I have just received a text message to tell me of your death. Yes, I knew you were ill, so it has not come as a big surprise but there is still a sadness – and memories are only just starting to come to me.
I will not travel down for your funeral, as 1700 kilometres is a long way to go to farewell someone you haven’t seen or spoken to for many years.
You were my oldest cousin.
Our grandparents had six children and 17 grandchildren.
The six children are all long gone, and you, the first born of the grandchildren, are the second grandchild to die. My brother, Pete, left us in 2008; he was the first to leave.
Richard, I was the fifth grandchild and, when we were very young, we spent some time playing together, even though I must have been only about two years old. You were always so much bigger and older and (seemingly) wiser that not many words ever passed between us. My older sister and I adored you in those days. (I’m not sure if I truly remember this fact or if it is only through old photos that I gather such info.). You were the big boy and my sister and I were the little girls. Your younger brother, Geoff, was a little more approachable, possibly because of the sympathy we had for him and his inability (or reluctance?) to be toilet trained.
Later you, Richard, were to gain a young sister, Catherine, but she was not around to be included in those war-time years of togetherness.
Once we were over the dreadful times of World War 2 and our fathers were home from their army and air force duties (although not your father, as he had remained at home due to his role as part of ‘essential services’ as he was the owner of a grocery store) - we all grew up and grew apart.
But, your parents bought a holiday home down on the Mornington Peninsula and we were
fortunate enough to be invited there on occasions, especially for family Boxing Day get-togethers.
By this time, you considered yourself well beyond socialising with any young girl cousins and would make yourself scarce whenever we were around. You, your brother and mates would go out on your yacht. Was it first a VJ and then a slightly bigger ‘Gwen’ class craft? I am trying to
remember the details of the yachts we would see you sailing. I would sit on the beach and fantasise about being allowed to sail with you. But it never happened.
Your dad, my Uncle Jock, took us (my older sister and me) out in the motor boat once. We dropped double-hooked lines over the edge and caught flatheads – two at a time. What bliss that summer day was, until a storm suddenly sprang up and the little boat was buffeted around and we became drenched with salt-water spray.
No life jackets in those days, but we were confident that our uncle would steer us back safely. And he did. He also stopped and threw a rope to some young kids who were stranded in their motor-less boat and in danger of being swept out to sea – out through ‘the heads’ – never to be seen again.
When we were teenagers, one Christmas time we spent hours on the top deck of the Mornington house listening to Charles Trenet sing ‘La Mer’ over and over again. The record must have nearly worn out all its grooves and, as for me, it was one of life’s most memorable times, when I felt truly accepted as a teenager. But it was a singular occasion.
Some years later when your number came up and the government of the day requested your presence at a medical examination to ensure that you were of sound body and mind – enough to be called to do your National Service (Nasho, we called it), you were so reluctant to be so constrained and so ordered about that, for some days before the medical test, you scratched the
palms of your hands, sprinkled Rinso washing powder on them and covered them in Bandaids. By the time the army doctors saw you, you had violent ‘eczema’ on your palms. On being asked what was troubling your hands, you replied that you didn’t know but you always had it and it came on your feet also. ‘Medically unfit’ was the verdict and you missed out on doing your nasho.
Did you really do that, Richard?
You turned 21 and continued your university studies and became a dentist.
Not that long after graduating, you heard that, in the UK, dentists were guaranteed
employment and were paid well by the UK’s National Health Scheme, so off you went to
London, and stayed in Englandfor some years.
Eventually we were shown pictures of your wedding day – to Ann – with you looking amazingly formal and very English in your morning suit; a sight seldom seen in 1960s Australian weddings.
It was a stranger that I saw in those pictures.
You did return to Australia, bringing your wife, Ann, and even, in your generous fashion, Ann’s mother as well.
Two sons were added to your family; sons I never came to know at all. But that’s what happens in families. The ripples in the ponds grow bigger and wider and we all have our own family circles to deal with – and love.
And now, Richard, you are gone.
But the memories remain.
Your cousin, Dianna.