The Gift of Precious Memories. | Life Love and Hiccups: The Gift of Precious Memories.
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Monday 7 January 2013

The Gift of Precious Memories.

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This post is a gift to my children and to my husband. It is memories captured for them so that one day in the future they can relive them, and then pass them on to their own. It is a long post in comparison to others and has many photos. But you cannot capture such a story in just a few short words and snapshots.


I am of the belief that to know someone, like really know them, you need to understand where they come from, how they spent their days as a child and how their story came to life.

Carl (my husband) and I have 3 little boys. Three little guys who live their lives completely unaware of any different way of living.

They are being raised in a lifestyle very similar to the one I had growing up and they do not realise that any different way of living exists, particularly one so very different to their own. Their Daddy grew up in a different world to them, a very beautiful place where simplicity ruled and community was integral.

We felt it was time our boys got to really know him by taking them to where their Dad grew up over at Lovett Bay on Pittwater.

My husband and I lived out our childhood only kms apart as the crow flies, yet we could not come from more different worlds.

I grew up in a beachside suburb, in a home my parents once dreamed about, worked very hard for and eventually brought to life for us. I rode bikes and rollerskates to the corner shops for a 20 cent bag of mixed lollies whenever I pleased and I played out on the street with the other kids until it was dark and time to go inside. Dropping into neighbours required nothing more than a quick jump of a fence but it was rare that you ever really knew the people that lived in the houses more than a few doors down from you.

Carl grew up in a house nestled on the waters edge, surrounded by bushland and wildlife. The house was lovingly built by his father and his Godfather, the actor - Chips Rafferty. He rode to school on a ferry every day and running out of milk meant that a ride in a boat (rain, hail or shine) was on the cards or dry cereal was on the menu.

My husbands mother (Marcia) passed away over at the bay when he was a very tender fifteen. I never met her, but I admire her to no end. She raised 3 children under 5 and photographs of her climbing in and out of boats with bags full of shopping, a baby on her back and two little toddlers in hand, just leaves me in total awe of a woman I never knew.

Carl thinks I am very similar to his mother in many ways. My love of music and playing musical instruments, and the joy I get from crafting and being creative reminds him of her.

They say a man marries a woman like his mother don't they? But I think she was a much stronger woman than me. She had to be, living isolated with little children while her journalist husband was off at work, separated not only by roads, but water.

She grew vegetables in the bushland behind the house, sewed clothes for herself and her children and she relied on the support of the community she lived in for companionship and help if God forbid anything ever went wrong.

She couldn't just pop out to grab some extra supplies for dinner, or a block of chocolate to get her through those moments where you feel like your skin is turning green and horns are sprouting from your head.

She had to be organised, and thrifty. She needed eyes in the back of her head to keep track of little children in a home surrounded by so much water and bushland. I worried enough with my 3 little ones safely tucked up in a fenced in backyard with a hospital just minutes away. I cant even begin to imagine how it was for Marcia. Or how she stayed so calm when her husband arrived home with a boat full of journos expecting dinner all round and she had not shopped for over a week.

Tragically Marcia died suddenly in the early hours of the morning. She was gone before the water ambulance or water police could reach them. Such was the way of life over there. You lived a beautiful, simple and organic way of life, but there were compromises as one would expect.

Carl and his sisters lost their beloved mother and Carl's father lost the love of his life and his reason for living.

My husband still wears the scars of that day, he always will. He moved to the mainland not long after his mothers passing, left school and got a job to pay for the new life he would build, his new beginning.

But the essence of the Bay and the surrounding shores, the place where he left childhood behind - it runs through his blood. It surfaces in his love and respect of the water, in his primal urge to nurture and protect his family and his desire to raise them as a part of a community, a community not unlike the one he once knew as a child.

The community Carl was raised in was a very colourful one, peppered with so many personalities and included some well known creative types such as Dorothea McKeller and Chips Rafferty and later the author Susan Duncan who bought Dorothy's historic home. These characters would all gather together with meals they had prepared and they would share their food and drinks, their triumphs and their heartaches along with many laughs on Stacky's balcony or wharf. They were united by their love for their area, their chosen isolation and their protectiveness of each other, their extended family.

Carl's father Stacky (Tony) was a real character. He was known far and wide through out Pittwater for his fierce loyalty to his community, his love of the area and his awful singing of the Hallelujah chorus of Handel's Messiah at full pelt standing on his balcony overlooking the bay.

His parents owned acres of land over on Pittwater and when he and Marcia were married they built their home next door to his parents with a big balcony over looking the water where they could sit and take in the idyllic life they had created for themselves and speak of their dreams for their future.

The headquarters of Woody Point Yacht club was in their weather worn boatshed, and the wharf would often be overcrowded with moorings as the men and woman who belonged to the club would arrive to drink and to celebrate their love of the water.

When the 1994 Bushfires ripped through the area, Stacky who was once the Captain of the West Pittwater Bush fire Brigade was dragged from his home by the water police. He was incredibly stubborn by nature and wanted to stay and protect that home, the place that held so many memories and the homes of his neighbours, his friends. He was prepared to perish with it had it not been for the insistence of the Firies and Police who knew him so well and sympathised with him but whose job was to keep him safe, to keep him alive.

Miraculously Stacky's house survived, but many of his friend's homes didn't. But as was the way of that community they bonded together and rebuilt their homes and their lives, one brick, one tear and one splinter at a time.

When Carl's father lost his legs after a serious infection led to amputation, he was gutted and we believe the day he was moved out of his beloved home and over to the mainland to live with us, was the day his soul died and left to be with his other great love, Marcia.

Tony's body survived another 9 months before he gave up and left us.

The day we held Stacky's wake at the Scotland Island Fire Shed was a day that will be etched in my mind forever. Hundreds of Pittwater residents gathered together to celebrate in the way that Tony would have wanted us to. Laughing, drinking beer and sharing stories of times that once existed but were now just precious memories.

It was the day that we were to carry out his wish of having his ashes scattered with his beloved wife and his mother. He had held on to them with very clear instructions to his kids that when his time came, they were to be scattered together in the water out front of their cherished home.

When the barge took us out on the water for the scattering, we were breathless at the sight of a wreath of flowers and a bush fireman's helmet that had been thoughtfully placed on the pier by the new owners of his home.

The breeze embraced the ashes, scattering them peacefully into the water as was his wish and at that moment a single boat horn sounded, followed by another, and then another and then many more along with whistling and cheers.

My husband Carl holding 2 of our little boys in his arms, his sisters and I turned around to see a sight that will stay with us for ever. Over a hundred boats of all sizes, fire boats, tinnys, yachts and lone windsurfers all gathered in the waters behind us in a salute to a well loved man.

We haven't been back over to the house since that day, but it was time. With our 3 children, my Mother, Sister in Law and her family, we set off over the waters to the Bay.

We have been together for nearly 22 years and we have created our own beautiful family and community, but as I said, I don't really believe anyone really knows someone, anyone, even their own Father, Brother in Law or Son in Law, until they know where they came from. It was time for them to get to know Carl, really know him, like I do.

We were welcomed to Susan Duncan's home, the ex home of Dorothea McKeller (I Love a Sunburnt Country...) by her lovely husband Bob who had not seen Carl for over 18 years.

We marveled at the beauty of the home, of the surrounds and the peaceful aura that inspired Dorothy's and Susan's wonderful words.

We walked the tracks that were the playground of Carl when he was a child and we watched as our own sons were awed by the raw beauty of this area.

They were curious and asked many questions of their Dad and I proudly looked on as he spoke to them of the stories and adventures he had as a boy of their age.

My heart swelled at the thought that this is what Stacky would have wanted - his grandsons to experience the place he loved so wholeheartedly, to walk those tracks, and to breathe in the spirit that fills the air over there.

The new owners of Carl's old home were so kind and welcomed us in so we could show our family a part of Carl we never thought they would get to see. The boys laughed at the surfing stickers that were still stuck tightly to the windows of their Dad's childhood bedroom and they stood on the balcony and took in the spectacular views that their Grandmother and Grandfather had loved together so many years ago.

We picked fruit from the trees that had been planted by Carl's Mum Marcia and we listened to Carl as he told us stories he lovingly pulled out from storage in his heart.

I watched with emotion and pride as Carl held hands with our middle son Sam, our child that is most like him. I looked on as he led him away from the house and back up the same path he had walked thousands of times so many years ago.

Our boys now know their Dad, like really know their Dad and I could not ask for a better gift for those boys to ever receive.