A Raven in the Snow
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been famous. Different levels of course. I’ve both run away and towards the spotlight. What a fool I was. But, what a great life I have had.
Let’s not beat around the proverbial bush, you already know a lot about me. Some of which I wanted you to know, and some of which, I didn’t. But, that’s the price we pay. In a way, that’s the only life I have known.
I was born on a slow news day in December, 1979. So slow in fact, that my picture was taken for the local papers. Local Preacher celebrates the birth of his Son. There was no North Star or Three Wise Men there at my birth, but there was a photographer. In the picture, you can see my exhausted but happy Mother, my beaming Father and sister, both pulling focus with the camera, and then there’s me. I looked world-weary already. I was two weeks late, so, I was a little red and waterlogged. If I could talk, I’m sure I would have quoted Greta Garbo and said (say it with me), “I want to be alone.” However, my platinum blonde hair and striking blue eyes would ensure that I would never be alone.
I was born into a family of opposites, my Mother’s side of the family were either not religious or lapsed catholics. This was thanks largely to My Great-Grandparents being pioneers, and in those days, you couldn’t be too fussy about the denomination of priest you got when you were married. So, they were married by the local Anglican minister, which doesn’t seem too scandalous by today’s standards, but at the time, when the local Catholic Priest was eventually assigned to the area and visited the homestead in the great Riverina, he declared that their firstborn son, Jake, was a bastard. My Great-Grandfather promptly threw him out of the house and never went to church again. If you asked him about heaven or hell, he’d point to a sheep and declare, “you see that sheep? When it’s dead, it’s dead. And when I’m dead, I’ll be dead too.” No afterlife for him. My Great-Grandmother stayed a quiet Catholic, and of their nine children, you see them divided between the two. My Grandmother, the youngest, and thus her nickname, Babe, wasn’t very religious, until her deathbed, when she became very worried about what came next. None of us truly know the answer to that question. My Mother’s father, was a poet, an English Teacher, and a Rugby Player. Handsome and intelligent. And totally messed up after the war. At least he married my Grandmother and gave her that dignity, but he also left her for a Helena Rubinstein model, and promptly went to America. When she divorced him, he went to Canada, and eventually, India and the UK, dropping wives and his seed wherever he went. On my Father’s side, there are two Preachers, and one Art Director. One of Dad’s brothers died as a baby from whooping cough, and his father, who people said could really make a squeezebox sing, gave up music, and joined the open Brethren Church, who forbid music and almost any other form of earthly enjoyment. This push and pull would play out over my whole life.
It’s perhaps odd to think that as one of the most photographed person now, there are not many photos of me as a child. But, that’s what happens when you are the second child. That’s not to say that I wasn’t loved or wanted. My father had borrowed some money from his brother-in-law so that he could take me home in a new car, a brand new yellow Holden Gemini. We had that car for nearly thirty years.
My earliest memory is of moving. The Church had sold the Manse, and we moved two doors down to the new Manse. My memory is of not wanting to leave, and racing back into my cot, which seemed very tall at the time. My mother then got me out of the cot, and we shifted from the right side of the church to the left. We moved from a green Californian bungalow, with steps going up to the front door, to a kind of weatherboard farmhouse with a veranda surrounding it, and a beautiful plum tree (that had the most delicious plums you’ve ever tasted). Our family had grown larger, so too, the Manse needed to grow larger. My Mother kept ducks and chickens, and had a lovely vegetable garden. Members of the congregation would treat the Manse as their own, picking the plums without asking, and organising working bees to do things around the house. Thinking back, this is actually quite helpful, but at the time, my Mother didn’t appreciate waking up to strangers working in the garden.
We lived in the multi-cultural melting pot (before that term was coined) of Box Hill. There was no Box, and there was precious little Hill, but we did have a lot of migrants and with that, a lot of wonderful food. Another of my earliest happiest memories, is having an Almond meal Vanilla Bunt cake with icing sugar on top for my second birthday. I still remember the flavour of that cake. It was the most delicious cake I had or would ever have eaten. My mother bought it for us from the lovely local fruit and vegetable shop run by a Greek family, who would dot on the children of their customers.
I had a toy kettle. It was actually a real red kettle that I’d taken a shine to on a visit to my Grandmother’s house. Unfortunately, it was my her kettle, and she was also quite attached to it. So, when I asked her if I could have it, she replied in the negative. But, as a three year old, I threw the mother-load of a tantrum, and my poor Father had to drive all the way back to my Grandmother’s house and ask if we could have the kettle. My Grandmother told the story of how I smirked with glee as she gave me the kettle right up until her death. Always filling me with guilt. Of course I don’t remember a thing about it. I also don’t remember that my poor Mother would have to walk with me to the local shops with me wearing my sister’s old nightie and carrying a large red kettle, and pointing out things like, “a fat lady” to passers by. My Mum would also say that she would despair for my lack of interest in books, until one day, she found a little children’s book about another little boy with a kettle, and I was enthralled. Hooray! I wasn’t going to be a dunce after all.
to be continued…
NOTE: a fictional (well, semi-autobiographical) memoir with lots of liberties taken