It’s time for a milkshake.

Every week, sometime after school, the man from Moran and Cato would turn up. He would walk into the kitchen and drop off the box of groceries mum had telephoned to him that morning. I never had a lot of time for (his) choice of the things needed to feed us because there was never anything in his box to eat. Once or twice, in all the weeks he delivered groceries, I may have helped stack that which was delivered into the cupboard. The rest of the time I was disgusted by the lack of treats.

It nearly always included staples like; flour, sugar, tea, breakfast cereal, (perhaps once I opened the pack and removed the plastic toy included out of the order negotiated with my sisters, but then again it might just be a false memory.) The grocery delivery also included, oranges, or apples depending what was in season. Occasionally there would be potatoes or some other vegetable however that was not so frequent as dad grew most of the vegetables we ate in season. The only dairy product was cheese. Milk, cream, and cream used to make butter, came from our cows.

(It is now an aside but the cheese delivered was for Dad alone. We didn’t eat his cheese because mum bought Kraft Cheddar Cheese for us. This is a product I still find difficult to describe because it had a bland taste and a plastic feeling. This pale goo was unlike any product I now know to be cheese.)

In describing the list of foodstuffs bought, I have to include a list of dried fruits. Dates, sultanas., currants, raisins all come to mind, but as I have stated there was nothing to eat. When I was in the homes of my school mates and the delivery occurred their parcel always included treats. Tasty goods such as; chocolate, bonbons, biscuits, lemonade, raspberry cordial and ice cream. Foods for a party were in the grocery packages of other homes.

How we got anything to eat at all was because our parents sacrificed their free time to grow food, milk cows, and cook every god given hour. They did this week in and week out without complaint except from me on grocery day. A more grateful lad would have acknowledged a gardeners pay was tight when spread among six people.

Can you imagine how lucky I felt to be sent away from this deprivation? Each school holiday we went to spend time with our grandparents and their home of young aunts and uncles. Every other year or so a relative left to marry and start their own family until there was just Paul and Pauline left to treat us.

(I have written previously about how I loved to spend time with Paul. Today I turn my thoughts to Pauline. She is the last of the twins. I note soberly, she is also the last of her generation.)

It was a summer day when I arrived in Lilydale. I was alone with Pauline in the car. She was recently married and she picked me up from the station. I was to spend a few days with her. Before we drove up the mountain to her new home she stopped the car and bought me a malted milk shake. Ice formed on the metal shake container as I poured it into the glass. The drink bubbled up until it nearly overflowed and then I tasted the glorious, unexpected treat. I rarely visit that town now, but every year after that drink I have not driven past that cafe without being reminded of that special day.

Notable as that treat was to me, it was just another expression of love from her. After she left school she got a job at Spicers Shoe factory. This girl spent a lot of the little money she earned treating me to experiences kids from the country never got. I went to the Tivoli theatre for pantomimes. I rode, ride after ride at St Kilda’s Luna Park. I had trips to the Melbourne Show and took home arms full of show bags,

According to Dr Google it now takes about an hour and a half to drive from her home to Rosebud. All those years ago I was taken for a day at the beach to the Port Phillip Bay summer escape. We had to be up early and we drove forever. We turned from one suburb after another. We drove through countless traffic lights. And we drove along the never ending beach road all the way to Rosebud. The water there was much less interesting than the lakes near my home although the sandy beach was much broader. Despite that I had a great day out. Towards evening we made the return journey. I don’t know how many of us there were in the car but when we finally got home I got wakened up and was lifted from the shelf behind the seats in front of the rear window where I had been sleeping.

This was just another of those special days I had with her. Long before she had taught us kids the fun you could have on the street with soda bombs. I can’t remember how they were detonated, but if you took the little bomb ( that thing used to turn drinking water into soda water with its canister filled with carbon dioxide) they would shoot into the air. Pauline could also attest they could remove part of your leg if you were too late to jump out of its way. That momentary incident would have curbed the enthusiasm for games in many people, but not her.

She was also the one who gave me my first swimming lesson. Despite my confidence in her I had too little confidence of the water to support me to relax on my back when held up just by her small frame. To her credit she had tried may times to stop me standing instead of floating. To reinforce the knowledge I should float on water and not try to stand she moved me from the shallow end, to the deep end of the pool. My first lesson became even more traumatic when I realised she didn’t want me to hang onto the edge either. Before I drowned her she allowed me to dance in the shallows as she went happily back to diving and freestyle.

My school days came to an end, her family developed and I grew away, but I remained forever in her debt for the good times we shared.

Around this point I would finish my entry and return with another theme a few days later. Today I will post a personal reflection I wrote as a tribute to her twin when he passed away earlier this year. I will post it without amendment and my tale will have some repetitiveness.

Paul.

My sister Elizabeth and I were the first grandchildren born into the large Mason family. As the first grandson it is only now I am able to recognise how fortunate we were to know each of our aunts and uncles. Each treated us an honoured child. We were given experiences by them younger generations missed. This privilege of age was special and we benefited in a manner our cousins haven’t, I have felt the need to pen some words on the bond I have enjoyed with Paul.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Gradually the threads of my childhood have broken. Sometimes I have felt like a body caught up in the fibres of a spider’s web and been happy to have broken free of the past in much the same way as the person caught in the web might. The sticky threads of childhood have clung onto the skin and irritated until they have been brushed off.

The string that has bound me to Paul is not like that. It is more a memory of times of my growing to independence. A time when a boy met a man prepared to gently shine a light into the fog of the future and show the dimly lit road ahead. Significant moments began for me when Paul himself was not not long past his youth. He was working for the Board of Works. In that big building near the railway line we saw as our train pulled into the city station.

He always worked – just there – in that building. Before that our mother used to remind us that where he worked was a sign of his industry. He was one of those particularly talented students selected on his merit to go to Melbourne Boys High School. That school by the river with the big oval in front of the gothic building. That school where only the best students were selected for attendance. (That school, even in my wildest imagining, I knew I would never be chosen to attend.) Paul had attended there and as a result he had a reliable job with the government. (Or more precisely municipal government. At any rate it was the only sort of job one like me should aspire.)

It was a good job. Paul was not long at this job and he had earned enough to buy his first car. That meant he never had to travel in the crowded red rattler from Lilydale ever again. I was fortunate enough to travel with him to the City – down Whitehorse Rd , turn left here, so that you can avoid the Mont Albert Station, Turn into Mont Albert Rd. negotiate the S bends at its end and take Barkers Rd etc into town.

Grandma used to complain, (probably too unkind an adjective), that Paul would wear two, sometimes three, neatly washed, blue treated, starched, and ironed white shirts every day. He also possessed some very flashy printed silk ties he wore with them. He was dapper.

I can’t be sure of the timing but before he married he drove a big black Riley car and I sometimes had the pleasure of riding with him in it. Every week he collected records in their brown paper envelopes from shops specialising on music of the twenties and thirties. These he filed and cataloged meticulously in his neat hand. Occasionally he would play an Al Bowley tune to me he had just acquired but only after he fitted a new needle into the head of the record player. He was just as careful to only ever handle a record with a soft cloth.

In the months before he married I met Elaine. I think it was he who took me to my first Melbourne show. In the coming months I saw less and less of him. The couple married and I remember being shown photos of the lucky couple.

In the following years I never saw Paul without also seeing Elaine. Some years later, possibly on the Colac station I appeared as a passenger in one of his 9mm movie films in which he had developed an interest. Somehow or other I met the train carrying the couple as it passed through the town. At any rate Paul was no longer Paul to me but, It simply became Paul and Elaine to Jennie and me whenever we mentioned them.

Later Jennie and I were shown the improvements they made to their house in North Melbourne and the threads of our connection became thinner as life intervened. Our family grew and the links of them with the wider family have diluted in time and they know nothing of the people and things I now record.

In time we heard about the arrival of girls whose names conveniently were the same as of places of interest in Victoria. Somehow Russell never made it to my awareness and that was just the fault of our seperate lives.

Much , much later, Paul managed a brake manufacturing company in Ballarat I lived there but we never really got to meet up in that period. If we did occasionally bump into each other, we talked of places he might search for records, but Paul knew every opp shop I named as a place of interest to him I realised he knew his way about. It turned out he had searched their premises for any music they had that he had never been able to find elsewhere.

Paul’s work with community radio is the stuff of legends and one of my pleasures is that he gave me a cassette copy of one of his broadcasts on one of our irregular contacts. It was not that I unaware of this work, my life was too self absorbed for me to remember to tune into one of the many programs he made of my own volition. The other thing is these programs would never have been so successful without Elaine’s support.

And here is another Mason influence. The twins, Pauline and Paul, were both a wonderful uncle and aunt to me. However their influence on me would have diminished in childhood without the joint influence their spouses. Together they had a lasting effect on me as I grew as a person. I will ever be grateful to each of them individually.

To leave the story there is to leave out the influence of something intangible each spouse contributed to my life as a whole. The fact they, the twins, married people who built them as people is something I have happily learned to imitate by their example.

In life I have also learned much about the impermanence of the moment. I have learned that people continue to live on – influencing us long after their living days. It is in this moment I realise the broken threads of life are recreated as living memory in us who continue to live. It is sad illness has ended Paul’s life but I am grateful on this occasion to record Paul will forever be loved by me.

Written when afloat on the Arabian Sea miles from land.

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