One winter’s evening meal set my destiny as a storyteller. I was six.
Embarrassing dark secret
My big brothers didn’t like me. Who could blame them? I was their embarrassing dark secret. Our mother became pregnant with me as an old lady of 39 when they were 9 and 12. The older one was horrified to think the ‘birds and the bees’ had taken place in the house where he lived, and the younger one had been replaced as the favourite.
Always the same story
In Australia we call the evening meal, tea. We always ate tea at the kitchen table and listened to Dad carping about Mrs. Barret, the harpie office manager at his work. My brothers — by then 18 and 15 — would say, ‘Oh, not Mrs. Parrot for tea again Dad. Please.’
A special invitation for a new story teller
This one magical night Mum got in before he started and said, ‘Colly, tell us what you did today.’
I didn’t need any coaching because that very afternoon Docky (my best friend) and I had come as close to being criminals as you could get.
The great dam of Hill Street
“Docky and I built a dam in the gutter outside Mitchell’s house, over at the corner. We got sand and gravel off the footpath and grass and mud out of the paddock and piled it up so high that the water from two streets spread halfway across the road.
“We just kept piling up and piling up. We couldn’t walk in it because it would have come over our rubber boots. Docky said it was the best dam anyone had ever built in the whole suburb. We loved it. We hoped it would stay there all winter.
“Anyway, Sergeant Mick came around on his motorbike and sidecar to get some papers signed at Mr. Mitchell’s. He parked out the front in his usual spot. We were frightened he would make waves and wash our dam away, but when he saw how deep our dam was he couldn’t get off his bike and he just looked as mad as anything.”
(Police Sergeant Mick McKay was as big and fat as a cow and Irish. The look of him scared every kid in the neighbourhood. The sound of his bike coming gave the drunks and the bodgies nightmares.)
I dropped into an imitation of his Irish brogue.
In that moment the earth’s axis tilted 1/2 a degree
“Yew byes git dat mook outta dis gooter or ayl poot yewr nayem in may booook.”
Everyone at the table laughed and my older brother said, ‘He’s good when he takes people off isn’t he?’ The younger one said, ‘He sure is. Do his accent again, Colly.’
Enter, brother. The head table awaits you.
65 years later I can still feel the excitement. I had found the brass ring, the knocker for the dark door. I had discovered the pot of gold. I knew where the treasure was hidden and needed no map. I, (yes me, ‘Fly specks’, ‘Pest’, ‘Collywobbles’, ‘Pipsqueak’) was good at something they weren’t, and for the rest of my life, I would get paid to show off like that all over the world.
They were champion football, basketball and tennis players. They were handsome with black hair and blue eyes. They had great friends. They wore blue suede shoes and white sports coats, but now my heroes were in awe of me!
I was their hero — and I had become one of the family.