Keeping the Water at Bay

by Tony  Press

Until I was sixteen, I lived with my grandfather, but it is more accurate to say I lived with my grandfather and only my grandfather, from the age of four. I truly do not remember my parents, neither how they acted toward me, whether they hugged me or not, or even how they looked. Our cottage in Falmouth had no photographs, no paintings, no pencil-drawings, nothing to indicate whether I looked like my father, or my mother, or neither.

Eventually, I did look rather like my grandfather, but not until I was forty or so and he was long-buried behind the hilltop church. By then, I, too, was bearded, and even a bit stooped as I walked my beat. I had become a part of the Royal Mail, carrying and delivering letters and cards and packages, six days a week, in and near Falmouth. In truth, I left the county of Cornwall only once in my life, when I took an extended holiday in London when I was twenty. As they say, it was large. Clearly, it was the right place for many people but I was not one of them. Not then, not ever.

I recall my grandfather telling me of the American troops stationed here in the Second World War. He, too, was in the military but thankfully never crossed into Europe. Many who did, he told me (and I later read) — many who did, never returned. Or, if they did, they were not the same, even if alive.

Later, in peacetime, my parents — so I was told — were competitive sailors, so competitive that they never missed a chance to sail the Lizard Peninsula challenges, no matter the wind, the waves, the warnings.

Again, I remember nothing of them, but it was from this spot that, on my birthdays, my grandfather would gaze out over the sea and tell me stories of them. Other than that one day a year, he almost never mentioned them. It was an understanding we had, though I’m not sure if an understanding is possible between unequal parties. Still, I never questioned it, and I’m not really doing so now. Just, it is just that I am remembering those afternoons above the ever-present sea.

I’ve never been on the water. That is an unusual fact for a Cornwall native, but it is true. I will swim, but I will not set foot on a boat of any size. My grandfather never told me I shouldn’t, but I heard it as clearly as if he had. He was a communicative man, silent though he was.

I’m not a big believer in heavenly bodies, but if people truly can look down from above, I suspect he is one who does. It is a comfort to think so.