“People underestimate the danger of potholes. The most common damage is a flat tire or damage to your tires, bent or damaged rims, suspension and even damage to the body of the car. Potholes can even knock your car completely out of alignment.”
I think that was the last thing my brother ever said to me. Dennis was just a year my junior and the third son. We grew up on a farm and we were true to type. John, the eldest was the most sensible, strongest and tallest. I was sandwiched between two and enjoyed the freedom of being the least interested in adult approval. Dennis was a typical third child, using charm and affection to ensure his share of the attention. He was the only fair haired kid and could do the best impressions, especially of our father. Our mother was a brisk woman, her love came in hot dinners and clean, mended clothes. But when Dennis climbed on a chair and started his one man show she would light up.
Then at the age of six Dennis’s life hit a small pothole in the shape of a sister. He took one look at her and didn’t look again for weeks. To be fair, neither did I. It didn’t help that Edna was a sickly baby, needing extra care and attention so mother just didn’t have the time to break off from chores to watch Dennis doing his skit of my father wrestling with a newly starched collar. I was the only one to notice but the summer that Edna was born, Dennis definitely lost some of the air from his tyres.
Traditions linger longer in the countryside and we all understood that John would take on the farm if dad ever retired but Dennis took a particular interest in the machinery we used to hire. I can still picture him with my dad standing in front of the old Ferguson tractor figuring out how the hydraulic front lift worked, then Dennis would leap into the drivers seat and take the machine through it’s paces. Dad was a quiet man and he found our Dennis a bit bewildering at times but he would stand back when Dennis was describing how an engine worked and nod approvingly.
Dennis was driving the tractor in the top field when he saw our father collapse.
“He was walking past the barn and he just went down. He crumpled. And I didn’t get to him in time Eric. I just wasn’t fast enough.” Dennis told me, his face white and his eyes widened in anguish, “I shouldn’t have been on that tractor, I should have been helping him muck out”. Losing our father hit us all but Dennis blamed himself and he lost some of his bounce that day.
Thankfully his spark re-ignited when he met Gladys. She was a little cracker, as daft as he was and his wedding day was one of those where your heart swells with joy at the sight of them. They were blessed with three daughters, blonde little moppets that were never still. Dotty the youngest was the image of her father.
Then came the pothole that derailed the whole family. It still doesn’t seem possible that a child could die falling down five steps. But that’s how we lost Dotty. One moment she was standing in her winter coat on the top step and the next she was laying at the bottom. No one saw it happen and Gladys was with her just seconds later but she was already gone. There are no words to describe the pain of losing a child. Dennis didn’t even try. He stayed true to his family, continued to work, to play with his other daughters and comfort Gladys. But he smoked constantly and on Saturday nights would drink himself into near oblivion. Every Sunday he took a walk along the river and Gladys told me that he never said a word but he kept Dotty’s tiny gloves in his coat pocket.
Two years later I lost my brother to a catastrophic brain bleed. Gladys blamed the smoking. Maybe she was right, who can say? But I think losing Dotty was one pothole too many, that one moment in life from which Dennis could never recover his alignment,