No small things

I went to the footy at the MCG with Cheeseboy on Saturday afternoon. We had a fine day sitting high up in the members stand watching an exciting game, and adjourning to the nearest bar for a quick pint before the game and at half time. The only downside was the result.

We caught the train back afterwards with it full of folk like us in their footy regalia returning home as we were. There were as usual a lot of families, generally fathers with their sons, though occasionally a complete family out for a day at the footy. It’s good to see and very familiar to me. I’ve been on trains like that a thousand times before and looked upon happy, smiling kids cavorting in the colours of their favourite football team. As a kid I don’t recall ever catching the train with my dad to the footy – we always drove – but later as a teenager I would be travelling solo among them.

Sitting behind us was an old man who opined on the game we had just attended. Like me he was an Essendon supporter. I didn’t set eyes on him, and presume he was old – somewhere north of 70 – by his voice and manner. Every so often I would listen in, finding little to disagree with. I imagined him a tall, spare, dignified man on the edge of austere. It was in his voice, which was assured and intelligent. I liked him. I respected him. In my imagination he had a lifetime behind him of barracking for the same club as me. He had paid his dues and along the way learned a thing or two about the game. As I got off the train at Hampton I thought, that’s me in 20 odd years.

Walking onto the platform at Hampton I felt a moment of unexpected emotion. That doesn’t happen to me much. I’m sensitive, but it leads more often to reflection, even contemplation. As you know, I think things out. Saturday I didn’t have time for that. Ahead of me was a trail of people having got out of the train ahead of us. It was a well-known scene. I cast eyes upon them then I felt a brief but intense mistiness. As I followed Cheeseboy it cleared and I began to wonder at it. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I had hit another long delayed milestone that day.

I used to go to the footy 18 games out of 22, and for near on 35 years, from when I was just a kid. By the time I encountered my difficulties I’d slowed some, but still probably managed 10 games a year, most of them at the MCG – my MCC membership was one of my most cherished possessions. Once my difficulties hit it slowed more. I couldn’t afford to go as much and my MCC membership lapsed, plus I was living a pretty unsettled life. I probably went to 2-3 games a year.

Now things have improved I’m not going to any more games really. A lot of it is that I still don’t have the spare cash, but much of it is now habit. I watch every game, but it’s from the comfort of my home.

In May this year I finally got my MCC membership reinstated after nearly 5 years dormancy. And this is the milestone, which I was oblivious of until I stepped onto the platform at Hampton railway station. Saturday was the first time in 5 years that I’d attended the footy as a MCC member. Watching the footy from the salubrious surrounds of the members was not the point – the point was that I had regained something I had lost, and thought lost permanently at different times. The milestone was that I had reclaimed one more small thing along the way to reclaiming something of the life I had lost and hope to regain.

It was one of those days Saturday. Getting off the train – all happening then – Cheeseboy invited me to have dinner with the family at a nearby restaurant. I visit them at home regularly, but am wary of intruding too much upon their time or hospitality. Not unusually I made my excuses at first, claiming I couldn’t afford it. Don’t worry, he said, we’ll shout you. Still feeling a little tender I agreed.

I sat with them and had dinner and what this means to me is hard to explain. I’m close to them and they have been great friends to me over a long period of time. I’m very grateful to them. These days it means much more because I don’t really have a family of my own. I’m familiar with the forms of family life because for many years I was well and truly immersed in it – family lunches, birthday celebrations, mothers day, barbecues, Christmas, and so on, my life was full of such occasions. As you do, I took it for granted. Then, with the death of my mother, all of that ended. If there was any doubt then the rupture with my sister terminated all bit the most random contact. Effectively I have been cold turkey on all forms of family contact for about 6 years.

I’m a resilient dude. It is what it is, I accept it. I don’t mope or feel sorry for myself. Still, sometimes I miss it, and certainly on the key dates. The Cheeses aren’t my family but I can feel something of that by proxy simply by sharing in some of their occasions. They’re very good like that, especially Mrs Cheese. I sit their feel it and remember and it’s very pleasant just to be amid it.

It was like that on Saturday night, which was really a low-key event. I felt humbled by it. Yesterday I sent them a message thanking them for sharing their life with me. It’s no small thing.

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