Celebrating Christmas with Two Australian Icons: Michael Leunig and Phillip Adams
Posted on December 24, 2011
Then the few acres were hacked into building blocks. The auction should have given my grandparents a few bob but they were diddled by a corrupt real estate agent. A member of Rotary, a pillar of the community, he knocked the blocks down to his mates at a fraction of their value.
Soon they were crowded with new brick veneers that have now grown old in turn. See them up and down Violet Grove, East Kew – once the dusty approach to Blossom’s stable.
Maud Rebecca Smith died from sorrow not long after Bill. And I inherited the job of “sorting out her stuff”. Precious little, jammed in a cheap wardrobe. To my astonishment there were all the Christmas presents her three daughters and umpteen grandchildren had given her over the years, all lovingly rewrapped in their Christmas paper, along with the cards.
Happy Christmas, Nan.
Remarkably unimaginative. The same pressies every year. Bottles of lavender water, lavender-scented talcum and soap. That’s what she’d ask for if asked, and she finished up cornering the market. But she’d always open the wrappings with trembling, arthritic hands and express surprise and joy.
Easily pleased, Maud Rebecca. Which was just as well as it never occurred to Grandpa, though I’m sure he loved her deeply, to offer her much in the way of entertainment. They’d listen to the wireless together at night but he never took her out. Though Hoyts Rialto was just a tram ride away, I can’t remember Nan ever making it to the pictures. I’d go to the local library for her and get “two romances and a mystery” and once a week she’d tram it to the Harp of Erin and meet a girlfriend for a few beers in the Ladies’ Lounge. No mixing of the sexes in Australian pubs back then.
But I’m forgetting the wild parties.
Once in a while Bill and Fred would invite some mates over and have a few beers in Blossom’s stable. Or in the tiny lounge room where everyone would take turns to sing (The Old Rugged Cross was Grandpa’s favourite) or do “a recitation” (something from Kipling). I was allowed to stay up and listen.
I knew we were poor. The other kids told me. We were “looked down upon” for lowering the tone of the neighbourhood with its new houses with indoor toilets.
But it was really only an issue on Christmas Day when the kids compared and flaunted their presents. Shiny Malvern Star bikes and Hornby electric train sets for them, versus a clumsily repainted antique bicycle that had belonged to an uncle before the war – the most humiliating thing I would ever own. That and my homemade clothes, which caused some amusement in the playground.
I’ve never visited my grandparents’ graves. I presume they were buried together, with brother Fred close by.
But I don’t know where. Clearly I was spared the funerals. Yet I loved them more than anyone else in my young life.
Far, far more than my parents, whom I rarely saw. And I always think of them at Christmas.