Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Five Longest Years

One of the most visited posts on this blog is "When an old man dies a library burns down" and even now more than three years after I wrote it people still visit.  Google those words and my blog appears as number one in the rankings for the phrase which is interesting for me if not for anyone else.  But the sentiments the words express are one of the main reasons why I started blogging in the first place, so that one day, my kids and their kids may know a bit about me through what I write.   

Woody Allen said that some people seek immortality by creating great works of art or writing great literature, he preferred to achieve immortality by not dying.   But for me this is no yearning for immortality.  It is more about the frustrations I have had as I've grown older about not asking my ancestors questions when I had the chance to.  So here hopefully lie some of the pages from the library that is me that may survive that inevitable burning down.  And in the first follow up to Deb's story let me fill in some of the gaps.

We moved to Box Hill South when I was around 18 months old.  It was a time when we still had an outdoor dunny and a potty under the bed for those night time wees that sometimes were needed.  We didn't have any electricity to the toilet so a night time visit needed a torch and most of the time it didn't work.  Far safer to use the potty because there was always plenty of spiders around as well.

The roads weren't made and the gutters were open ditches full of interesting things to collect and look at.  In spring and summer the grass grew head high and there were all sorts of caterpillars, butterflies and moths living in the tufts.   The water in the drains also had weird red worm like things waving in the current like little sea anenomes, but the biggest critters were the rats and Dad used to stand in Massey Street and pour a few gallons of petrol into the drains followed by a match.  The resulting whhoofff would see the rats scurry from the grass and scatter across the road.  I think the only thing it really did was drive the rats under the house.

In summer the grass yellowed and dried and in winter the puddles in the potholes froze.  We'd often put on the gumboots and go trampling through them splashing, making skid pans and generally getting filthy.

The world was a much smaller place in the years before I turned five.   It consisted of our house and one or two each side of it and a couple across the road.    There were the Hoogens across the road, Anthony around my age and Frances was Karens and I recall spending a lot of time playing with them.  There is a photo of the four of us in our back yard with buckets on our heads playing Zig and Zag [a couple of TV clowns for those too young to remember].   They moved away when I was about five, I sort of remember the time because I know Anthony went to St Scholasticas Catholic School on Burwood Road and I don't think I had yet started school.  I remember standing at the window watching them drive away and being devastated because my best friend was moving away.  In fact, at that time he was my only friend.

Lot's of things were home delivered, the dunny man would come and hoist the pan on his head and carry it out to his truck.  The best part of that visit was that for a short time, until the pan started to fill, the flies were a bit less thick around the back yard.   I have a vague memory of the smell but there was always a bottle of phenyl beside the sit that was liberally poured over the expulsions.

Mr Peowrie delivered our briquettes.   I remember him being a really old bloke in a really old truck who was strong as an ox and he'd bring in 10 or 12 hessian sacks of briquettes and pour them into a wood box Dad had built outside the back door.

Bread and milk were delivered separately by horse and cart.  It was exciting some morninggs being up early enough to listen to the clip clop of the horses as they trotted down the street, the milkman running from side to side collecting empty bottles and delivering full ones.

In summer there was the Loys lemonade man and Mr Whippy who were regular visitors.

The postman came on a red bike twice a day and if I remember correctly he also came on Saturdays.   At Christmas time Dad always left tips out for all of those who home delivered stuff to us.  For the men it was usually hald a dozen bottles fo beer, for the paper boy a few bob in an envelope.  He always said that if you looked after them at Christmas they'd look after you during the year.

The backyard was one playground and the old hills hoist was used a swing unless Mum caught us in which case it was used for drying clothes.   We had pedal cars and bikes and spent a lot of time riding them in circles around the house.

It's funny how five years back them seemed so much longer than five years now.

Unlike Karen and Debra, the latter of who didn't arrive in the family until I was seven so is absent from this tale, I had my own bedroom.   Mum and Dad put vintage car wall paper on my wall and I remember learning to count the cars on the patterns.   Funny I can also clearly remember the dust motes dancing in the sunbeams as they streamed in my window in the mornings and at night time I could hear the train whistles on the Box Hill line and the steam that came out of the factory at Bowater Scott up on Middleborough Road.

I have this vague memory of going for a walk with Pa Joyce and watching the fires in the Dandenongs in Melbourne's east.  We must have walked up to the Eley and Middleborough Road intersection because that is the only place we could have seen them from.

After I turned five the world expanded but that's a tale for another day

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