Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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Request: Childhood

F is for Father - My father died when I was ten, a month after his fortieth birthday. It was cancer. Like everyone who dies before their time, the story is tragic in that a life did not get lived fully, but it is not of any particular interest to anyone but a friend and family member. Terminal illness as a narrative is one that dwells on pain, and realisation that, in death, the pain stops. It will not surprise you. It wasn’t until quite recent, however, that I realised that 2006 marked the nineteenth anniversary of his death. That gave me pause. One more year and it’ll be two decades, I thought. In my memory, Dad is a thin, sick, grey haired man, unable to focus on you in a conversation due to the drugs he is on. He isn’t the thick necked, rough, bald man holding rifles or leading horses that he is in photos, but then, I did not know that man. Nearly twenty years later, and it is the illness that lingers: the day I found him making bullets in the garage and chewing nicotine gum. I asked him why he wasn’t smoking and he said it was bad for him. Later, he came to school to drop off swimmers I had forgotten, and when he got out of the car, he was wearing a brown bathrobe and was thin and pale and oh so fragile in the light. On the last day my sister and I were allowed to visit, the doctors closed the hospital curtain to speak with him privately. The curtain was white. A white shroud. Four or five people stood behind it, indistinct. Suddenly, Dad screamed. They were moving him. My grandmother put her hands over my ears.

Family – My father died in hospital, though he wanted to die at home. But when you have two children, and you wonder how they will react upon finding their father dead, you don’t have a lot of choices, as Mum said later. So Dad died in hospital. It was only the machines keeping him alive at that stage, and so they turned them off. Mum sat there through the night with a friend of the family, while Dad’s two parents, three brothers and one sister held a wake out at Windsor, where the youngest son lived. At two in the morning, my Mum’s friend left her, and went out to payphone in the hospital hall. It was cold. Quiet. From there, she called the family, and began to abuse them, loudly, for not being there. They needed to be there. How dare they leave her alone. How dare they! In later years, Mum’s friend told that story, while Mum left out the emphasis, and the cold. My uncles and aunt tell a different story. Their story is about how one brother shows up at the hospital at three in the morning, fifteen minutes before his brother dies, while the rest of his brothers and sisters and parents are at home with their own families.

Funeral – At my first funeral, I get to sit up front. It is in a big Catholic church, with the stained glass windows colouring the air around me in specs of drifting, bright, multicoloured light. The pews are hard, however. When I look back into the crowd, I see the neighbours. My uncles and aunts are around us. Even my Mum’s sister, who lives in Darwin. All four of my grandparents are there. It is the only time they are all together in my memory. Of the service itself, I remember only the priest, talking about how proud my father was of my sister, but never once mentioning me. I pay strict attention, but I am never mentioned. When I ask my mother about this lapse, she quietly, but firmly, hushes me.

Family – In the weeks after the funeral, Dad’s parents told Mum that if she went back to work, she could expect no help from them. Tall, severe people, they were strict Catholics, and in the 80s that meant threatening your daughter in-law with financial abandonment, a threat they made good on. Mum wasn’t so surprised. Uncles and aunts disappeared into the Australian outback, and Xmas cards would come from them, and phone calls, once or twice a year. One uncle lived on the outskirts of Sydney, and he was always available to help, when Mum asked, but she said that after a while that it felt like she was his charity case. Ten years ago, Dad’s parents changed the writing on his grave, and afterwards, rang Mum, and told her the new words.

--All extracts take from Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth.

Below is three and a half minutes of opening credits from various cartoons I watched as a kid. I can name just about every one, even now, but that's misspent youth for you.

(I am doing a request thing that goes, "Everyone has things they blog about. Everyone has things they don't blog about. Challenge me out of my comfort zone by telling me something I don't blog about, but you'd like to hear about, and I'll write a post about it." B (exp_err) asked me about my childhood, but while I don't post much about it, I did write about it in 26lies. Or pretended to write about it. How you view it is up to you. But I reproduced it here, either way.)

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