Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Decal

Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that's true. - "Old Man".  Neil Young 1972
Defining moments. Those moments you remember forever, moments which define a transition in one's life as surely as they do in some news stories, films and novels.

When Mr Darcy proposes to Elizabeth Bennett
When Lady Macbeth first washes her hands of her king's blood
When (for those of us who are old enough to remember) John F Kennedy was shot
When (and more of us will remember this) when the Berlin wall went down
9/11

Mother and Son, Rotorua 1983
But I'm more interested in those defining moments that do not signify an event that causes a change in world affairs, or the turn of a novel's plot. I'm interested in those remembered events that mark a change in ones life - signifying the beginning of something new, a different phase, a subtle event perhaps unnoticed by many, but signifying something ...

The moment, perhaps lasting only a second or less, when it finally hit me that my mother's cancer had spread. "Today when I went to the fridge, I could't pick up an egg," she told me over the phone, 12,000 miles away.

The last time I played hopscotch. I knew it was the last time, at the time. "This is the end of my childhood", I thought as I turned on the two top chalked squares, "7 8" to commence my journey into adulthood.

A Melbourne tram conductor singing "Love Love Me Do!" in September 1964; signifying the moment when the world turned to color from black and white.

I wonder, are such moments hooks on which to hang the 'dividers' of our life? Anything before that hopscotch game equals childhood, everything after equals adulthood? Or are they more than reference points, rather times of realisation that life is forever changed.

Not all such moments concern oneself. They be another person's realisation, acknowledgement, or acceptance of a life change.

Father and Daughter, Melbourne 1967
One of my sadder memory moments occurred in New Zealand in 1983. I'd gone there with my boyfriend of the time, to see my father. We'd not spent much of our lives together, my father and I. My parents separated constantly from the day of my birth till when I was thirteen. From thirteen on the split was permanent and my father eventually moved to New Zealand. From then on our meetings were infrequent. In fifteen years I maybe saw him five times.

Somehow in 1983 I learned he was unwell, perhaps he had not much time to live. I had just started a new job in Melbourne and could only take one week off. But one week is better than nothing, and so tickets were bought and off we set, Robert, myself and my seven year old son.

It turned out to be not so bad a trip, in as much as a trip to see one's estranged and dying father can be 'not so bad'. Bill had stopped working, could not walk very far, and throat cancer had almost completely taken his voice. He was living in a caravan (trailer) behind the Princes Gate Hotel courtesy of the then owners. You can actually see this caravan in the movie Sleeping Dogs where he had a minor role. He and Sam Neil have a drunken scene in the caravan, and I believe little acting was required of Bill for this cameo...

Father and Daughter, Rotorua 1983
Bill was poor, having never saved a cent in his life. But he had an old Hillman Imp. Cars were costly back then in NZ and so owning a car was something for him to be proud of. And it came in useful. The four of us would set out every morning, to tour of the Rotoruan countryside.

Bill loved the old Hillman. To us, Peugeot owners from OZ, it was a bit of a joke. But to Bill, it meant a lot. And as he could no longer drive it, the day trips with his daughter and grandson and defacto son-in-law were important, both in themselves and as a change in the monotonous life of a lonely invalid.

On day seven, arriving back from the last of our excursions, when I slammed the passenger door shut, the Hillman's decal fell to the ground. Bill looked at it anxiously, and unable to bend down, pointed it out to me. I went to pick it up, wondering how I'd attach it back. I hesitated. He looked at me, then back at the decal. "It doesn't matter does it?" he said. I knew what he meant. The Hillman would never be driven again in his lifetime. From that instant on, we both knew he'd entered the dying phase. He died five months later.

And that's what I remember. It isn't all that I remember from that seven-day trip. But it is the event of significance. And in that one event is held all the poignancy of discovering, and saying goodbye to, my dad.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kate, I cried. You may have seen your Dad only 5 times in his last years , but the last visit to see your father was memorable for you, for your Dad and for your son. The fallen medallion an ending.

Boggy said...

Was it several years ago when you first told the story about your dad?
It grabbed me again. I remember the last time I saw my dad. Did I know it was to be the last?
Eight years old, mum and I visited dad in an Army repat hospital grey faced and weak from his failed heart. An overcrowded ward with starched nurses and veterans wheezing with congested lungs.
I had been given two bob by one of my sister's boyfriends and was thinking about what I could spend it on: a Hoadley's Violet Crumble bar, some Daryll Lea licorice, or whatever. But dad asked mum if she could give him a couple of bob for cigarettes. Mum probably had only two bob to her name and it would be for supper after the tram ride back from North Sydney. She told me to give dad the money I had. I hesitated. He was taking MY money! To this day, I am ashamed of my eight year old feelings.
We left him in the ward; don't think I looked back.
I never saw him again.
Did this change my life?
Not then, but years later, I was ashamed of my eight year old selfishness. And I still am.

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