My song today is, ‘And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind’. The song was recorded by Neil Diamond. Neil, who was born in 1941, is an American singer-songwriter and actor. He has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time.
He has had ten Number 1 singles on the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts. Neil Diamond was inducted into the ‘Songwriters Hall of Fame’ in 1984 and into the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’ in 2011, and he received the ‘Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award’ in 2000. In 2011, he was an honouree at the ‘Kennedy Centre Honours’, and he received the ‘Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.
The most poignant line in this Neil Diamond song for me is “The moment we’re living in is now.” How true this statement is! So often in life, too many of us are in danger of missing out of the ‘here and now’ because of our constant focus in either looking back on negative past events or looking forward to the fears of what might or might not happen tomorrow or the day after. We must never forget that the stuff of life is made from trillions of present moments, and to miss out on any moment is to miss out on one’s life!
When my father was alive, despite being a strict practising Catholic, he always displayed a Calvinist attitude towards industriousness and strongly believed in the Protestant work ethic. This overall belief and behaviour of my father were essentially emphasised and embraced within his value structure. He never gave less than his best in any job he ever undertook, however menial the task. His advice to me was, “Billy, never consider any job beneath you. Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability, and if you come home at the end of a day’s work and you are not tired, then you have not done your best!”
My father was reared in the poorest of circumstances in County Kilkenny, Ireland. He left school to earn a living, missing much of his formal education before he had barely reached his teens. He was a good man of honest and modest means; a determined character whose strict discipline and industriousness made him popular with any employer he ever worked for. Dad rarely mixed in social company and could never have been considered a ‘conversationalist’. He only spoke in company whenever he was asked something specific or when he had something relevant to say. Few people disliked him, yet he never sought popularity and had few close friends. Neighbours considered him to be ‘a perfect gentleman’, and only mum and his children knew such wasn’t the case should ever he get angry!
My father’s overriding virtue was that of modesty (a characteristic which never blessed my door, unfortunately). For example, he was considered one of the finest soccer players ever to play for County Kilkenny, and he even played in the Irish International soccer squad for a few years before he was married; and yet, I never learned of this fact before I was aged ten! He once returned to County Kilkenny alone when I was 10 years old to see some close friends and was given a soccer hero’s welcome. He arrived in Kilkenny and was met by a brass band who marched him triumphantly through the town. When he returned to England, he never said a word about his brass-band welcome, and it was only after his friends had posted newspaper cuttings of the event to my mother that we learned of County Kilkenny’s warm welcome for my father!
When it came to sheer labour and the use of muscle and sweat, dad was up there with the best of them. However, he was never the type of handyman who could put up a shelf which was guaranteed to remain up and affixed to the wall after the least weight had been placed on it. Dad was too heavy-handed in most things he did, which is great when it involves sacks of coal or hundredweight sacks of spuds that require lifting and carrying, but not so good when any gentle task requiring a lighter touch was required. It is little wonder that dad never changed a nappy in his life despite fathering seven children!
Dad was unsophisticated, uneducated, and unassuming. His knowledge of the full colour spectrum was extremely limited. His preferred colour was green. In fact, everything he ever painted, he painted a bold Irish, grass-coloured shade of green! Everything about the home which required a touch of paint, whether a wall, wooden table, skirting board, window frame or door, dad painted in his favourite shade of green.
Dad was a fresh air fiend and he always insisted upon having every window in the house open, whatever the temperature, whenever the season. He and mum must have spent half their married life with each of them opening and closing house windows as they followed each other attempting to undo the action of the other. Whenever dad saw a closed window he would immediately open it to allow the tobacco smoke from my chain-smoking mum to exit from the house and to allow some fresh air back in, while my mother (who never liked the cold) would follow him around the house like a stalking shadow closing all the windows again! All they ever managed to achieve throughout my childhood with their open/closed window antics was to create a perpetual draught!
All council houses then (unlike any house today, private or council-owned) had large back and front gardens. While my father was no natural gardener, he loved the fresh air and being outside more than anything else. He neither smoked nor drank alcohol, and his only pleasure was taking long walks, and cutting the green hedge around our council house, and mowing the huge lawns (back and front) daily with a second-hand manual mower that he purchased for five shillings and daily oiled. Dad did not know anything all about growing flowers, vegetables and plants, and the only plants or shrubs we had in our large garden was the green perimeter hedge, plus one hydrangea and one red rose which my mother had planted outside the front window.
When my father was in his late fifties, the old gardener at Cleckheaton parish church retired. Considering himself to be a much better grass cutter than the retiring gardener ever was, my father offered to take over the grass cutting of the large church lawn three afternoons weekly for free. He and mum had recently moved to a council flat in the Liversedge/Heckmondwike area after all their children had married and left home. My father would cycle the four-mile return journey from Liversedge to Cleckheaton every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to cut the church grass.
After all of the children had grown and left home, and my parents moved into a council flat, my mother appeared to resent my father’s constant absence from her sight, especially when he elected to work for free cutting church grass three times weekly besides going on long walks whenever the weather was fine. Whenever my mum complained about my father’s absence on the occasions he cycled into Cleckheaton to cut the church grass, my dad would often taunt her with a biblical quote from the scriptures. He would tell her that it was sinful to complain about his absence from home during these three days of the week while he was cutting the church grass because “’ he was about his heavenly Father’s business’ and that he was cutting the church grass for God”. He also reminded my mother (who always believed that he should have received some payment from the parish priest for his grass-cutting labour) that he loved cutting Catholic Church grass ‘for free’ and ‘for the church’ and ‘for God. Thinking him too sanctimonious in attitude, my mum would taunt him in reply with the accusation, “ You’re not cutting it for free, Paddy Forde; you’re cutting it as a penance for all the sins you daren’t confess to the priest!”
For over ten years, my father cycled the four miles to and from Cleckheaton Roman Catholic Church to cut the grass three times weekly. During his early seventies, he started having dizzy spells and fell off his bicycle several times as he travelled the ever-busy road to and from Cleckheaton. Dad cut the church grass until he died at the age of 75 years, and I recall making some mention at his funeral service that he would be the happiest newest entrant into Paradise if God made him the official grass cutter in heaven for the rest of eternity.
The first time I heard the song I sing today, I instantly thought about my father cutting the grass at every opportunity he could. While my father never used the precise words that frame the title of my song today, he often said, “The grass won’t mind”.
I love you, Dad. Your firstborn, Billy Forde x
Love and peace Bill xxx