Every time I’d see my Dad make his way to the back door I’d scramble after him trying to pull my little gumboots on as fast as I could while pleading “Can I come? Can I come? Can I huh? Can I huh? Dad?” Most times it ended with me sitting on the porch door step wailing like I’d been stung by a bull ant while he drove off down the lane without me.
Of course he’d take me when he could but depending on the task at hand having a little ‘mini me’ perched on the motor bike seat in front of him asking a thousand questions, or singing at the top of her lungs, just wasn’t safe. On these days he’d usually return with a feather for me he’d found in the paddocks, or maybe even a discarded starling’s egg. Anything to soften the blow of being left behind.
Being outside with my Dad on the tractor bringing the cows home for milking, or on the motorbike checking the watering, was my favourite place to be of all time. He used to tell the story of me driving the ute for him (when I wouldn’t have been more than 3 years old) while he fed out hay from the tray. He’d pop the vehicle in first gear and it would chug along at snail pace while I stood on the seat peering through the steering wheel (I couldn’t see over it) or with my head out the window trying my best to avoid any big bumps or tussock clumps in the way.
Occasionally he’d say “You’re getting a bit close to that channel Sandra!” I’d let go of the steering wheel, run across the seat to look out the passenger window and run back to the steering wheel to adjust our course and yell out “Okay Dad!”
It was his favourite story to tell of me from when I was very young. I loved how his face lit up every time he told it and thank fully, I have fragmented memories of this story too.
He taught me how to play the harmonica and the guitar. He was self-taught, with some minimal instruction from his older brother, and couldn’t read a word of music playing everything by ear.
There was this fascinating instrument he had called a guitar/mandolin/banjo that had the strings and the shape a bit like a harp with an acoustic sound hole in the middle. He would sit it flat on the kitchen table to play and I’d be enthralled by the sound and by the melodies he’d strum. He’d hardly ever refuse if I asked him to play me a song.
One day, while we were heading off to bring the cows home for milking on the tractor, I lamented that I wish I could sing as good as he could… and as good as Mum could. I must have been about 5 years old. He looked at me and said “Of course you can sing! Anyone can sing!” To which I replied that I did like singing but didn’t think I sounded any good.
With that he broke into a rendition of this Carpenter’s song:
Sing, sing a song
Sing out loud
Sing out strong
Sing of good things not bad
Sing of happy not sad
Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last
Your whole life long
Don’t worry that it’s not
Good enough for anyone
Else to hear
Just sing, sing a song
Then he taught me how to sing it. I remember the sun was bright and Buttons the red kelpy cross dog with white socks was running ahead of the tractor as we belted out that song together drowning out the hum of the old Fergie tractor. And I’ll never forget feeling so safe and snug and accepted for just being me, bad notes and all, as I was that day sitting on my Dad’s knee with both our hands on the steering wheel singing at the top of our lungs and smiling without a care or worry in the world.
Thank you Dad!
Last Thursday, the 2nd of April, would have been my Dad’s 88th Birthday. This November he’ll have been gone 25 years. He was only 63 years old when he died. Because of the Corona Virus and the resulting restrictions on non-essential travel I couldn’t drive my 85-year-old Mother to the cemetery so she could lay flowers for him. It was a horrible rainy day anyway and I know he wouldn’t have wanted either of us out in that weather or putting our health at risk. So instead we spoke of him and wished him a happy birthday from afar. Later I went looking through some old photos. I didn’t know the below photo existed until a few years ago. It’s one of my most favourite. I don’t have my trusty gumboots on in this pic but you can guarantee that once Mum and I pulled in the drive from wherever we had been in our good clothes and I spotted him on the motorbike I would have been pleading “Can I come? Can I huh? Can I huh? Dad?”
Happy Birthday Dad! I’m so pleased you still come and sing to me in my daydreams.