Just turned eighty. He said in photo one, he is fifteen, in photo two, he is half full.
In my stories of him, I remember the country, the heat, and the Cadbury chocolate blocks, the big ones (happiness).
There were cousins, strawberry fates and crabbing (somewhere).
So important, the memories and stories.
He just told me one of his stories:
When he was fifteen, he left school. He was forced to stay till fifteen. His mum (my Nanna) said, ‘Well you’re going then, and don’t you come back.’ She gave him ten shillings, a pack of cigarettes, one change of clothes and a new pair of R. M. Williams boots. Stirrup boots. He said, ‘My dad tried them on. I saw him in the hallway there, trying them on, reminded him of the bush you see.’
I remember his dad, my grandfather. His garden captured in rectangles, the vegetables obedient, the bizarre horse radish unkind to my mouth. There was a pool. It was a water butt, a tank overflow, waist high and diabolically beautiful. I played there with a set of plastic animals that I helped across the terrifying water to another place. In the shed nearby, my grandfather, a bushman and miserable in the city, worried pieces of wood into new smooth pieces, a pony, a seal, a round thing that clung to my small hand like an impossible, silken enchantment.
So my Uncle Don went off to Gulnare. On a property, there was a fine horse called Lady Claire, and my Uncle was given her foal to break in – Dr Penney, he was called, after that Maralinga bloke, William Penney…
That horse would come to a whistle, no matter where he was.
He sewed wheat bags and fenced, one quid per mile if hilly, eight shillings and sixpence when not. He worked all day till it got too dark to see. Then to the pub with a whole quid, ‘That bought a meal and four bottles of beer to take home, and change in my hand.’
‘I was a rich man.’
Bought himself an Austin 7 with my Nanna going guarantor, and she said, By God, Donald, don’t you let me down.’
My Nanna was a silent person. When I played on her back lawn, near the unkind horse radish, when I build small houses with cardboard and blankets with the livid, galloping imagination of the lonely child, she would approach silently, and leave at the entrance to the realm, a dish with five white peppermints and a glass of fizzy.
Well, my Uncle flipped the Austin 7. And that was the end of that!
But not the end of the stories. There is never an end to the stories; I just have to worry at everyone, and turn them into the impossible enchantments that they actually are.