Friday, January 24, 2014
The Lonely Engineer - Part 2
See Part 1 Here
Before the feast began, Denis would sit in the front room and talk to us older children. I still, to this day, remain enchanted with the vast range of general knowledge he had, his intimacy with landscapes and buildings everywhere, his unending political knowledge, his encyclopaedic musical abilities, his unerring certainty (he was a diviner) of where precious metals lay, where long dead forests were located, even the depth of the water table under our house and the placement of the skeletons of long dead farm animals - for our house was built over farmland, the original suburbia of the fifties.
Lying in bed, I would often imagine all that lay beneath our house, layers of history, maybe even human skeletons. Denis would often wield pencil and paper and draw things, spell out long words for me, tell me what they meant, what language was the source, and how it compared to other languages.
I said to my father once: "He's a genius, right?" I'd never met a genius, I'd read about them but here was one in the actual flesh in our home, so to speak. "But of course," Daddy responded in a matter of fact way.
We would try to avert our eyes when Denis ate, as Mummy had told us not to be rude and stare. It was very difficult and not from a judgement point of view, but from an absolute fascination with the gargantuan quantities of food he would down: a dozen eggs, ditto bacon, ditto sausages, three or four chops, a bowl of Mum's home cut chips and then half an apple tart with cream followed by an enormous wedge of Mum's delicious fruit cake.
One time, one of my brothers who was about 4 at the time, circled Denis as he sat in our sturdiest chair and with his eyes just about popping out of his head said in amazement: "Oh my-my-my Daddy, what a tummy!"
You see, Denis was about 32 stone in weight - nearly 400 lbs. Daddy told me once his car, a Ford Prefect, had to have special bracing to hold his weight. Lorry suspension, Daddy called it.
He lived by himself in a flat on a main-floor somewhere and his landlady cooked for him. No family, Daddy had said when I asked one time, only a dead sister. He could no longer travel abroad because of his size.
I imagine our family was the only family he would ever feel a part of. I remember clearly the look on his face when my little brother made his awestruck comment on his size. A flash of bleakness, something unbearable. I had to look away.
Denis lost both his legs to diabetes eventually.
Before he died, and he wasn't too old, Daddy would always visit him once a week in the care home where he resided. And bring him Mummy's baking and the really tough crosswords out of the English papers.
Daddy told me once in later years as we travelled around the U.S. together that he still missed "the magnificence of Denis' mind."