I can’t remember when we didn’t do it. Until I left home, I was always ready when the weather and the sky were right. I was just waiting for my Dad to check that every colour was there and then we’d jump into the car and set off.
I suppose he probably didn’t start that ritual until I was, at least, walking, but it’s hard to say. It’s my earliest memory.
We didn’t chase them – not in the way that implies a dream never realised or a life spent on a futile quest – because each time, we got what we came for. But it wasn’t the kind of gold that could be banked or exchanged for luxuries.
It sounds corny to talk about it – like some kind of fairytale. And perhaps it was – in the way that childhood memories are always simple and obvious – either good or bad. And these had no bad in them. Even the rain and mud and minor injuries and lost maps were all part of the good. For me.
I wonder what all those things would be for my Dad? If he was here to remember them. Good, I think. The type of man that takes his daughter on adventures to find a leprechaun’s treasure isn’t one whose retrospection on ensuing calamity would be bleak. But then, he wasn’t the same man in those last years. Not the man we had all known and loved. The stroke took him away long before his heart stopped. But we were lucky. We’d had enough years of his real self to last us through each of our lifetimes.
So it’s the long drives I’ll remember, the digging and the souvenirs and the picnics and discoveries and the laughing and the crying.
I grew up thinking that all life was lived at that frantic, exotic pace. It took a decade or so of mundane adulthood to settle in to the kind of life that most people seemed to have been living from birth. And after a while, I came to appreciate the calm and predictability. After a while. But I still miss what came naturally. Being with my Dad. Heading out once each of the seven colours had been clearly verified and never knowing where we would end up.
A country lane.
Once, when he opened the car door, I was surrounded by skyscrapers. And, as usual, we were too late. The coloured beams were long gone and that pesky leprechaun had moved his pot of gold again! But there was a fountain that danced with coins and metal remnants. So we bought coca-cola in glass bottles and threw all the change into the water to make wishes. And then my Dad stepped in and picked out all the washers and bottletops and rubbish and I jumped in too. And a policeman didn’t arrive until the job was almost done. So we sang water songs as we dripped and squelched all the way home – Dad driving in his underwear, me wrapped in the car seat cover in the back. That was the first time I’d drunk out of a glass bottle and it felt like the least babyish thing that anyone could do.
Another time, Dad swore that the stream of colours had touched down just at the entrance of a hardware store. But by the time he’d found a place to park, we’d missed it again. But just in case, we investigated inside and found all the things we needed to build a tiny shop of our own in the back garden. Not just wood and nails and tools, but tiles for the roof and pots of paint so that the walls could be all the colours of the phenomenon that had brought us there.
For two weeks, I sold apples and milk cartons and buttons and old teddies from the shop. And then Jenny from next door got sick of it so we changed to hopscotch on the path outside her house each afternoon until it got too dark to see the chalk squares on the pavement.
Once, when a sun shower had brought our eyes towards the sky again, my Dad and I ended up at an old stony bridge – whose arch mocked us with its mimicry of the object of our quest. But we didn’t dig around the base of either side. Because my Dad said that he had seen the final colours fade over the little stream that trickled underneath just as the car came to a stop. So we paddled in the clear water, collecting stones – shining, smooth, mottled, every kind – and assessing them as fairy treasure (only a few possibles) or family treasure (many). And afterwards we made patterns with our collection on the bank so that they could dry in the sun while we ate cheese sandwiches and chocolate.
When Martin was old enough, he came too. At first I felt he was a hindrance, almost an infiltrator, but after a time, he proved himself to be a canny aid in our discovery. He had a way of seeing things that Dad and I had never noticed. We scanned our immediate surrounds diligently but Martin could spot things in walking distance that we would have missed without him. A cluster of trees that stood like a hairy mammoth – who ultimately allowed us to lean against his legs to rest after a tiring dig. A fence a field away that was laced with laces – where people had tied their shoe fastenings, some pierced with messages that had washed to smudges through seasons of rain. So we had each added one of our shoelaces to the exhibit and Dad had torn the edges from a map so that our own notes could be attached – private missives that we walked away from without reading the thoughts of the other two. Like a secret pact. (I asked Martin once what he had written but he pretended to forget. And I realised that I was glad for that.)
When I was a teenager, there weren’t as many colourful arches in the sky. But those that appeared, always came at good times. Just before the end of study period for exams – when my brain was so full of how soon I’d be in that silent testing room that nothing else could fit. When Jenny got a boyfriend and all her giggling and whispering was saved for him and I was left to dawdle in my room where even silence echoed. When Martin got sick and all that everyone talked about for weeks was him and even though I was worried too, I was angry at him. Because it seemed that life would never be good again. And I knew that I was bad just for thinking that. But then I’d hear my Dad shout “… and indigo and … VIOLET” and I knew that was as definite a call to action as a green traffic light. So then it was just Dad and me. Driving and driving. Sometimes in silence. And I could feel the rest of the world slide away – though sometimes I couldn’t stop crying as it did. I was like a volcano – it burnt as the lava broke the surface and molten rocks were thrown into the air … but then gravity took over and rivers of the magma cascaded out and down and down. But then I was empty and things cooled. And by the time we were eating sausage rolls on a long jetty or – ironically – clambering up a hill to a lookout, I knew what mattered. And mostly I knew that I mattered to my Dad.
So when he had the stroke, I tried to look past the eyes that had become clouded and the gruff agitation of an injured personality to the soul that had given me my best adventures.
And when my second baby came, I knew that I had been given the only life that I could have lived. The luckiest. Because it was then that I saw that, because I had never found that leprechaun’s gold, I still had the joy of continuing the search.
So when my two were old enough, they knew that when I called their names on a sunny day as a light shower fell, that we would go exploring. And maybe one day they might see that the world holds treasures so much better than any gold could ever be.
I know there’s something in them that can see that’s true for me. Because when their Grandpa died, my two stood at my side – bold Indy at 8 and sweet 5-year-old Violet, their faces brilliantly painted with every colour (the inspiration of my son, who can still both impress and infuriate me) – and their hands holding mine.
And then we got into the car and drove.
And, that one time, we didn’t stop and look for anything.
We just drove and drove.
Because that day, there simply were no rainbows.