Last night, my grandfather — who we called “Papa” — passed away. He was 85.
Not surprisingly for a grandchild, I’d known him all my life. My earliest memories of him were of him carrying me around the living/dining room in their old house in Stocksfield, Northumberland, singing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” to me. I love how he used to remember such things — small details — about what I did and how I reacted to things: I had a favourite tablecloth; I used to sit in the leather seat and watch the trains go by at the bottom of the garden. I even remember the tiny football we used to play with in the garden.
Papa was a creative person. He was a reasonably accomplished artist and painted impressive miniatures in oil, acrylic and watercolour. He forged a career in textiles; he made dresses. He became a lecturer in this area. Although he was pretty conservative in his views, he was not afraid of venturing away from the crowd.
He was somewhat a leader to me. Of anyone, he encouraged me the most in my ambitions to be a doctor. I recall he sat down beside me once when I was doing some homework and I was practising joined-up handwriting. I owe my handwriting to him! He and Mama bought me a watercolour set so that I could try to paint like he did, and he sat down and taught me some watercolour techniques. I used to read to him. I played chess with him (badly). They bought me my first musical instrument — a recorder — and encouraged me to learn how to play it.
Among people that know him, he was famous for his stories: detailed recollections of experiences he’d had, almost certainly embellished to some extent, but always with a lesson to be learned. Examples included how he came to acquire his first name — Donald, how he became a lecturer, and how he had become the first man to acquire a qualification in textiles. No matter what I had encountered in life, he had a comparable story and the benefit of his experiences to impart. Much of my courage when trying things outside my comfort zone was the belief that “someone else has done this before, so I should be able to” and Papa was more than likely an example of this person.
When I started my PhD, he was my greatest inspiration. He had long quipped about being able to call me “doctor” when I qualified as a medical practitioner. Of course, that never came to pass. He was delighted when I told him I would be doing a PhD in Mathematics Education. It was our dream rekindled. I was desperate to finish my thesis on time so that I could hear him call me “Doctor Broughton”. Alas, that dream was never to be.
Although the raw emotion following his passing is painful and that I am consumed by regret right now, I know that in time that I will be ok because of him. Although he can no longer be my leader in life, he has given me everything that he could. I am prepared. I am strong. I am prepared to face up to my challenges and to continue to make him proud.
To Papa, Donald Broughton, thank you for everything. We will look after Mama.
1st April 1929 — 23rd November 2014
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.