He's in the shed
The first thing Dad did when he and Mum moved into their first house was save up for a shed. Several years later, he built another one, and then another one next to that. Soon our old cubby house (abandoned at the first sight of a huntsman spider behind the door) was converted into a garden shed and three carports were constructed as extensions on the existing sheds.
When he retired to Victor Harbor thirty-nine years later he had to make do with a mere two sheds. "It's been a struggle kiddo," he says ruefully. "I mean we've got my wood turning equipment, wood off-cuts, camping gear, fishing equipment, Love Chunks' canoe, both your brothers' windsurfers that we can't bear to get rid of, our bikes, the caravan, my tinnie, your mother's little toy-sorting room for the Lifeline shop...."
No wonder, then, that my childhood with Dad was one of energy and activity; no pussy-footing around any fancy furniture or wobbly knick-knacks in our house.
He'd go on a two week camping and hunting and blokey-business holiday with his fellow-teaching mates in the Flinders Ranges, returning home filthy, stinking and exhausted. One time he arrived home with a 4WD full of reeking goat skins and a shaggy beard that had me wondering just who was this strange man who was chasing my giggling mother around the house, insisting she give him a big hug even though he hadn't had as much as a sponge bath in a fortnight.
We'd sometimes have what I’d assume was chicken casserole for dinner until I found tiny little ball bearings in it - "Oh yeah, it's rabbit, actually.”
Pongy bolognese got a run too: "It's roo - can't you tell?" Er yes, it's a tad overripe and gamey Dad and just like the roasted goat leg we endured for your birthday lunch it hasn't coped too well with being hung from a tree in the Flinders Ranges in the heat for a week before you drove back home......
His love of lasagna would make even Garfield sweat, and Mum – not the most enthusiastic cook at the best of times – eagerly trawled garage sales and junk shops to find as many oven dishes as she could. She knew that he never did anything by halves; if he was going to have a lasagne cooking session then he might as well make 10 almighty-slabs that he’d let cool overnight and freeze in the big white mammoth lurking in shed number one that also stored his fishing bait.
He made his own bee hives and set them amongst the gorgeous purple Salvation Jane weeds in local farmers' paddocks and brought home chunks of fresh honeycomb for us to chew on endlessly, the honey long gone from the wax. The honey was the best I've ever tasted, especially smeared on a slice of fresh bread with cream drizzled on top. His battered old Landrover smelled permanently of smoke from his hive smoker and dead bees decorated the dashboard like sad little sequins. At the dinner table, he’d continue talking and casually flick the bee-stings out of the top of his hands with the butter knife because he was so used to them.
When Dad decided to take his long service leave, he really took it. We spent the entire winter in Queensland, caravanning our little hearts out. My memories of that time are inescapably entwined with the music we'd listen to on the very long drives using our brand new cassette stereo. Sadly, Dad mostly ruled the roost music-wise being nearest the tape slot and he was in his Al Jolston, Kingston Trio and Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night fan-boy mode back then. Twenty eight years later, I still automatically recall 'The streets of London' with Roger Whittaker’s whistling solo when photos of the Big Pineapple are brought out.....
On my wedding day, he linked his arm through mine and walked me out of their front door, down the driveway and around to the back pergola, where Love Chunks was standing there in front of 60 guests, nervously smiling back at them, waiting for me. It was a typically blustery Murray Bridge gust-storm, and my fancy white wedding hat was soon plonked on Dad’s head for safe-keeping. It suited him better anyway.
Nearly two years ago I had plummeted to the very lowest depths and was curled up on a gurney in the Accident and Emergency ward, sobbing incoherently, wanting my life to be over.
Dad drove 110km to the hospital the moment LC rang him and stroked my back, saying softly, “I love you. WE love you. The world wouldn’t be the right place without you.” I was in a deep hole of pain that is still too dark and incomprehensible to think back to or write about with any lucidity and don’t think I replied to what he said but I heard him…….
Months later, Dad sent me an email:
My darling daughter,
You said, "What on earth does it matter if.......?"
I wonder if we who ask those questions, and then give the answers to ourselves, even have the right to ASK the questions, let alone have the right to pre-empt all those who love us and give the answers as well. I say "WE who ask..." deliberately, because I have certainly asked myself the questions too, as, I'm absolutely sure, have countless others. The answer, and the ONLY answer, is given silently, but with total conviction, by all those we hold dear BECAUSE THEY HOLD US DEAR!
I saw the answer the night before you went on holiday when I remarked that you were looking pretty good - you had colour in your cheeks and a spark in your eyes. The answer was there when LC looked at you, gave a little smile, also gave you a little squeeze around the shoulders, and concurred. He "spoke" for us all - all that you have to do is believe it! You have the love of all of us, darling daughter, and it's ABSOLUTELY FREE!
When WE think we are worthless and just a hindrance to everyone else's life, somehow we have to believe that WE ARE COMPLETELY WRONG. In fact, we are the ONLY one who thinks that way, and it's just an indication that we're a bit out of whack and we just have to accept that, and wait until the light at the end of the tunnel stops being a light and becomes a normal day again - and it WILL!!!
You're using what I call the "stepping stones", I noticed, e.g., "...the gorgeous tropical clouds...", and "...our little blondie, swimming and chattering in the sun...". That's good!
I remember doing the same, feeling that I was kidding myself for ages, and keeping on until I realized that it wasn't kidding oneself but was the RIGHT approach to life. I went from one "stepping stone" to the next, creating one when my not-quite-right mind told me that there wasn't really one there at all. Slowly the stepping stones become more real, and the holes between them become smaller and shallower, until the holes lose their potential for disaster. Believe it!
There is NOT ONE PERSON who would prefer your absence to your presence - it's an unbelievably illogical thought to think otherwise, yet somehow so many of us think exactly that at some low point in our lives. I wonder why? Luckily most of us are blessed with those around us desperate to help at those times, and we must let them, and then they will lead us out the other side eventually. Lean on us all - we welcome it!
All my love always,
He told me on the phone the other night that he hates all the commercial crap associated with Fathers Day and didn’t want any presents or even an obligatory phone call.
But I am going to call him. There’s something I really need to tell him.