My aged companion, Crisp, was staring into the light of day. She did a lot of that lately.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m looking into the future. It’s a bit hazy but if I squint I can make out shapes.”
“It has to an improvement on this past year,” I commented.
“Disaster wasn’t it. We didn’t win the lottery; the Cats were beaten in the final and my chair collapsed under me. I don’t know why I keep on going when there’s so much happening and not much that can be done.”
“At least we’ve stayed healthy,” I said.
“Yes, we have that to be thankful for. My resolution for the New Year will be to adopt the word ‘respair’. Do you know it?”
“No,” I announced.
“It’s the opposite of despair, to have no hope. Respair is to have hope, and I think I need a lot of it.”
He’d have been embarrassed knowing he died at such an inopportune time and had caused us all to turn out at a time we’d rather be home sitting under the air-con.
But such was our sense of connection to Simmo that we put aside our own comfort and made the effort to honour a man whose life had impacted on us all.
The family delayed the memorial until the evening hoping it might be a bit more comfortable, but it wasn’t. It was one of those nights we hated, as the temperature didn’t drop and at eight that night it was still in the high twenties.
We gathered around the pond in his back yard, he liked his pond; it gave him peace he’d once said to us.
His wife, Marge, handed out candles and said she was pleased we’d shown up. He was a good man we’d replied as we took the tiny candle and lit it, setting it adrift on the pond.
We all stood there watching as the little flames floated and bobbed about on the pond. His son, Harry, said a few words, then his daughter Mary.
They were beautiful words, they knew their dad, and summed him up perfectly. We nodded in agreement.
Afterwards, Marge invited us to share in the BBQ. There was a supply of sausages and a salad or two. Simmo was a man of simple taste, he wouldn’t have wanted anything extravagant so we enjoyed the humble sausage sandwich thinking of him and remembering the many times we’d shared a beer and a sanger with him sitting with our feet dangling in the pond. Though we didn’t think it appropriate to do so on this night.
Rather this was a night to recall what once was and realise life wouldn’t be the same again.
When I was so much young, much younger than today our holidays were a trip to my father’s family home.
It was about a three-hour road trip and our car was always packed in fact it often felt we were packed in around the luggage.
In those days there were no seat belts, we didn’t know any better. The trip took place on Boxing Day, in the middle of summer, so it was always hot and humid; there was no air-conditioning in those days apart from having the window open.
When your little trips seem to take an eternity and ours always felt like that.
There was a winding hilly section where the going was slow and the suggestion of carsickness was on everyone’s mind. Mum always had a bucket ready for such an eventuality.
I used to watch the climb knowing that when we reached a certain point the road would flatten out and the threat of illness would be over. My sister could never wait that long.
Once we were over the hill, so to speak we came to the city and there was always something of interest to see. Houses everywhere, so much traffic and if we were lucky there might be a sighting of the harbour bridge in the distance.
We reached our destination, rolled out of the car and went about the process of unpacking.
Usually, there were other relatives staying there so the house would be packed and on one occasion I recall five of us sleeping on a double mattress, three down and two up.
I think the holiday back then afforded us the opportunity to visit relatives we didn’t see throughout the year and enabled dad to catch up with his brothers and sisters.
It always seemed hectic is what I most recall.
The prize we most looked forward to was the trip on the bus into the city where there seemed to be so many shops and not enough time to explore them.
They were overall happy times, so much different from the normality of country living and I’m sure we all seemed a strange lot of hick kids to our city cousins.
There came a time when the kids were getting bigger that it was decided we needed a toy box and it needed to be a size that would house all their toys, of which they had many.
As we lived in the bush at the time and this was before online shopping, we could either get a local handyman to make it for us or I could make it.
So full of confidence I went to the hardware store to purchase the necessary items. Where the box was to be placed in the house was decided and careful measurements taken to ensure the box would fit neatly.
I set to work. The toolbox my wife had given me on our first Christmas was opened, the tools I needed at the ready and away I went.
With rule, hammer and saw in hand the box slowly started to take shape. I measured and then I re-measured to make sure each step of the way.
It was to have a lid and so was designed to fit snugly. The lid required hinges and so I had to apply myself with all diligence to the job to set the hinges in place and assure the lid would easily close.
I stood back looking at my accomplishment. It looked and felt like the ideal toy box. The kids would be happy and even more, my wife would be pleased.
Disaster struck when I delivered it to its resting place. For reasons unknown and to this day puzzles me, the box didn’t fit. It was too long.
Needless to say, there was unhappiness and a degree of ridicule all round.
The problem was solved rather quickly by my sawing off the offending length and fitting it back together.
The exercise taught me several things. I have limited ability when it comes to construction and that realisation has followed me through life. Measuring tapes cannot be trusted.
Always get help when anything requiring assembly comes my way. Taking on a job requiring anything to be assembled, can and probably will result in humiliation
Apart from that, the toy box served its purpose albeit somewhat misshapen.
“Is that the best you could do?” asked Crisp as I sat back pleased with my efforts. I could tell right from the outset that this Christmas was going to be challenging.
“I think it’s perfect,” I replied.
“Huh, when I was a kid our tree would touch the ceiling. We’d spend the day making decorations and putting them on. One year dad fell off the ladder trying to attach the star on top. Landed in a heap. Broke his hip. Put a real dampener on Christmas what with visits to the hospital, mum upset, tears everywhere, it was a real schnozzle I can tell you.”
I looked at Crisp, my aging companion, and wondered how it was she could be so exact in her memory about some things and have not the slightest idea of what day it was.
Mrs Mary Lomax had a house with a tree growing through it.
Which meant at Christmas she had plenty of opportunity to hang her decorations and create some fascinating light shows.
It wasn’t everyone who could do what she did and that suited her very much as Mary Lomax was not like other people. She lived alone, kept to herself and refused all council directives to remove the trees branches from within her house.
Rather every year or so she renovated her house to accommodate the growing tree.
She anticipated her children would be arriving on Christmas day and there would be the usual round of requests from them to do something about the house. In particular the tree. He eldest daughter complained that in the most recent renovation her mother had moved the wall in her bedroom such that when she went to bed at night her body was almost curled around the branch and rolling over in bed was proving to be an effort she didn’t think she should have to be making.
It was the same old each year but this year she was surprising them with gifts so thoughtful and generous they would be left speechless.
In recent times she had discovered a charity with asked for donations of a specific amount as that amount would buy poor villages in Africa some of life’s necessities.
So this year, Claire the eldest was attaching her name to a goat, Loren the next daughter was giving two chickens and her son’s donation would buy the village a hammer, spade and chisel.
Mrs Lomax was aware that her children like herself really wanted for little and so this year they would be doing something for others.
So as they sat around the table, ducking their heads to avoid the branch growing over the dining table, they looked aghast at their mother’s gifts. Each child received a card with their donation listed on it.
It was the night after Christmas and all through the house was the sound of contented sleep. Well mostly.
With full bellies, satisfied and exhausted children slept dreaming of the fun to come the next day when their parents would sleep in and demand that on Boxing Day nothing happened and everyone did their own thing and in particular left them alone.
The parents in their bed, relaxed into the knowledge that Christmas for another year was over, the rush and panic of getting it all together was now a memory they wished to forget.
The father farted with a sense of relief; his wife rolled away to avoid the repercussions of his bodily functions and wondered if he gave any thought to making love to her.
The wife was pleased Christmas was over too. It had been a hectic time organising gifts, hiding them from nosey children and getting the Christmas lunch organised.
This year they had bought their eldest a bike. Santa’s joke on parents was to find the bike came in parts, in a box with confusing directions. It had been almost 2am before they’d taken themselves to bed after arguing about which part of the bike went where and why it didn’t.
Christmas Day was pretty much a blur as it rolled past them. With the children at them showing what Santa had bought and then the neighbours arriving with more enthusiasm than was truly decent, the parents felt worn out and fatigued beyond belief.
The husband’s snoring put to rest any romantic urges the wife had, so as she so often did turned her mind to fantasy.
The young man at the checkout looked a likely type and she turned her mind to imagining what lay beneath his uniform.
The kids were getting more and more restless. No amount of preparation in the form of getting them to understand the need for patience and perseverance on the long trip home at Christmas made the slightest difference to their growing impatience and irritability.
Any threats to their wellbeing, like no Santa, Grandpa will be so disappointed in you for making mummy and daddy’s trip so difficult resulted in anything but more whinging from the back seat.
There was a long way to go and temperature was climbing towards 40C. Not pleasant for any of us.
A fancy-looking Mercedes zoomed past us, and my wife remarked that she bet they had air-conditioning. We could only dream of such a luxury.
We knew that not far down the road was a servo where cold drinks and ice cream could be bought. I hoped to reach that point on the trip before I totally lost my cool.
Each child had a demand of its own as we pulled into the parking area.
Toilet, fresh air, chips and a coke.
At this stage of the trip, all talk of healthy eating went out the window as each child had its respective wishes granted.
It was too hot to stay long, we back into the car we climbed and off we went.
As parents, most trips are about making it from A to B with as little fuss as possible.
The kids settled with their food and drink and away we went, me thinking there would now be some peace and quiet. And there was.
Until the fizzy cordial kicked in. The rowdy children I travelled with previously suddenly turned into raving lunatics and I realised too late that long trips and fizzy cordial were not a good mix.
I did my best to zone out, lick my ice cream and hope that they might eventually fall asleep or kill each other.
Grandpa’s was another four hours away, I crossed my fingers.