Departed joys

By Duncan McLaren, Friday 21 December 2012

Ian's rendition of a Robert Burns song and a look through Mabel's 1956 diary causes Duncan to consider Mabel's own 'departed joys'
Mabel and Ian on their wedding dayMabel and Ian on their wedding day

A song has been going round my head on and off for a fortnight now. Ian sang it in the car as I was driving him and Mabel back through the foothills of the Grampians towards the sun setting colourfully in the west. It was a sunset that Mum seemed oblivious to.

I asked Ian what the name of the song was. “‘Ye Banks and Braes o Bonie Doon’, by Robert Burns”, came the reply. I’ve now looked up the lyrics on Google. If you’re curious about the lilting tune, try this recording. Otherwise, here are the words on their own:

‘Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary fu' o' care!’ ‘

As Ian was singing the melancholic air, I spotted three deer in the field to our right. I stopped the car and he and I watched them skip out of sight, while Mabel, in her moribund state, wouldn’t even look out of the window. Ian told me that this field was one where he’d regularly put up partridges as a boy, but that partridges – along with skylarks - seem to have all but disappeared from our countryside. As I put the car into gear and moved off again, Ian went on with the song:

‘Thou'll break my heart, thou warbling bird,
That wantons thro' the flowering thorn:
Thou minds me o' departed joys,
Departed never to return.’

‘De-par-ted joys’ is the key phrase. I was not a happy bunny as we drove along the road.

I’ve since looked up a diary of Mabel’s, the one for 1956 when she was 31-years-old. Here are a few extracts from the back end of that year:

Saturday, 15th September, 1956: ‘Just went for a run and discussed the future!’

I guess Mabel means that Ian and she went for a run - in the car that they had access to in those days - through the hills and valleys that we still frequent, discussing the possibility of spending the rest of their lives together.

Sunday, 16th September, 1956: ‘Lovely day. Ian and I met Jean and Jack and went for a run to Lintrathen Loch.’

Jean and Jack were Mabel’s sister and brother-in-law, both long gone now.

Sunday, 23rd September: ‘At Meg’s and it must have been her “at home” night. Nan, Sandy, William, Sheila, Jack, Ian and I were all there, what a gang!’

All that gang have departed now, except Mabel and Ian.

Monday, 8th October, 1956: ‘Great day. Ian and I went to Dundee and got an engagement ring and he gave it to me at the top of the Law Hill. Celebrated at the Grey Goose.’

Saturday, 27th October 1956: ‘Ian and I went to see a furnished flat in the High Street today and we’re going to take it so we’ll be able to “get hitched” in about six weeks!’

Wednesday, 12 December 1956: ‘THE DAY. Well, everything went according to plan. We were married in Perth. Jean and Jack and Maureen and Dave were there. Mother was all right when we left, she didn’t realise what was happening though. Spent the night at the Golden Lion, it was cold outside but a heat wave inside!!’

The time spent with friends and family, the thrill of engagement and marriage: all departed joys? Yes, I think as far as both Mabel and Ian are concerned that is the case. There is a difference though, in that Ian can remember the happy days. In some ways he holds onto the joys, though the down side of that is the pain that inevitably goes with it.

I came along about nine months after the last diary entry that I’ve quoted above. I hope I’m not a departed joy as far as Mum’s concerned, but I fear I may be. I’d like to say to her that this is one joy that has no intention of going anywhere. But I know that’s not the point and her dementia may already have dictated otherwise.

The last week it’s been icy and the roads haven’t been trustworthy enough to take Mabel and Ian out in the car. So we’ve sat together in a row in Mabel’s room during our visits, looking out the window. Dad and me talking over Mum’s head for much of the time, but constantly coming back to her with words and touch, and, in my case, tea and cake. That’s been fine, but is driving around as a family unit a departed joy as well? No, it isn’t, I’ll be back on the case as soon as the weather relents, unless we can be sure that Mabel is getting nothing out of it.

Indeed, I feel like I’m back in the car already with Mabel sitting in the passenger seat beside me and Ian’s voice emanating from the back seat. Yes, why not, I can take it:

Oft hae I roved by bonnie Doon
To see the rose and woodbine twine
And ilka bird sang o’ its love
And fondly sae did I o’ mine.

Actually, I don’t think Ian sang the second half of the song, that verse I’ve picked up from listening to Youtube. In effect, it’s me singing now. Of my departed – or departing - joys. But I’m not having that. So let’s try this:

‘Thou minds me of re-main-ing joys
Remaining nev-er to recede.’

If I sing this to Mum’s face, putting enough warmth into it, I may get a smile back. Mabel hardly ever smiles for Ian now. Only occasionally for me. But I think it’s worth a try.

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