Cat’s Papa’s a likeable old rogue. He has a warm and boyish smile and when he’s sober he doesn’t say very much. His age changes every time I ask Cat about it but I know he’s several years older than her Mama, which puts him at around seventy. He’s a wiry little man and he looks remarkably fit for his age.
For elderly men around here there seem to be three final options in life, all of which are sedentary and involve various forms of meditation. When you give the rice farm to your sons, you can either become a monk, you can spend your days taking the cows out to the rice fields and watching them chew, or you can take to the bottle. Being early retired myself I’m not going to cast nasturtiums, but lets just say that Cat’s Papa isn’t a monk, nor does he have any cows to look after.
I sometimes see him pottering down the soi in big rubber boots, a hoe over his shoulder, but where he’s going to I have no idea. Sometimes he disappears for days and while he generally lives at the family home two houses down, we don’t see a lot of him. He has a certain shy charm and I like him, but apart from our penchant for lighting fires and having a good blaze, we seem to have very little in common.
To those around me, including him, my life must seem to be the ultimate in luxury and ease, so to give him credit where it’s due, to earn his next bottle of lao khao, he does sometimes show willing and work hard.
When we were building the house three years ago, although the ground was already high enough, I was told I had to buy a few hundred tons more soil to make it even higher. As the fleet of trucks poured in, the drivers were dropping their loads haphazardly like B52 pilots, only anxious to escape as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, I was desperately running in all directions, trying to show them where I wanted it, but inevitably several truck loads ended up in the wrong place.
So what do you do when you want to shift several tons of soil entirely by hand. Well, you look for the smallest woman and the frailest old man you can find and you give them a hoe and a hod made from a truck tyre, and you tell them to get on with it. Cat’s sister, Yut and Papa worked steadily through the day in temperatures of 35 degrees and slowly they moved mountains. Yut kept smiling as she always does and Papa seemed quite content, looking forward no doubt to the warmth that the bottle of lao khao would bring that night.
All I did, lazy farang that I am, was to stand about and watch and then to buy him the alcohol!