“Penny for your thoughts.”
“I said, ‘penny for your thoughts’.” my friend Sam repeated, nudging me with her elbow.
We were sitting together on the creek bank – not that there was much of a creek – just some shallow puddles that were home to a handful of tadpoles, thick mud that once it attached to your shoes, you never got rid of it. Either that or you lost your shoe in the mud forever.
Sam, or more correctly, Shirley Ann McWhirter, and I had walked home from school together as we usually did and saw my mother waiting at the front gate. This was unusual, and I wondered if I’d done something wrong that I wasn’t aware of yet.
Sam continued on and as I walked through the front gate, my mother told me my father had died.
I can’t remember her exact words. I think it must have been shock.
My mother’s eyes were red from crying I wasn’t sure what to do or say, my thirteen-year-old brain just couldn’t take it in.
I changed out of my school uniform and walked past my father’s closed bedroom door where he still lay on his bed waiting for university to pick him up. He’d willed his body to medical research.
I walked into the kitchen where my mother sat drinking a cup of tea and said, “Can I go to Sam’s?”
My mother nodded wordlessly and I turned and fled the house of death.
“What are you thinking about?” Sam’s question brought me out of my haze.
I shrugged. “I don’t know... my dad I guess.”
We sat in silence for another five minutes. That’s what I like about Sam, we could be together and not say a word, but still be comfortable in each other’s company.
“Sam,” I said at last. “I can’t remember my father.”
“What do you mean you can’t remember him, didn’t you see him this morning?”
“What I mean, is I can’t remember anything about my father before I was about five. Nothing... it’s totally blank. I don’t have any memory of my mother either. I can remember other people, just not them.”
Sam looked at me strangely but didn’t make any comment.
Another five minutes of silence.
“Your dad was old wasn’t he?”
I nodded, “Yes, he was sixty two when I was born and my mum was forty two.”
“Wow! That means he was nearly eighty.” Sam said in awe.
“I remember...” I sighed. “I remember my dad always let me come into his workshop and use his tools. He taught me how to make a toy boat, and a train. We always watched the cricket on TV together and the wrestling.”
“What else do you remember?” Sam had apparently taken on the role of counsellor. She was the oldest of five children while I was an ‘Only’.
“I remember my dad always bought me a book when he’d been to town. Gulliver’s Travels, Black Beauty, Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island... that sort of thing.” I smiled. “I guess that’s why I love books so much.”
I thought some more and then laughed. “When I was eight, we were having our Sunday school anniversary and I had a new dress and new shoes and white nylon socks with lace around the edge. My dad decided to help me get ready and ironed my socks to get the wrinkles out of them.”
I smiled. “Yep, holes burnt in both socks, so I wore my old ones.”
I lay back in the grass and closed my eyes, trying to piece together what memories I could. A snatch here and there, but nothing about my early years.
“Dad even taught me how to do invisible writing with white soap. When the person wants to read it, all they have to do is sprinkle soot over the piece of paper. He tried to teach me Morse Code too, but I kept getting my dots and dashes mixed up”
Sam looked at me wide eyed. “Was he training you to be a spy?”
One thing Sam and I had in common was an active imagination.
“No, I think he’d been hoping for a boy instead of a girl.”
I shivered, the sun had almost set and the breeze was getting cold. “I think I’d better get home. Mum will be wondering where I am.”
I walked in the front door feeling more relaxed, but still thinking, If only I could remember more.
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