I like to keep this space as a happy place, filled with trivia, fun and creativity. But sometimes life must creep in.
My Darling Dad died last Wednesday, 12 August; he was known here as Pa Kettle (a moniker entitled to him by his children after the Ma and Pa Kettle films). Since April, Dad had been struggling with an inoperable heart condition; he was in no pain and died peacefully for which we are very thankful.
Mum had cared for Dad at home until the last six weeks, when we were able to get him into a high care nursing home. When he was admitted, the staff asked about Dad’s demeanour – I pre-empted him and answered “cheeky!” Dad thanked me in the following days as the staff knew Dad was up for a bit of cheek and fun and it helped to make light of the situation. All his life Dad strived to make people smile and laugh with his sense of humour and wit.
When we were children, we had great delight in asking Dad to “cut up our toast”, as instead of sedate squares or triangles we had trees, houses, boats, trains and cars. Whenever we travelled, be it a day trip or a caravan holiday, we marvelled at how clever our Dad was; he would set us equations from the number plates of passing vehicles (add the numbers; multiply the first and last number etc.). Invariably Dad was the first to answer and always with the right answer. It wasn’t until years later that Dad confessed that he cheated by looking in the rear vision mirror and only called out the equation once he’d worked out an answer. Apparently LittleBigBrother and I were too quick for him otherwise!
Dad always knew the answer to any question I asked of him; whether it was the right answer or not, I’ll probably never know, but gosh my Dad was smart! As I grew older I realised his answers were always measured and wise and he encouraged me to search for answers myself. Being a farmer’s son, Dad had the means to and could fix anything – it may not have looked pretty, but it was functional.
A passion for flight meant Dad had a love of birds and of aeroplanes, particularly those of the first and second World Wars. His favourite movie was “Reach For the Sky”, the story of Douglas Bader. One of his great joys, before his sight deteriorated, was watching the native birds from the lounge room window as they supped at the native plants in their garden. Unfortunately Dad never learnt to fly a plane himself, but was content with being a passenger whenever the opportunity arose. Instead he relished driving and reluctantly gave up his licence only when his eyesight was too poor for safety. I remember being picked up from boarding school one holiday by Dad when I was learning to drive. There is a long, straight stretch of road just outside Ararat which is the perfect place to pass. “Go on,” said Dad. “Plant your foot, Merridy”. Being an obedient child I did. Dad talked me through the procedure and as we zoomed past the “slow” car, Dad asked, “how fast are you going, love?”. I looked down at the speedo and with amazement replied, “120k’s Dad!”. Dad grinned and said, “Good, isn’t it?”!
Mum and Dad have always eaten well, and instilled in us a need for healthy food and regular exercise………which we may, or may not follow! However! Dad was a chocolate fiend – something he passed on to me – and was a love we shared. One year a parishioner gave Dad a huge box of After Dinner Mints. To stop Dad eating them all at once, Mum hid them in various parts of the house. Now Dad didn’t have great sense of smell, but he sniffed that box out every time!
Dad and I also shared a love of British crime shows; “The Bill”, “New Tricks”, “Lewis”, “Foyle’s War”, “Frost” and “Morse” to name a few. We took to alternately phoning each other after the Tuesday and Saturday evening viewings of “The Bill”, and when the Tuesday viewing was cancelled (how dare they!), we continued with the calls. Then, horror of horrors, the whole show was cancelled (they didn’t get our permission!), but our calls still took place.
Dad was a retired Minister in the Uniting Church and had a tremendous faith and a strong social conscience so The Golfer was more than a little aprehensive at meeting him. As we drove away from a lovely weekend with Mum and Dad, The Golfer commented “he’s a good bloke, your Dad”. And he was. I’ve been told many times over the last week by so many different people that Dad was “a good bloke”. The Golfer relished telling Dad risqué jokes; Dad would roar laughing, then complain that as “the Minister” he couldn’t repeat them.
Incongruously, Dad, as a Minister, barracked for a football team called “The Demons”! Ever ready to question convention, he wasn’t afraid of trying something new, or putting forward a different viewpoint though always mulled over and carefully thought through.
Dad had lovely hands; they weren’t big, but they were warm, strong and comforting. I always felt better when holding Dad’s hands; they guided, comforted, reassured and made me feel very loved. Whether physically present or there in spirit, Dad and his hands have always been there for me.
I’m so grateful that I was able to visit Dad, and Mum, so often over the last six or so weeks. It has been a special, precious time.
There are many, many more stories of Dad, and over the last week, we, his family, have laughed and cried over lots of these fabulous memories. He was a wonderful man, kind, compassionate, wise, witty, cheeky, a tease.
He will always be my wonderful Darling Dad.
(Normal postings will resume in a week or so)