My cousins loved coming to the farm. They were city kids and the great expanse of back yard we had excited them from the very moment they stepped out of the car.
The first thing they’d do was run down the back paddock to the creek and there watch for frogs and see if the fish they left there from their previous visit had grown any.
The excitement on their faces I drew great comfort from. It was obvious they looked forward to visiting and the many hours they spent outside wandering the boundaries of the farm, exploring the creek and sitting with my dad on his tractor as he took them with him on his daily chores around the place.
My cousins belonged to my dad’s sister, my Aunty Alice. Alice had been widowed when her husband Ken had been killed in a car accident leaving her with these three small boys.
Though I was much older, they were the sweetest of boys. They were very attached to their mum and never went far where she couldn’t see them. Very often Alice went with them as they explored the farm. It was a family farm, Alice had been bought up here, and my dad took it over when his dad passed away.
My dad was the boy’s Uncle Tom, and he and mum looked forward to having the boys come and stay.
Mum would be fussing around the farm for weeks getting stuff ready, doing her best to make things boy safe, planning meals and the annual excursion to some place where the boys could see and experience something different from the city.
For me, the arrival was the most engaging of events. The look on their faces, the joy of watching them tumble out of the back of Alice’s wagon, the rush that occurred when they looked around, saw dad coming down the track, the calls of joy in greeting both he and mum.
They didn’t ever pay a lot of attention to me as I was always there, a part of the furniture, always up on the veranda watching the comings and goings around me.
It didn’t help that I couldn’t play with them. Jack the eldest was into kicking footballs, William the middle boy loved to sit and play with his Lego and Beau the youngest was one of those kids where being everywhere at once was never enough. A lot of the play fell to mum and dad though dad’s play often revolved around taking them with him to dig holes, repair fences and in some cases shift the cattle from one paddock to another.
One quality my parents possessed was patience. After all, they had to have plenty of it to deal with me, but as I’d grown, I become more and more independent. Useless as a farm hand but I could look after myself most of the time allowing them to run the farm and do what needed to be done.
But as of today, and for the next week, the focus would be on the boys and Aunt Alice. Mum and dad were well aware of the challenge Alice faced in bringing up the boys alone. They knew about her moments of despair when at night I’d hear dad on the phone to her trying to console her in what must have been the darkest of moments.
Dad and Alice knew how lucky they were in growing up close to each other and being able to maintain that relationship into adulthood. Alice leant on dad and dad was lucky to have mum to lean on.
At night after the boys were asleep the three of them would sit around and talk. Their chats were always frank discussions, ideas posed and opinions given but never as far as I could tell was there judgment involved.
Some nights they’d play cards, and I would be corraled into making up the fourth. I played with mum against dad and Alice and dad was a card shark, so he had to be watched. The games were serious and always ended in dispute, mainly dad’s dealing style which suggested a few bottom cards being dealt at one time or another.
The mornings were lively with the boys running about wanting to do this or that, and usually, some form of arbitration would happen to decide what might happen that day.
The week would fly by and before we knew it the time had arrived for them to leave.
There were always tears, lots of hugs and cuddles, the boys promising to be good for their mum as dad would always tell them he’d know if they mucked up.
They drove away, dust rising from their car and mum and dad would watch until the dust had settled and they were well on their way.
Then dad would turn to me and say: “Nelly, I have to get that gate fixed.” The gate was always in need of some sort of fixing. He’d ruffle my hair, stand beside me and wait until I managed to raise my hand and slip it into his.