Late Friday afternoon Thomas ‘Turk’ Cheney shrugged off his oily duck bibs. The next morning he slid into his snakeskin boots, a pearl snap western and Levi’s so starched they could stride out on their own. He grabbed his Stetson and headed to ‘The Elephant’s Trunk’ with James running behind. New Mitford’s flea market was a weekend ritual, they picked up rings, belt buckles and bolo ties. When Turk and his wife Joanne moved to a trailer in Broome County these accumulated things came with them. Turk was now in his 60s, ‘nothing worked but he just kept ticking’ until finally the cancer won. Joanne gave this tie to their son James on the day of Turk’s funeral. Throughout his life Turk had been fascinated by Alaska but he never made it out of New York state. James set off with his dad’s ashes. He hitch-hiked from Denali National Park in the west, south to Seward, up east to Valdez and north to the Yukon river, scattering his dad’s ashes at each point.
Paul has always been a gardener. His first plot was a dense postage stamp of colour, a penny packet of wildflowers – knapweed, cornflowers, campion and scabious in his parents’ garden. Horace and Gladys concentrated on practical planting; the family relied on what they grew. Every winter Horace expertly pruned the apple trees guaranteeing a bumper crop of Bramleys the following autumn. His day job was running ‘The Theatre Zoo’. He made costumes for London’s theatreland. Paul remembers gorilla suits and a two-man giraffe costume, it’s elegant neck built on a motorcycle helmet. He inherited his dad’s creative genes and became a photographer at the Natural History Museum but was made redundant in his 50s. 5 years of tedious jobs followed before he was unemployed again. He was unsure about what to do next. Gardening was so much part of his life that he’d overlooked it as a way to make a living. Now Paul’s livelihood is horticulture. He teaches classes on everything from worm composting to the Modified Lorette System of pruning. This branch was destined to be firewood, taken from his parents garden, but he realised it was the perfect teaching tool. It shows how a clean cut ensures that a tree heals itself. It’s also a beautiful record of his dad’s consummate skill as a gardener.
The family moved from a new town to an old village. Newtonhill was beautiful and bleak. Its houses were tucked into the folds of land, sheltering from the rain and south westerly winds. The village smoke house was dormant and jobs in the oil industry were fast eclipsing those in fishing. It was a new job that had prompted the move from west to east. Alex was now Head of Art at a local secondary school. Every weekday he sank into the seat of their green Vauxhall Viva, pulled a B&H from his corduroy jacket, lit up and drove for twenty minutes to Hazelhead Academy. For his first day ‘at school’ his 5 year old son, David, had made him a pencil case. He’d sharpened down 2 pencils, a piece of chalk and 3 crayons to fit into a ‘Bryant and May’ matchbox. He’d left just enough room for an eraser, a pencil sharpener and a tiny blanket of cotton wool before closing the box. In 2012 Alex died. David headed back home to Scotland to see his mum. Going through his dad’s desk drawers he found the matchbox, it was nearly forty years since his dad had first opened it.
Paco was still at university when his father died. Like his father he trained as a doctor but his mother, determined that his life be more stable than hers, encouraged him to pursue a more lucrative career in dentistry. He spent his days squinting at x-rays, pacifying children and fitting the people of Valladolid with gold crowns. Thirty years later his aging patients returned, asking for the gold to be replaced with porcelain. The gold itself hadn’t corroded but most of the cement that had held the crowns in place had dissolved away. As Paco extracted the crowns he would offer the gold caps to his patients. They would normally wave them away, what use would they have of an old gold tooth? So his collection grew and by the mid 90s, when his daughter moved to London, the little pouch he’d stored them in was a satisfying weight. Rosa, Pat’s mother, told her about an idea she’d had in a dream and the next time Pat went home to Spain Rosa had a present for her – a pair of earrings, soft enough to bend, made from 30 years’ worth of 24 carat crowns.
Jürgen was an enthusiastic but poor DIYer. His son Stefan was enlisted to help from the age of 4. He graduated from being chief drill-bit-finder and screw holder to helping with more involved projects like changing the roof from leaking and flat to pitched. When a job was especially tough, Jürgen would pronounce ‘this needs a Hilti’. Hilti drills weren’t available from the local ‘Bauhaus’, Germany’s DIY/hardware store. They were pro tools and had to be bought or hired from a specialist trade outlet. In his 20s Stefan worked as a brand consultant and would often quote his dad to illustrate the power of the Hilti brand. Stefan, like his dad, was a pretty inept but keen DIYer. For his 30th birthday his friends clubbed together and bought him a Hilti. This being Stefan’s big 3-0 they felt the tool required some pimping. They commissioned a jeweller friend, Katja, to engrave each drill bit with his name and to set a diamond for the dot of the ‘i’ in his surname – but she abandoned the idea after the steel proved too hard.
Rejane tasted America as a teen and was back there in her 20s. She left New York just a month before the twin towers fell. She touched down in her native Rio but within a few years she was off again, to Rotterdam and then London. Her twin nieces, Nina and Lara, saw their aunt regularly but only over video calls. Last year the family flew to London and holed up in Rej’s one room flat. The small space was host to nightly dance-offs, lit by flashing LED balloons, the girls’ extensive wardrobe of tulle fairy skirts and laughter noisy enough to compete with the hubbub of any weekend pub. Rej’s studio also accommodated an exclusion zone around Nina’s tiny broken arm. The trip had been planned well in advance of her accident and the date for the plaster cast to come off fell during their stay. Rogério, Rej’s brother, was the stand-in doctor. The family gathered around for the ceremonial de-casting. Rogério carefully cut down the length of the tiny blue plaster. Rej’ kept the plaster cast and the rest of the family flew off to Disneyland, Paris. Nina was so excited to see Micky’s home that she ran full tilt into the park, fell over and broke her arm again.