This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine

We’ve passed the half-way mark and the nights are getting shorter but with all this sunshine the daylight is incredibly bright and clear. It reminds me of the long hot summer days of childhood, when the tarmac melted and bubbled up. I used to have great fun squashing the tar bubbles, although my mother was less than impressed with all the tar I got on my white socks and the bottoms of my new sandals. They say we romanticize about times past and that nothing was ever as good as our memories lead us to believe, summers long gone being a popular fantsy of ours. Yet the tar really did melt, I was always slathered in Calomine lotion at night to soothe my sunburn, and as kids who were thrown out the house after breakfast and not allowed back in till mealtimes I don’t remember being soaked and shivering on the doorstep many times.

I had a great-aunt Ida whose days were determined by the light. She got up at daybreak and went to bed at dusk. She was crippled, being born with kneecaps in the wrong place, and until she left home was hidden out of sight from visitors. Her method of moving was to sit on a stool and work herself around by leaning her weight on one side and moving the other side of the stool forwards. She had a horrible life which was lived vicariously through her siblings. She learnt to sew and made dresses and altered cothes for her sisters’ dance dates. She never went out of the house or had any fun. When I knew her she occupied an upstairs flat next door to my grandma, so never got out then either, although on sunny days she used to shuffle downstairs on her bum and sit on the step at her front door.

When my dad got a car we used to take her out for a ‘run’ on Sundays. She was scared of the traffic, shouting at cars to ‘Get away home!’ but loved the trees and the countryside. My parents made sure we had her for every holiday and I hated it. She had no table manners, having spent her life eating alone, had no teeth and made noises that retched my stomach. I used to get into enough trouble for not eating so when she stayed it was purgatory trying to get my vegetables down. I couldn’t wait to escape and hated the sight of her. As she got older she stopped washing and looking after herself, probably suffering from Altzheimer’s, and when she died I heaved a huge sigh of relief.

When you’re young you feel the world owes you something and that when things don’t go your way you feel badly done to. I was a spiteful and selfish teenager with no compassion for this relative whose life had been limited beyond anything I could ever understand. Yet there were times when I was small that I used to like to visit Ida because she told such wonderful stories about her brothers and sisters. She never complained and I never wondered why none of her stories were ever about her. She taught me a lot about strength in adversity, sadly not in her lifetime. She had a light of her own that I wish I had seen more clearly, but I’m often reminded of her in summer when I look up through the trees or watch the dappled sunlight on grass.

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