Childhood Memories - The Family
Childhood Memories- the Family
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
One thing about childhood, is when we begin to remember a particular event or circumstance, everything comes flooding back in absolute detail. Details not been thought of for years suddenly seem as clear as the day they happened. At least that’s how it is for me.
Our brains are incredible instruments, amassing all these memories and experiences deep in an internal filing system that can be accessed by a simple trigger. They say that our senses can trigger memory, and particularly the sense of smell; like how Grandma’s baked dinners used to smell, or that sweet fresh smell of approaching winter.
Having written an autobiographical work, I know how much forgotten childhood memories returned when I began to write, and it surprised me. It was a rewarding process because it gave me a broader understanding of my own experiences about my upbringing.
What I remember most of my family was on Christmas days. I was an only child but my mother had a brother and sister; the brother had four daughters and the sister had one son. My father’s family were much older he being the youngest; many had passed on so we rarely saw the cousins. Every Christmas was spent with all the family, taking it in turns whose house would be the venue. Christmases at our house were most memorable.
Like most families in the sixties, all the women congregated in the kitchen tending to all the food preparation, and the men sat outside under our beautiful liquid amber tree, smoking and drinking beer. Kids like my cousins and I did kid stuff and floated between the two groups. Occasionally I’d be enlisted to fetch beer from the fridge, which made me feel like one of the boys. It wasn’t until I was sixteen that Dad gave me my first ‘Shandy’ (Beer and Lemonade) and I thought I was something, sitting under that old tree with the men.
In the kitchen there was an interesting dynamic. My mum and her sister were gigglers and especially after a few glasses of bubbly would by hilarious. How they managed Christmas lunch is a miracle. Mum’s sister-in-law was a country woman from a wealthy Queensland cattle family. She spoke beautifully, was always presented perfectly and was efficient in everything she did. Then there was my mother’s mother, my only living Grandmother, who had lived through the war, the depression and hard times. She was a big woman and used to jiggle when she walked. She would quietly go about her duties with a quiet confidence, knowing far better than anyone else what to do and when.
Back then, even though it was the middle of summer, we had a hot baked dinner for Christmas day. And as you’ll know if you’ve cooked baked dinners, timing is everything. So, with all that experience in the kitchen one would expect a finely tuned machine serving up a splendiferous feast on time and with the presentation of the classiest restaurant. Well, that was never to be, and with all the arguing, stumbling, spilling and burner it’s a wonder that we ever ate at all.
Outside under the liquid amber, the boys were in foldout chair solving the problems of the world and the more beers they had the more profound their ideas. Again there was an interesting dynamic. My mother’s brother had made a fortune in New Guinea from rubber and had returned to Australia to work as a stockbroker. Unlike the rest of the family they were loaded, had a beautiful home in a prestigious Sydney suburb, with tennis court and swimmingpool and an affluent life that afforded every advantage to my four girl cousins. This fact secretly upset a few family members who shall remain nameless; jealousy is an insidious thing.
My mother’s sister’s husband worked in youth gymnastics and had a management position. They owned their home and had a good life, but as they saw it never reached the heights they intended. This particular uncle tried to drown his ill feelings with booze and could be called your classic wardrobe alcoholic. He would go to the toilet often. The fact the liquor cabinet was on the way was simply coincidental. A couple of shots of whisky, a quick whiz and he’d be back outside with his beer.
My dad had his own problems, but beer always soothed whatever feeling he had and the more he drank the more animated and jolly he became. So, on the whole, outside was pleasant enough, although later after lunch discussions and disagreements saw a few raised voices and a few things said that would be regretted later.
When the women managed to serve lunch, somewhere around three, the men were done. A full half a day of drinking on virtually an empty stomach had an effect. Everyone was so starving the feast disappeared quickly, everyone hunched over the table like vultures; all that work and gone in a matter of minutes. There were many ‘Mmms’ and ‘Ahhs’ and clinking of glasses, champagne bottles popping and we kids giggling and playing up on the lower set aside kids table.
When the food subsided there would be jokes, stories and uncontrollable laughter. I remembering sitting wondering what they’d be laughing at that was so funny. Once, Mum’s sister fell off her chair, taking the laughter to a new level. The kids just didn’t understand.
After an hour or so, everyone sat exhaustedly and the women began the big clean up. Ten minute later all the men were in lounge chairs and sprawled over the lounge, sound asleep. Most lay there like beached whales, mouths gapping and snoring like freight trains. It was like a battlefield, bodies everywhere, strewn among opened boxes, torn paper and plastic wrapping from the morning’s present offerings. The fir tree stood in the corner, looking a little worse for ware.
Another Christmas bit the dust and the kids still awake but drowsy sat at the front window hoping for an intermittent breeze to cool the afternoon heat. I can still smell that air, warm but sweet and the continuous hum of cicadas in the background. Now as an adult I can see that as different as we were, we were family and especially on that day we shared food, drink and laughter, and it was good.