Grass of Home, and Delilah by Tom Jones. The latter two he could belt out flawlessly.
Dad hated school and was delighted to leave. He had many jobs in the early days, most of them involved driving. He was a bit of a jack-the-lad I think, although those stories weren’t told to me. He loved music, and was a Teddy Boy, much to my grandmother’s horror. We kids loved nothing more than to see him jive with my mum. He used to spin her so fast I often wondered how she kept her balance. Before he met my mum, he was called up for National Service, and became a corporal in the military police. There were so many tales from those days, but one of the best was when escorting a lad who had gone AWOL back to barracks, dad managed to lose him in Woolworths.
Mum was the love of his life, having a family completed him. He was a man’s man, going to the pub at weekends, his word being the last word, whatever the disagreement, and so on. But other than on one occasion when I kicked my brother (he must have deserved it), I can not remember any real fall outs with dad. I hated the strict curfew he set me, I hated having to phone a taxi to get me home before I left the house if I was going out for the evening, after all I was working and considered myself very grown up. I hated the way he’d ask boyfriends where they kept their guide dogs, but I hated it all with a secret smile, because that was my dad being my dad, and I loved him.
Dad’s biggest regret in life was that my mum never got to meet her great grandchildren. But he showered them with enough love for both of them. Dad loved kids and they loved him.
He kept his sense of humour until the end. On the day he was coming home from hospital, he told me he didn’t think he had long as he’d been hallucinating. Before I got there, my Godfather had been sitting in the chair I was using for over an hour. ‘He kept looking at me like I was going to speak to him.’ Dad told me. I asked if he did. ‘Don’t be stupid, the man’s been dead for twenty odd years, do you think I’m mad?’ he replied, and then winked at me.
His funeral was sad, but I hope a true celebration of his life. He’d have had competition on the stories being told about his life at the wake, and if he was looking down on us, he’d have been miffed he wasn’t there to join in.
So, David John Hawkes, my wonderful Dad, it’s a goodnight from you, and a goodnight from us. If I ever wake to find you sitting in a chair expecting me to speak, rest assured I will. How I’d welcome one more story.