This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.
I never wanted to go to my grandma’s on Christmas night but I always had fun when I got there.
Mum said that all the time, “You’ll have fun when you get there”.
She was right most of the time but it still cheesed me off whenever she said it.
My grandma lived in a large old Italianate Victorian house on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy.
It stood out then as it does today because it has two concrete fountains in the front yard [you don’t see that everyday] and because it is the only house in a long row of old double story shops.
When you are a kid you don’t want to be dragged away from your new toys even if there is the promise of a party or other kids [mostly cousins] to play with and some serious cakes.
My aunties would all try and outdo each other when it came to heart stopping cream cakes.
My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
My mum was an excellent cook but my aunties were not far behind and one aunty in particular enjoyed that I complimented her on her cakes. She saw it as a victory over my mum and I saw it as a chance to get more cakes! A bit of flattery went a long way with my aunties and in my day cream cakes were a luxury only to be seen at Christmas, birthdays and the occasional other special occasion, so I was not going to miss out.
As I said, my grandma’s house was huge with a long hallway running down the centre of the house. The backyard was not huge but it did have it’s own bluestone stables, as well as back gates that led to a side street!
All of these things spelled ‘kid heaven’.
I had heaps of cousins about half of which were a few years older and the rest were around my age. We all got on reasonably well so there was always fun to be had.
My grandma was pretty old and I don’t think she knew what a vacuum cleaner was so once us kids got going the house looked and smelled like a speakeasy, only with us it was dust not smoke.
Even now if I go into a dusty room it takes me back instantly to that house.
My cousin Phil and I were about eight months apart in age and we got on well so I looked forward to seeing him. Unfortunately he suffered from asthma and all the running around combined with the dust was too much for Phil.
My mum suggested that I sit with him somewhere quiet out of the mayhem. I didn’t mind, I liked the guy and I felt for him partly because in those days asthma was seen as a wimpy disease; at least amongst us kids it was.
It happened every Christmas and it got to the point that I would learn a few stories [mostly provided by my dad] so I had something to take Phil’s mind off the fact that he might not be able to take another breath.
It hadn’t happened yet but one of my aunties and one of my cousins would die suddenly from this affliction and my dad’s life was significantly shortened by asthma and the panoply of experimental drugs they gave him over the years.
I tried to come up with new stories each year but Phil would always ask for one particular story.
It involved the devil.
I doubt that it was the way I told it, although I had plenty of practice, but he loved this story.
We were at different Catholic schools and it was the early 1960s so the devil got plenty of ink in our little world.
The story went a bit like this.
The Devil and the Drover.
Once upon a time there was a drover who had a big heard of cattle that he had to drive across the outback. They needed to be at a certain town by a certain time but he was not worried because he had done this run many, many times.
As he was slowly moving his herd across the outback he met a strange man. The drover wondered how this man had arrived out here in the desert.
The ‘man’ introduced himself as ‘the devil’.
The drover thought he was kidding but it might explain why he did not seem to mind the heat.
The devil told the drover that he could have anything he wanted and all he had to do was to give him his soul.
The drover thought about it [who wouldn’t?] but eventually he said no thanks.
The devil was very angry and stole several of the drover’s cattle and took them down a big hole which presumably, led to hell.
As you can imagine the drover was not very happy, in fact he was pissed!
The devil thought he had the best of him but he didn’t count on how tough and resourceful a drover can be.
The drover rode to the nearest town and spent all the money he had on a wagon filled with blocks of ice. He drove the wagon back to where the devil had stolen his cattle and he parked the wagon on the edge of the hole and started to unload the ice.
They were big blocks and the drover threw them one by one into the hole.
When the wagon was about half empty the devil popped up out of the hole that led to Hell and started to shout at the drover.
“Stop dropping ice into that hole, you are putting the fire out!”
“Give me back my cattle”, the drover replied with passion of his own.
The devil refused so the drover went back to emptying the contents of the wagon into the hole which led directly to hell.
The devil was furious but he had to give in as it was very difficult to restart the fires of hell once they had gone out.
The drover got his cattle back and he made it to market just in time to collect his fee.
The next time the drover did that run he took the long way around.
No sense tempting fate.
This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.
The house was designed and built for Dr Josiah Colantro back in the 1880s.
He was an ‘old school’ GP; home visits — knew everyone’s name.
Watched them come into this world and cared for them on the way out.
He was highly respected; after all, no doctor, no town, but it was more than dependence that caused people to respect and love him.
He lived and worked in that house for many years until it passed to his son and finally to his grandson. I say finally because it was events in the modern era that saw this house fall into disrepair.
People often told Simon Colantro that he had a gear loose.
He was used to derogatory remarks, he had heard them all his life.
But, someone once said that you get what you focus on, so I suppose it was not really a surprise when it happened.
He collapsed in the waiting room of a famous dentist and was rushed to the Emergency Ward of the local hospital.
His grandfather was a GP back in the day, and this hospital was one of his legacies. He fought tooth and nail to have it established, so it was fitting that his grandson should receive care at this establishment.
He was rushed to surgery and discharged within ten days; he was a quick healer.
The worn gear that they removed from his head went home with him in a glass jar.
The hospital staff were sworn to secrecy, but there were still rumours.
People in a small town being what they are, eventually drove Simon Colantro from his home. He was different, and they were not going to tolerate ‘different’.
No one really knows what happened to Simon, but one thing is for sure; rust was his constant companion.
Photo credit: Not my photo but I forget where I got it from, probably a blog on WordPress. If it’s yours, put your hand up, and I will gladly give you credit for this amazing shot.
Same pathway, same dog, different days.
Not great photos but I do enjoy the idea of Honey looking at herself.
This is the entrance to ‘Earthly Pleasures’ in Belgrave.
The restaurant was originally the family home of one of the area’s pioneer families.
Dr Jorgensen ran his practice out of this house.
This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.
He didn’t like being old.
He certainly didn’t feel old.
But, he was a granddad, so he must be old, at least in some people’s eyes.
Sure there were wrinkles and strange bumps every now and then but he still looked several years younger than his age. His skin was still as soft as silk, then again it always had been. He remembered that in his younger days girls loved to touch his soft skin, but he also remembered that it was a serious hinderance to working with his hands. His days as a furniture restorer were often painful until the inevitable callouses developed.
In his mid twenties he remembers being incensed when asked for ‘proof of age’ at a bottle shop but since then it had been a blessing rather than the curse.
His parents had taught him that you take people as they present themselves, not by any external appearance or any second-hand assessment.
“Treat people with respect and they will return the favour.”
His guiding lights had long since died and he had been the head of his family for a number of years and life had moved forward, as life is want to do.
Now there were grandchildren.
The experience of being a grandfather was nothing like he expected it to be.
There were a lot of kilometres between him and the little ones and mostly contact came through the wonders of the internet, which was good and he was grateful for these fleeting moments but it was not the same as visiting, holding, and smelling these amazing creatures.
To ease the situation he had begun writing to the eldest. She was coming up to four years of age and was sharp as a tack.
No emails would be sent, this was going to be ‘old school’; paper and an envelope and a stamp. The one concession to the modern world was a new printer for the computer which would print out these episodes, but even then he chose a ‘handwriting font’ so as to keep it authentic.
When he sent off the first letter he held his breath and waited for a reaction. The letter was a simple account of ‘life at granddads’.
The reaction was several days in the coming and in the end it came tangentially via grandma, which confirmed his suspicion that relations between him and the adults were ‘strained’
Families are strange beasts at the best of times and sometimes you have to put your foot down when things are going in the wrong direction. He had put his foot down but he was aware that it was going to cause a bit of tension.
Granddad was not one to be ignored, particularly by his own family. If he had let things drift along as they had, nothing would have changed. So, after a long campaign to encourage communication he had pulled the plug; ‘went dark’ as the modern ones would say.
It wasn’t working, but he had to try.
Self respect is an important part of being a strong person. It’s a compass for living.
Some people confuse it with ego. He didn’t. He knew the difference and was constantly on the lookout for the possibility of ego getting in the way.
If the communication channels with the adults were closed for the moment then he would keep the channel open with the grandchildren. To be honest, he was looking forward to them being old enough to be able to have a long conversation.
As often happens, the granddaughter had latched onto a part of his letter and it had made her laugh. Apparently the laughing went on for several days.
Part of the letter that tickled her was the description of the peaceful removal of the last of many possums from the roof of granddad’s house. The battle to keep them out had gone on for several decades and finally, after a new roof went on, the last one was out.
The letter mentioned that the last of the possums had moved into a possum box on the side of the house.
When he reached the end of this first experimental letter he signed off using all of the names of the humans and canines living in the house, and just for fun he included the possum. This is what tickled the little girl.
“Possums can’t write letters!”
Children don’t see the world the way we do and it seems that they don’t hear the world the same way either.
There was a promise to ‘write to granddad’ but this would obviously involve the participation of one of the grownups. A bit of time went by and no letter arrived so he thought that a second letter was a good idea.
Keep the pot boiling, so to speak.
Now, what would this letter be about?
A few years ago my eldest son and his wife rented a house in an outer suburb of Adelaide. It was made of brick and had one of those closed in back verandahs that showed the house had become too small for a growing family at one point in its history.
I loved to sit on that back verandah and gaze out of the open back door while sitting in an old, very comfortable armchair.
The photo above shows a TeeShirt on the clothesline with the usual arachnid who believes that clotheslines were put there to help them feed their family.
My son and his wife eventually decided to buy their own house and my favourite chair was discarded in the move.
I was not happy!
I loved that chair but this was not my house and not my decision to make. Such is the lot of a parent of a grown-up son.
I miss that house and that chair even though the new house is excellent. With history repeating itself, this new house is now bursting at the seams with the addition of a daughter and a son.
I love this photo as it takes me back to that house and the excitement of wedding preparations, early morning cups of coffee gazing out the door into the backyard teaming with life as all backyards usually are.
I miss sitting on that chair with a small dog on my lap thinking of what may come.
I’m not the only one who loved that chair.
“He who loves an old house never loves in vain.”
– Isabel La Howe Conant, late 19th Century author
And every old house needs a backyard and a dog………… or two.
This amazing, little old house was built nearly one hundred years ago and the oak tree that you get a glimpse of in the first photo (on the right) is one hundred and seventeen years old (you can measure the age of an oak tree by its circumference. one inch per year). This means that the original couple who built this house probably laid out the garden many years before they began building. We know a little bit about the original owners because when we moved in there was a very old bloke living across the road from us and he had lived in our street for many years. He remembers when they died and the family came and dug out many of the plants that they had nurtured! He was disgusted. He would be very sad to know that his descendants unloaded his excellent old house the minute he died. The lady who bought the house has been a good neighbour, most of the time.
The window in the photo above is the reason we now own this house. The owner at the time asked me to repair this window and I instantly fell in love with this house. Years later the next owner asked me to repair another leadlight panel for him and I told him that I’d been at his house before. He showed me around and showed off all the improvements he had made and as I was leaving I said that if he ever wanted to sell the house that he should ring me. He laughed and said that there was no way he would ever sell that house.
Fast forward a decade and he makes that call.
A few months later and we are the new owners of this house.
One day I will post the story of our journey to living here. It is an excellent story and deserves it’s own post.
The 117 year old oak tree is on the right.
Back in the day I was approached by a bloke who collected tins. He wanted to sell a big chunk of his collection so that it would not be a burden on his wife when he died. He was a great bloke and although I could not afford to keep all of them I did manage to hang on to a few.
Our front deck looks over a creek so we get a few visitors who drop in to dry off after bathing.
My wife gets the credit (or the blame) for photos 1, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11