The sound of silence
Whatever happened to the beauty of silence – of feeling connected in spite of the absence of words?
amused and entertained.
I usually passed the time by reading one of my grandmother’s books, or my grandfather’s latest issue of Farmers Weekly.
When I got fed up with grownup literature and looking at the price of tractors and animal feed, I would sometimes attempt to build one of my grandmother’s jigsaws – enormous undertakings involving more than 1,000 similar-looking pieces.
Sometimes, when she was in a talkative mood, my grandmother would entertain me with stories about the good old days.
I loved it when she dished up some snippet about how naughty my mother had been as a child; here was evidence that parents were actually human.
Around noon, she would pack a lunch for my grandfather and head for the fields, where he was usually hard at work.
As soon as he caught sight of us, he would immediately stop what he was doing, lift his cloth cap from his sweaty head, glance up at the general direction of the sun and say: “So it’s that time already, woman, is it?”
We would then sit with him on an old blanket spread on the ground and watch as he ravenously devoured the large chunks of homemade bread crammed full of fragrant smoked ham and sharp Cheddar cheese.
After he had washed everything down with a flask of sweet, milky tea, he would smile at my grandmother, thank her for the food, ruffle my hair and give me a wink, as if we were sharing an enormous secret. Then it was back to work.
My grandparents barely exchanged more than a few sentences, but looking back, I realise that their silent companionship spoke multitudes.
They seemed to be in tune with each other in a way that transcended words.
An exchanged glance here, a smile there, a gentle pat on the shoulder in passing – these silent nuances told the true story of their relationship.
After our evening meal, I would usually sit with my grandfather on the old wooden bench by the back door.
He would ask me how I’d passed my day, and I always had the feeling that he really listened to every word I had to say.
Not many people have made me feel that special since.
Once he was satisfied that all was well with me and I wasn’t feeling too bored in my isolated surroundings, he would lapse into long periods of silence.
I’d had my say and he’d had his, too.
It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence, not the sort that would cause you to rack your brains for something to say.
Indeed, it felt like the most natural thing in the world: feeling connected in spite of the absence of words.
As we sat there, looking out at the ripening wheat fields, he would retrieve his old pipe, polished with use, from one of his bulging pockets.
He would stuff the bowl with tobacco and strike a match with a deft flick of his wrist.
I would watch in silence as the packed strands glowed bright red when they caught alight.
Even now, I can still smell the aromatic sweetness of the tobacco and the earthy scent that was my grandfather.
I can still see the swirls of smoke that rose up from his pipe to be carried away by a gentle evening breeze.
But most of all, I can still hear the sound of silence.
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