Jack and Beryl lived a happy life.
It was, of course, filled with ups and downs. But overall, so happy.
In a modest 1940’s weather board house, they lived quietly for most of their 62 years of marriage. The house was a lot like all the other houses in their neighborhood, a little bit faded but neat as a pin in a tree-lined street, in a small country town.
I can still sometimes close my eyes and see the bright green and white striped tin awnings over the front windows, against the stark white weather boards hugged by concrete verandas and enormous, colourful hydrangea bushes with a fish pond out the back amongst fruit trees.
That very house saw Jack leave and return from a world war, The Depression, 7 children grow to young adults and wave after wave of laughter, love, Christmases, teenagers sneaking out of bedroom windows, weddings, 23 grandchildren, even more great-grandchildren, card games, broken bones, Pogo sticks and tennis tournaments.
I was lucky enough that I was one of the many grandchildren that got to call Beryl and Jack my Nan and Pop. I was also a bit luckier, as I lived in that same small country town,so I got to see them a few times a week, particularly on a Sunday morning after church. I would always burst through the glass timber-framed doors of the sun room they had sleepily tucked away at the back of the house, finding my grandfather having a mid-morning snooze in his chair, with a paperback western in his lap.
He would open his eyes and always exclaim, “Wowee, look what the wind blew in.”
I would then always respond with a standard, “Where’s Nan?”
“She went mad and the police man shot her.” ..my Grandfather had a long list of ‘Jack-isms’ and us kids thought he was hilarious.
I would then giggle at his silly words and go hunt for Nan who would be predictably sitting up at the kitchen bench listening to a tape of church hymns as she would hum along to them while playing patience with her worn out deck of cards, until Mum finally caught up with me.
Pop would then usually retreat to his studio, while Mum and Nan made cups of tea, any excuse to remain in the warmth of the buttery, gold sun room and talk about every person they had ever met, never remembering any of their names. I loved watching them both, following them closely as they would then always meander around Nan’s bursting garden, for what felt like forever, as they talked about every single plant and swapped clippings.
The very best part of 14 South Street was whenever days would fall away quickly and holidays came along bringing a house full of cousins!
The absolute excitement, whenever we would hear our mother on the phone, talking to one of my aunties late at night, discussing them visiting Nan and Pop for the school holidays. My sisters and I loved Jack and Beryl’s house but especially when it was filled with cousins and aunties and uncles. So many beautiful, simple moments with my sisters and cousins were spent in that house, or on that neatly trimmed lawn under the old grey clothes line. We would sometimes walk to the corner shop and buy paddle-pops together or go to the local pool at the end of the street when the sun was too much to take. We picked strawberries from Nan’s garden and gorged on them when she wasn’t watching, and we would all beg Pop to let us feed the big fat gold-fish in the pond, whacking the feed pot on the rock to get them to all surface.
Learning early in life that all good things come to a swift end, I would find myself just as quickly back in the routine of school, holidays over for another long wait. With a mother who worked, it was often my grandmother who answered the call from school when I was sick. As she walked me to back to the car we would hold hands and I loved running my fingers over her soft wrinkly skin as she held mine tightly. She would then bundle me into the car and take me back to 14 South Street, letting me watch soap operas with her as she fed me Sao’s and Vegemite.
Nan was a very, VERY religious woman. A strict catholic who carried a prayer with her where ever she went, she even had one pinned up in her car and we would recite it together whenever I traveled with her. She also had one within reach, in her kitchen that we often recited whenever we cooked. She had rosary beads and prayer books, crucifixions and bibles. Such was her devotion, particularly to the mother Mary, she had an alcove carved out between her and Jack’s twin beds, where a large beautiful statue of Mary would sit looking down. I loved showing this to any school friends I had staying over on weekends..just to see faces of complete disbelief.
Beryl was also against any kind of swearing and blasphemy, so much so that you would open one of her many books in her book shelf and discover swear words covered over by liquid paper. My sisters, cousins and I always took great delight in unpicking the words to see what lay beneath.
My fondest memory of my grandmother was talking to her, while my mother would go about setting her hair once a week in rollers, and then once a month with a perm solution to give her a head of gorgeously golden brown curls. We would play word games, and she would tell me stories about when she was a little girl, all to the backdrop of a large chemical cloud burning all of our nostrils. To this day, I still love that smell and it connects me to that tiny space in time, instantly.
Jack kept to himself a lot when we would visit, he was a passionate and talented artist with a make shift art studio in one side of a two door garage, where he would spend much of his retired years, just as it should be. As a child I would prop myself up beside him and watch as he would work the paint over the canvas, often calling out what colour paint he had selected since he was completely colour blind. I would run my fingers over the dried canvases when he wasn’t watching and all along the lined up tubes of paint with labels on them telling him what each colour was. The rich smell of the oil paints and turps in the air on a cool sunny winter’s morning, is something that has stayed with me forever.
They lived a full life in that house up until the grey, rain-soaked day Beryl held Jack’s hand as she had done a thousand times before, while he quietly sat in his chair and closed his eyes and did not open them again.
Beryl with the strong, fiery spirit she possessed, remained living in that house for many years, tending to their garden, cooking meals for one, packing up Jack’s art studio piece by piece until the very day her children sat around her bed and held her hand while she closed her eyes for the final time too.
Lately, I have paid close attention to the fact, that not only did I grieve my grandparents passing away, but also the house fading away from my life also.
I have lots and lots of memories from my childhood of their house, some of my earliest. I can close my eyes and still see every detail and know it all like the back of my hand. It was more a part of me then perhaps even my own childhood home. My mother was born and raised in that very house as were her 6 brothers and sisters.
I think about the knitted purple dinosaur, that was a door stop to the spare bedroom, the large coloured glass bottles that looked like genies homes, the bathroom that had a 70’s black light in it, with fluro yellow and white patterned tiles for the full effect, sounds strange I know, but trust me, it was the coolest thing that ever was to a 10 year old. Patterns on the ceilings, crocheted blankets and side tables full of crossword puzzles and books. The plastic crocodile sitting on the ledge on the fish pond, the oil heater in winter time and the big old square TV from the 60’s. The amazing produce they harvested from their humble little garden, teaching me all I ever needed to know about planting food and the four seasons.
I don’t know why it seems to bother me more than most, that time does not stand still and those golden moments are forever gone. The way we used to pack that tiny house of theirs to the rafters, with so much love and noise it was bursting at the seams.
It amazes me to think that one small, modest weatherboard house, in the middle of a tree-lined street may not be even looked at twice by a passer-by, yet it was the complete story of us.
If our home gets even a twinkle of an iota of love and memories that my grandparents little house did, I will consider myself very blessed.
I also like to think even though time keeps moving us further away from that golden moment in time, a little piece of Jack and Beryl will always be right here with me as I make the same memories in my home.