Dad was and is my hero….sadly he is no longer with me physically but he is there with me in spirit all of the time. I hear his voice often urging me through difficulties and celebrating achievements. Dad lived a life blessed by the love of a faithful, loving wife and loving children.
Dad’s life as a kid was filled with much sadness but he told me had many happy memories from his childhood. He once won a fancy dress competition when his mother made him a costume “stop here for trams” It was the depression and there was much money so his Mum dressed him as a tram/bus stop. He could not remember what he won and said it was probably just a certificate and he felt very proud to have won and very proud of his mum for making his prize winning costume.
He remembers his school days at the Catholic schools at Broadmeadow and Adamstown as happy times as he had a thirst for learning. He instilled this in me as the years passed. He remembers receiving the sacraments and he told me once his First Communion was a memory that held a special place in his memory and filled his necessitous life with great joy.
As there was never much money, accommodation was by necessity shared and often overcrowded. He told the story of living in Lambton with his Mum and Dad, four siblings, Aunt and Uncle and their four kids. All in a small two bedroom house. I was talking to one of these cousins (R) and he told the story of getting knocked by a car at the front of the house (they played outside in all weather as there was not much room in the house). I asked R if got into trouble and if he went to hospital. His response was he was not the one who got into trouble but his older brother (J) and Dad were scolded for not keeping an eye on him. As for hospital he said, such were the times, this was not even a remote option. He R, was allowed to stay inside however for the rest of the day and this was a rare treat. Dad maintained a strong and loving friendship with these men through his life.
One of his enduring memories was of being sent outside when his mother was giving birth to the youngest of the his sisters. Dad knew that something of import was happening so he stood on a box outside the bedroom window and watched the whole event unfold. He said he nor his actions were never discovered on this occasion. He said however, when misdemeanours were discovered discipline was hard and physical. He bore no ill-will towards his parents for this as that was how parenting happened.
He always said he remembers his childhood as a happy time despite the hardships and difficulties. The family moved often and this is something that I could never quite understand. When Dad became too infirm to drive I would often take him out for a drive in my car. One particular day we were in Broadmeadow and he was pointing houses where he had lived. After the fourth or fifth house (mostly along Brunker Road) I asked why they had moved so regularly and quite matter of factly his response was “The old man was not good at paying the rent”.
Sadly Dad’s mother, my grandmother, died when Dad was just 12 years old. M, was just a tiny baby. Grandmother had pernicious anaemia and there was no cure or treatment. He recalled however, his aunties boiling up masses of liver (lambs fry) and his mum drinking the resultant liquid. I cannot even imagine doing this. Dad, being the eldest of the five children, gave up school at this time to care for his younger siblings. He can remember following the horse-drawn hearse through the streets of Broadmeadow to make the train journey to Sandgate Cemetery. The vision of the black plumes on the horse’s heads remained with Dad throughout his 87 years.
The family were living in Lambton at the time of his mother’s untimely death but soon after moved to back to Broadmeadow. The lived opposite the Premier Hotel where Hunter Pain Clinic now stands ( a place I visit often). Back in Dad’s day it was a Pool Hall and they lived on the top floor. My Grandfather’s job was to manage the pool hall. I suspect the move back to Broadmeadow was so Pop could be near his sister who helped with the kids when she could. Ultimately however, Dad was not able to care for his siblings ( the youngest being just a few months old) and they were placed in care. No foster care in those days…..sadly the siblings were separated the girls going to Monte Pio in Maitland and Uncle B to Murray Dwyer at Mayfield West. This decision caused difficulties in the family for many years. The female siblings to felt a great sense of betrayal and bitterness towards their father and Aunty for not being able to provide them with the necessities. Dad did not go into care because by this time he was almost 14 and went to work. He worked for the Railways and when WW11 broke out he wanted to join the Army but the railways was a “protected” industry. Dad decided that if he could not join the army he would stop going to work. His boss came around to the house and asked him if there was something wrong and Dad told him he wanted to join the Army so his boss signed the forms and Dad joined up.
He served in Borneo and New Guinea and whilst he was home on leave he met Mum at his Aunty’s home (where she was working as a dressmaker) and they married at the end of the war. If Dad been alive they would have celebrated 70 years of marriage this year.
I read somewhere recently that dying well is simply an extension of living well. My Dad died six years ago today. He died as he lived surrounded by those who loved him. He gently slipped away with Mum and his kids, some of his grandkids and great grandchildren by his side. He had “waited” I believe several hours for Mum to be with him when he made this last journey. His passing was as gentle as he was and he quietly went to meet his God. He was asleep, his breathing slowed and he was gone. Then the realisation that life would not be the same again became apparent. Just as they did everything together, Mum was there to hold his hand and prayerfully guide his passing.
I miss my Dad. His story goes on in his five children, ten grandchildren, sixteen great grand children and one great great grand daughter.
Something will always remind me that he is close and watching over me.