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By Tony DeLorger © 2011
Taronga Street Hurstville, an address that will always remain in memory. It was where my Nanna lived and where I began my own life shortly after birth. The house was a big old double brick home on a huge block of land that included a tennis court. It was a traditional Aussie home, built in the 1930’s and built to last.
My earliest memories were of people gathered around an old German piano, singing and laughing, the smell of cigarettes and beer wafting down the hallway like a gentle fog rolling in. I would have been about two years old and yet that memory is well engraved in my mind.
My Dad Ray was at the piano and he could sure pump out the tunes. His musical ear was so attuned that a mere whistle could have him playing a song in only a few minutes. He was a cleaver man, my Dad. Mum was a giggler and very social, she loved people and particularly family and each Saturday night this gathering of neighbours, uncles, aunties and cousins would take place. The wooden floor would bounce and the voices, not always in tune, would soar into the night like birds released. Not a neighbour complained about the noise, because they were all there.
Nanna was a big woman, not all that tall but rather barrel-like. My grandfather had died before my birth and as early as I could remember, I recall a sense of sadness in her voice when she talked of him. But she was a resilient woman and a stoic figure that had found a job and had created a good life after my grandfather’s passing.
I remember after having moved to our own house, we always came for lunch at Nanna’s each Sunday. A chicken or lamb baked dinner was always on offer and I remember looking forward to it each week. No-one could cook a backed dinner like Nanna. Beautiful meat, amazing gravy and baked vegetables that were crisp yet delightfully soft inside were delivered piping hot and aromatic. Sweet fresh garden peas with homemade mint sauce completed this culinary delight and for all its preparation, it was demolished in only minutes.
Dessert was often ‘trifle’ an Aussie favourite, with layers of brandy-marinated sponge cake, fruits, custard and cream with fresh strawberries on top. If not a ‘pavlova’ was made: a shell of meringue filled with sweetened cream and topped with assorted fruits. Both desserts were magnificent and at the end of it, no-one could move for at least an hour.
My cousin Mike and I were only a few years apart and when we could move again we retreated to the backyard to expend some energy. We would wrestle for hours on the back grass, ruining just about every article of clothing worn. Mike always won because he was older and bigger, but I gave him a run for his money, grunting, groaning and trying all the latest wrestling moves. After we had enough I remember being itchy all over from the grass and dirty from head to toe. Parents were never pleased with us, but we never got into too much trouble.
Around three-thirty in the afternoon tea was served in the huge kitchen, with a six-seater oak table at its centre. Around all the walls, except for the window, there were cupboards with etched glass door panels. Behind each were colourful collections of plates and bowls and trays for every occasion. The tea was in a huge ceramic teapot and I can still smell the aroma of that inviting sepia liquid. Nanna always served Saos and hand-cut block cheddar with fresh sliced tomatoes from the backyard. With some salt and freshly ground pepper this was a taste explosion. The cheese was aged strong and the tomatoes straight from the vine. With tea it was a memorable experience and the afternoon slipped away through the laughter and banter of our collective family.
It was always sad going home after such a great day, but eventually the sun would begin its descent and off we'd go. Nanna would stealthily place a shiny twenty-cent piece in my hand and give us all a bear hug and our Sunday with Nanna came to an end.
When Nanna got older she moved into a flat but we always went there for Sunday lunch. Nanna died peacefully when I was about sixteen, and to this day I miss her. I can still smell her talcum powder and those baked dinners and freshly brewed tea, something I will never forget.