It’s been 14 years since the accident and this weekend Mum and I have decided it’s time to venture into the garage, Dad’s domain which has been left relatively untouched in that time. Unless you count my using it as a storage space for everything I’m not using but can’t bring myself to part with. Needless to say I’ve been avoiding having to deal with either.
Dad wasn’t perfect. If he was the garage would be pristine and Mum and I would be sitting on the deck with our feet up this weekend instead of downstairs amongst a myriad of boxed memories, old truck parts and dust!
He used to make a lot of things, which I thought was quite amazing, you start with nothing and you make something, figuring it out as you go along, which pretty much sums up my career.
Dad made me a musical instrument for a grade 8 music class project, I was supposed to make it but he was enjoying himself so much I let him go. Dad did really well and received an A+. I learnt from this approach and Betty Crocker earned me an A+ in home economics some weeks later. I emptied the contents into freezer bags, took in a couple of eggs and what-do-you-know!
I had plenty of space growing up. To me our home and the yard seemed huge; there was lots of garden to get lost in, the pool area and about seven enormous gum trees to climb which kept Mum busy most weekend raking leaves and hauling away bark and branches after a storm. Being an only child I developed quite a good imagination and was content to nick off outside and make my own fun.
The attempt to dig to China wasn’t a roaring success. Flying there 20 years later proved less laborious.
Dad built a timber platform high up in one of the gum trees on the hill, it had a ledge around it so that if I lay down I couldn’t be seen from the ground. The ladder to reach the top was nine rungs high - just widely spaced enough to make it a bit of a challenge to climb. He looped rope over the ends of round logs of wood from our stack and made sure it was all secure. From the top I could see over our house and across the river, I would sit up there for hours and read, until I froze or it was too dark to see.
When I was in grade 4 one of the girls in my class got crutches, I can’t recall exactly what she’d done to her leg but the crutches were a novelty. We all wanted to have a go. She must have come over one weekend because Dad decided he’d make a pair. This was not one of his most notable builds - they looked incredible but looks didn’t equate to functionality, particularly since they were made out of tree branches. In fact, had I leant on them as you’re supposed to I’d likely have needed a real set!
The rope swing got far more use. Looped over a tree branch with a solid foot hold I was often found up the back on the swing pushing off the tree trunk and flying through the air. This was a hit for quite some time until the rope began acting more like a saw, cutting its way over time halfway through the limb. Dad intervened at this point declaring it unsafe so I was tree rope-less from then on and a bit bummed about it.
Never mind though, Dad had built a cubby house years earlier that looked just like a miniature real house. I thought the roof was the perfect height to jump from down onto the trampoline. And it was, until one day when I did this and lost my footing. I fell backwards off the trampoline and scraped the back of my ear down the cubby house’s wooden stair rail. I screamed so loud the neighbours came over. The cubby house and the trampoline never played together again.
For all his making something from nothing I learnt a lot in the process, or at least I thought I did.
One day while he was away and Mum was upstairs cooking I went downstairs to the spare room, I can’t remember why but I can recall jumping on the bed, and then a loud crack. I’d broken some of the slats. I might add I was not a large child, the bed was just old. Dad was away but I knew there would be bits and pieces in the garage that I could possibly use to fix it. I had no idea what I was doing but some how I managed to secure the slats with some vertically placed pieces of timber, some string and some badly tied knots. I just didn’t complete the comprehensive testing phase and when we had visitors stay the following week, well, it didn’t hold.
Dad had taught me that if I ever need to get on the perspex roof over the pool area for any reason that I was to only walk on the nails, this meant that the timber was directly underneath and I wouldn’t fall through. I had no intentions of getting on the pool roof until one day when I was playing tennis on the driveway and a miss-hit sent the ball flying over onto the roof. This was my last one. We lived on a hill so numerous tennis balls and a couple of basketballs had rolled their way down to the river over the years. I climbed up onto the roof and followed the nails as instructed toward the tennis ball. Mum was inside marking school books when I yelled out having mistaken a few specks of dirt for nails and fallen through the perspex roof straight into the middle of a massive man-fern. Pretty happy with the landing but I wasn’t going to reach the tennis ball from there was I? Game over.
We had, and still have a woodfire in that house. When the wood was delivered it would be dropped in a huge pile up the back and Dad would stack it. He had it down to a fine art and I got to help. A couple of months after he died there was a delivery of wood. I thought I’d have a go at stacking it. Standing back to admire my work I was feeling quite proud and so turned to go inside to tell Mum. Just as I turned the entire fence line of wood acted out a domino effect and the whole bloody lot was back on the ground where it started out 45 minutes earlier. Did I mention Dad had a wonderful sense of humour?
Both Mum and Dad taught me the value of love and time from a young age. While l’d have loved more time Dad, losing you has taught me to be grateful everyday and expect change, for better or for worse. I’m under no illusion - we all go through good times and lesser times but I’m still regularly overwhelmed by life, the people in mine and opportunities I have, I consider myself immensely fortunate to be here. Even if I do need to spend the weekend in the garage.