In the garden of the house at the foot of my granny’s garden there was a large tree. It was next to a path which offered a short cut to the small convenience store round the corner from Park Place. Walking back to my granny’s the tree loomed, an image from childhood. Of sunny days. Games in the park. My grandfather – tall, black haired, in a white Aran sweater, eyes alight. The blue car. A Cavalier – inappropriate for this roundhead.
We’d watched him die that year. His bass become a croak, his broad tall frame that gave us such security as children failing until we last saw him – skeletal, craving warmth under layers of blankets in bed.
The day of the funeral I stood in the back garden and looked at the tree.
And months later I saw the tree in Time Magazine, the photo taken looking down towards my granny’s house, the view so familiar – save for the body hanging there.
Seeing that brought us out of the nightmare. It wasn’t the repeated image miles away of the cockpit at Tundergarth. Nor the crater in Sherwood Crescent where the locals were tragically killed, one of my dad’s work colleagues being one of the few to escape – fixing a bike in his garage for the boy next door, a boy whose family was killed in the fireball. It was the tree – and the photograph in a journal I regularly read and haven’t read again.
I’d seen the tree when I’d arrived with my parents a couple of days after the disaster. Roads and pavements were closed but as we made our way to my granny’s house – past the collection of bags and their contents strewn across the park in front of her house. A pile that grew larger every time you looked out of the window. Each item placed meticulously in rows. There were clothes. Soap bags. Some presents. Some toys. Each recorded. Itemised. All that remained of some people: their belongings.
And the van appeared in the square, parked a few doors away, as young soldiers helped bring out body after body from the wreckage of a house.
And we watched them. We tried not to. But we did.
And if we looked out of the other windows there were body parts marked on the hill – each tagged. But left until everything was identified. There were seats through windows, the arm of one passenger lolling to his or her side in the bedroom window of the house behind my granny’s – the seat balanced in the window.
And there was the tree at the bottom of her garden.
It is more than half a lifetime ago for me, but it continues to loom large. Today, twenty two years ago, Pan-Am Flight 103 was blown up and landed in Lockerbie and the surrounding area. We will never forget.