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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The end of an era

Another day when the fabric of the universe ripples ever so slightly. My Grandad died last night, which means that I have to rearrange everything in my path for the next week and fly to Perth for the funeral. It's meant lots of phonecalls, but I quite enjoy the feeling that everything that seems unmoveable and high-pressure can actually shift for these occasions, and that thought consoles me when I'm feeling the stress of a busy lifestyle.

Of course, I'm very sad about my old Grandad, but relieved as well, because he died far more peacefully than we'd all imagined. Last month he was told that his prostate cancer was far more aggressive than he'd realised and it had spread to his already-fucked-up lungs (very heavy smoker) so he only had a month or two to live. He (my grandad) was very angry about this, especially when he realised that his six kids had known this for a fair while, but hadn't told him about it. It had been the subject of a fairly heated family debate, to inform or to leave in ignorance. I could see both sides -- let him know, for his own sake, so that he could enjoy his last few months fully; or leave him ignorant so that he could just live normally to the end? Thinking back on it, I think they did the right thing in not telling him, as he probably lived longer not knowing. My Grandad was never a positive thinker. Anyway, he died last night, in his sleep, with his headphones on, probably dozing and listening to the latest race results. The best way out.

My Grandad was one of those salt-of-the-earth sort of people, very rough but with a heart of gold. I have a photo of him when he joined the navy in WWII, at the ripe age of 16. He is GORGEOUS, with blond hair and twinkly blue eyes, and clear skin. After the war he met my Nana, wooing her with his motorbike and suave charm (the sort that lasts until the third beer). The family story goes that he took Nana to a local ball in Perth, and she wore a fabulous rainbow-tulle dress. He sat her on the back of the motorbike and took off very fast. 'How's that, Annie?' he called back to her. When there was no answer, he looked back, and saw her sitting in the gutter having fallen off the back of the bike when he revved, with a big tear up the side of her dress. She still married him, and they had 6 kids. He took them to Kalgoorlie and became a gold and nickel miner. He reckons that if our family got one Pub share for every beer they bought, we'd own all the pubs in town by now. I used to look at his face and think about that young, fresh photo. After sixty years of smoking, drinking and mining, he was rough, red, bloated, and every pore on his face was pitted with black. I think it took a lot of guts to be a miner; he would take me underground on some of my visits, and I have to say outright, I prefer the surface. Definitely. One of the reasons why I love the book Birdsong by Sebastian Faulk.

I have to say though, Grandad was a racist, sexist, homophobic old bastard, with a soft spot only for anyone with the right qualities. I was very happy when his favorite grandson came out as a gay man, because Grandad had to choose whether to cut this man from his family, or accept him, sexuality and all. When he not only accepted him, but also accepted his long-term partner, I was very proud, as it was a huge step in the right direction, and he seemed to mellow about a lot of issues as a result.

The main regret I have is that Grandad had the best vocabulary of the Australian vernacular I have ever come across. I have no memory for dialogue, and have always wanted to record a conversation with him with my dictaphone, because he'd have me in stitches for hours, and then I'd come away and forget everything. Now it's gone forever. Mind you, we'll be having a right proper wake for him at his favorite Perth pub on Friday, and I'm sure if I take my notebook I'll be able to catch a few beauties from his kids, grandkids and friends. Oh, but I'm not looking forward to that damned Red-eye Special.

1 comment:

Lucy Tartan said...

It feels a bit wrong to chime in with 'great post' on a subject like this -- but really, what a wonderful thing you have written. Hope you're feeling OK.