Writing the date on the board, I thought it had been someone’s birthday. My grandfather’s, yes, but there was someone else. Then I remembered.
It had been a late on a December Friday afternoon when the phone had rung. A nephew of a bachelor farmer told me his uncle had been told by the doctor in the town that his uncle had gangrene in a toe of his left foot and that his uncle should go to hospital. Instead, his uncle had taken a taxi back to his hillside home. The nephew did not know what to do. “Would you go and see him?”
“Aye,” I said, with a heavy heart. The uncle could take hours of time.
I drove out into the country, through fields and forest, and arrived at the uncle’s home. The uncle was eating ham sandwiches.
”Did the doctor tell you to go to the hospital?”
”Why didn’t you go?”
”I had to come home for my dinner.”
”So the hospital couldn’t give you dinner?”
”I had to come home.”
We argued until he eventually agreed to put on his jacket and cap and get into my car. He complained about everything as I drove to the hospital.
Given his frailty and the pain with which he walked, I put on the hazard lights and parked outside the entrance to the accident and emergency department. I apologised to the security man at the door, “don’t worry, Father. You’re fine there.”
Finding the old uncle a seat, I went to the reception. A nurse from the Accident and Emergency Department came to the desk and stared through the glass at the man who sat with an expression of utter despondency. Turning to me, she glared. “Look at him,” she said, “he comes in here and we get him cleaned up and a while later he comes back again and he’s like that. Can you not do anything?”
I was taken aback at the nurse’s manner. I was a country clergyman, not a social worker, not a health visitor, not anyone with the sort of resources to support a stubborn old farmer who was determined to do his utmost to remain in his own home and who wanted interference from no-one. I shrugged and decided to respond in kind, “what do you suggest I do?”
The nurse sighed, as if I was as much a problem as the man I had brought. “We had better take some details.”
I verified the man’s name and address, which she had on the screen in front of her, anyway.
“Do you know his date of birth?”
“14th December 1940,” I said.
”How do you know?”
”Because today is his birthday.”
There are many more dates which might have been filled with memories of him.