Sam’s childhood was a mixture of confusion, anger and small amounts of joy.
Basically he was a kid, and given half a chance kids get on with living no matter how crazy the world is that surrounds them.
Sam was wild and rude and angry but this bloke didn’t seem to be worried by any of it.
His name was Bob but Sam knew him as Mr Norris.
There was also a Mrs Norris and she was nice enough in a reserved sort of way. Mrs Norris had been a nurse in the Great War and she oozed common sense.
She didn’t gossip much.
She had seen what the world was capable of and she was happy to hide in this quiet suburban street.
No matter how demanding Sam was Mrs Norris was always calm and firm and if Sam was old enough to know such things he would have realised that she reserved her calmness, and her compassion just for him.
His greatest delight was to play in Mrs Norris’s pots and pans cupboard. Her kitchen cupboard covered an entire wall, from ten foot ceiling to highly polished floor.
The Norris household was always slightly dark and smelled of furniture polish.
Not a speck of dust was allowed on any surface.
The Norris’s were unable to conceive and so they adopted a daughter who left them to live overseas as soon as she had sufficient funds. Looking back, Sam could hardly remember her. She was several years older but he thought that she was probably a selfish bitch who did not appreciate this loving, if slightly repressed, couple. It broke their heart that she chose to live on the other side of the world.
In some ways, some of that unreturned loved was lavished on Sam.
His occasional trips to Mrs Norris’s kitchen cupboard came because the older woman could see the strain that was being exerted on Sam’s mother. The younger woman was doing her best but a wild child and herself being inexplicably barren, she was suffering from what, in later years, would be known as chronic depression. This was the era where neighbours looked out for each other and everyone shared the responsibility of raising a child. Mind you, it was also the era of massive child and spousal abuse so maybe it was not as good as we remember.
For some reason that was never explained, Mr Norris called Sam, Joe.
Sam thought that he probably reminded him of someone named Joe but he never got around to asking.
Mr Norris was a primary school teacher who had worked his way up to being a Principal at one of the numerous schools in the area.
When he was discharged from the army he was still a young man, and jobs were hard to come by. He had an education so he applied to become a school teacher. He was accepted and sent to a small country, one teacher school.
No training to speak of, just thrown in at the deep end.
The school was in a drought stricken area of the bush and he did not have anywhere to stay so he pitched a tent in the school grounds and lived in it for more than a year.
The school had very few teaching aids and he had to buy his own chalk. This was a story that the young Sam heard many times and it made a change from the ‘we had to walk miles through the snow, to get to school in our day’.
Grown ups told boring stories and made it worse by repeating them on many occasions.
Sometimes, when Mrs Norris was preparing his school for a new school year he would take Sam with him and let him run in and out of the classrooms in that huge two-story building.
Sam’s childish enthusiasm must have annoyed this seemingly stern headmaster but Sam could not remember anything but love and firm guidance coming from this amazing man.
Mr and Mrs Norris were also religious and were senior members of their Methodist congregation. Once in a while Sam would get to ride along in The Norris’s black 4/44 Wolseley when they had some midweek church business to attend to. The church building was located on a large block of land in a side street not far from Sam’s house. It was an old wooden building that always smelled like dust, which must have annoyed Mrs Norris.
Again there would be more running and exploring.
The church had a wide wooden verandah which was ideal for running on because it made an excellent noise as small feet came into rapid contact with old boards. Peering through windows and wondering what went on in dimly lit rooms was a wonderful game.
The biggest trip of all came when the Norris’s took Sam to the Dandenong Ranges for the day. Sam had just received a camera for his birthday and this trip started his lifelong love affair with photography.
Even today, when Sam drives through ‘the hills’ the sights and sounds and smells takes him back to being that little boy, all dressed up in his Sunday best. Being on his best behaviour took a lot out of him but he was so busy that he didn’t have time to get into trouble.
The drive took the better part of an hour but there were many wonderful things to see along the way. He didn’t know his city was so big.
The mountain had an earthy smell and they visited friends of the Norris’s who owned a huge sprawling nursery called Lyndon Gardens. As with a lot of things in that area, it’s still there but the old couple who owned it then are long dead.
Lunch was consumed at The Pig and Whistle and there was an aviary in the grounds with a talking Cockatoo.
Sam doesn’t remember the drive home probably because he was fast asleep on the back seat of that shiny black Wolseley.
Years went by; Sam grew into a teenager and the Norris’s retired.
With retirement came the decision to move to a more ‘up-market’ suburb.
Preston was working class and the Norris’s were always more educated and cultured than those who lived around them. In any case, this is what people did in those days when they retired.
Some chose to live by the bay, some moved to be closer to grandchildren and some moved to a better class of suburb.
This relocation made it more difficult for Sam to keep in touch with his mentors but when he finished University and bought a car he drove across town to spend some time with this ageing couple.
As often happens with young people, Sam did not realise that these influential people would not live forever.
Mr Norris died first.
Sam had not seen him for several months.
Sam was saving up his news so that he had lots to tell him.
Mr Norris never got to hear all the news and a few months later Mrs Norris joined her lifelong partner; and a vital chapter in Sam’s life came to a close.
Sam vowed to never ‘save up’ anything, and to never take a loved one’s existence for granted.