Thursday, October 13, 2016

My Dad died. Here is why I loved him and thought him my sun.

I love you Dad for so many reasons, but mostly because you took me seriously. I wasn’t a girlie girl, I was a tomboy, and you let me be that, and you enjoyed it too.  From the moment we moved to Vermont I was always down in your tool-shed alongside you. So you taught me- how to use tools, clean them, and put them away.

You showed me how to make a box. We had to measure up, with a ruler. I think that was the only time I saw you measure with anything other than your hands and a pencil! I had to saw the wood, make it all fit, glue it and nail it. You said if I could make a box I could make anything.  Then you gave me scrap wood to extend a tree house in the paddock next door. I made it awesome and spent many times there, bombing Dean and his mates with pinecones.

Because of you I know how to hang wallpaper and that it only sticks of you swear at it and stomp on it.  I read a famous five on my bed as you hung the wattle-flower wallpaper. I know you hung it the right way round, despite the ongoing tease from us all that it was upside down. You did good, Dad, and the swearing kept it firmly stuck for years.
You taught me how to change a car tire, clean battery points, top up my oil and water, and we even re-sprayed my first car together, a hideous shade of safety yellow so everyone could see me and my Volvo coming.  

One night outside KATEES nightclub Jenny Aitken and I changed a tire while drunken guys catcalled. I felt so proud. Thanks for that Dad.
When I was little and asked for a toolkit for Christmas, you didn’t laugh, or encourage me to get a doll. Somehow you found one- a miniature set in a wooden carry box. And they were real tools, with weight and purpose and red handles- a hammer, saw, screwdriver and more, all to fit my small hand. 

 I used some of the nails from it to hammer extra planks onto my cubby walls. The planks turned out to be walnut, and destined for the kitchen as shelves.  You were so angry when you realized what I’d done. But you also praised my straight nailing!
Other parts of being your tomboy girl were riding the old postie motorbike around the paddock, feeding apples to the horses next door, and climbing. I was about nine when I climbed to the top of the pine tree in our yard. Then I looked down and freaked!  And yelled out a VERY bad swear word little girls shouldn’t say.  You didn’t rescue me. You came partway up and talked me down.  I could feel proud, even as I got a bum-smack for the swearing.

Thanks Dad, for teaching me to shake hands properly.  You taught Dean and me that your handshake is your word, so when you give it you must see the thing through and do it right.  Because you hated   ‘gonna-do-ers’ I grew up believing in doing, in taking action on dreams to make them real.  It’s a good life lesson, thanks Dad.
Some other life lessons I got from you Dad: the world is not straight, so measure it by eye and hand. Cracks will always come back. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fix them each time they do. Be useful. Don’t wallow. When you feel blue go for a drive out into the country, or find something to fix. Climb the tree, don’t be scared. Someone will be there to talk you back down.

Dad, all these things you left me with help me feel sound, and useful, and like I’m meant to be here, and that’s such a lovely thing you gave to me.  You used to thrown me in the air until the sky touched my head, and you made me feel so loved.

 I need to give you something back and so it’s this.  You are in the warmth. There are droplets drying from your skin because you have just swum. The heat is rising, and the sun is straight above you. You have no work to do, nothing to fix.  You are drifting in an out of a dream, sitting in your chair, basking like a lizard in the sun. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Happy Birthday my Big Boy!

Dear Finn,

You are seven, you are my big boy, you are loved.  You just had your birthday and we’ve celebrated by road-tripping, first to Murchison then looping around beautiful coastlines.   In Murchison you played hard with Gilbert and Hermione, nestled in a bean bag with Spencer the red-haired cat, slept once again in your bubble-van bedroom, in the part that curves over you like a pale gold cave and has all the little windows.  You picked up eggs from Bipp’s hutch, you bounced on a net-less trampoline, you ate rye bread without noticing it was ‘brown’ and you picked up an acorn from the road and admired its tender green smell.  I love to watch you in flow in the country; you have it in you gut deep, just like me.  Murchison is our good family tradition, many years now doing the Easter egg hunt or the New Year’s Eve party, the winter bonfire and the long and lovely meals together with your ‘country cousins’.  You know you have big mob out in the world, your non-blood family who have laid their tracks beyond the Melbourne where they were first my friends.  Now they are your friends, lighthouses dotted around the state, beacons of love for you. 
                And now you have just covered more country, with me, on our first Mum and Son road trip.  The map showed you how far we drove. Way past Geelong, which you know so well from car-shows with your Dad, across a place called Winchelsea, and into Colac where we stopped at the RSL for crunchy salty chips and you kept swapping your raspberry for my coke!  Down we wiggled, through a place called Simpson, and then there we were at the house in Coorimungle.  Two days of ‘Aunty’ Tracy and her husband Luke, and five working dogs. Oh heaven. You befriended the littlest of their border collies, Uda, and tried to contain your excitement and learn some dog handling techniques from Luke who is an expert trainer and handler.  We ate junk, then apples, and broke rules then you’d re-find the ones that actually serve you, hopping off your device to go outside and run with the dogs.  You flopped on a couch with Uda alongside you, got filthy, had your first outdoor loo-poo and your first experience sleeping with me in a big double bed where we woke to the perfection of sunrise seen from a hilltop: orange bands deepening into violet-brown  beneath sea-coloured sky. 
                At Port Campbell you didn’t care when your toy boat didn’t start up; you ran into the waves and chased their frills over and over, soaking your sneakers which we had to pop into the dryer later on.  At the Twelve Apostles your clever Tracy explained plants to you, and different scat that we found, and how the fat penguins enjoyed their protected beach. Not every boy has the Park Ranger’s coordinator as their guide! In Timboon the tatey cakes were ‘so crunchy, Mum.’ And you crunched through two, your appetite made sharp by the cool apple-crispness of the air.  You walked barefoot through Timboon, your shoes a soggy heap in the car. I teased you that people would think I was a bad Mum. ‘We’re in the country Mum; it doesn’t matter.’
                You always amaze me, my gorgeous boy, but I have learned new things about you: your generosity of spirit, your spontaneity, your ease and confidence around new people, and how readily you can flow into new views and terrains.  Just when I’d worry you might get bored you’d find a beauty and exclaim in your piping voice, ‘Mum!’  (The silkiness of Uda’s coat, the orange and brown birds on the water tank, a sky with an ocean- tide of curling spumey clouds.)

 I tumble into yet a deeper level of loving you.  Finn, you are seven.  You are my son. You are loved.  

Monday, January 11, 2016

Rainy days and Arthur Mee and ‘Things to Make and Do’…

From my seventies suburban childhood some aspects, objects and books still cavort in my mind, taking succour from thin after dinner mint chocolates and the recalled smell of ‘Le Jardin’ perfume.
There was the avocado-coloured bath, the pine kitchen table with yellow vinyl seats, the olive and taupe floral wallpaper in my room, then those special books:
The ‘How and Why Wonder Books’ kept me informed and titillated with art and history, chemistry and anatomy. I loved the way each double-page spread in ‘Anatomy’ delved one layer further at a time, like a fleshy striptease, from skin and hair, to muscle and ligament, to bone, to internal organs, culminating in the weirdness of a forming foetus in the wildly curious and curiously addictive ‘Human Reproduction’ chapter.

My ‘Illustrated Children’s Bible’ shocked and intrigued with it’s provocative breast-of-Salome exposed amidst a flirt of jewel-hued veils; turn the page and John’s head bled like an uncooked corned-beef on a gilded tray held in her talonned hand! There was David peeping at Bathsheeba and YOU COULD SEE a little watercolour furriness above her thighs…

But best of all was the inherited set of ‘Arthur Mees Children’s Encyclopaedia’.
For a reclusive kid seemingly everything could be learned from those soft burgundy tomes from art, to wise thoughts, to natural wonders, great men and women of history and even French! But the very best and for purely the reason of what it’s title denotes was the ‘Things to Make and Do’ section in every volume from two through to ten.

I still have the complete set of ‘Arthur Mees’ (mine are circa 1951-1954) and recently trailed loving fingers through them. Yes! Those ‘Make and Do’ sections (usually three per volume) were as good as I recall. They put the ‘Dangerous Books’ for girls and boys into the mediocre-shame bin they deserve.

In the world of Arthur Mees’ children there are tooth-decaying recipes for toffee apples where no ‘get Mum to boil the sugar’ is required. There are lab experiments involving sulphur, naked flames and mercury. You can learn how to make a high speed Billy-cart with laughable ‘brakes’, how to light a fire, make a firecracker, make a battery then make a light. How to sharpen your pocketknife with sand or how to semograph that there are spies in your village. In Arthur’s world kids don’t just run with scissors, they learn how to engineer a working guillotine from Daddy’s spare razor.

And the loveliest part? Despite all of Arthur Mee’s epochal love of the English as the God-blessed race and the English Child as the Superlative Human, through every book and every tale of art, science, philosophy or things to make and do- girls were there. They were depicted alongside little boys in apple-catchers making the toffee or waving the semograph flag, they were depicted as women building short-wave radio or leading an army, discovering a bacteria or writing a literary classic, and oh, there they were again making a model-plane on a rainy afternoon, while the eggs and custard boiled for their ‘nursery tea’.

Later, fully into the fifties and away from that second war that saw all hands and brains in use this would not have happened. Arthur, for all his faults, depicted his times, an era where (albeit briefly) strength and knowledge were both required and cultivated in all.

He can cop a lot these days, but for us fans the books are beloved treasures, smelling of silverfish and early adventures on rainy days. I’m digging through them again; it’s time my little one learned how to toffee an apple and make a waxed-paper sailboat.

The explosives section can wait until he can read it himself.