Days of grace

I’m about to be sentimental. That’s fair warning for those of you who’d rather not read such things. I understand, and you go with my blessing.

For the rest of you, well, Christmas is coming up, which is just about the most sentimental time of year for most people. It is for me also, but more so in memory than practice these days. I’ve come to terms with that, and though I’d wish it different, I can go another year without the true embrace of Christmas with loved ones.

What’s in my mind at the moment is the period after Christmas. For some reason, the last few days I’ve got it in my head days of yore when post-Christmas celebrations my mum and my step-father would head up the bush to the property they had at Yarck. A few times I’d join them, though generally for no more than a week. I’m yearning to do it again but, of course, cannot.

I’ve said it before, how times can be defined by the everyday things you do and think no more of. Your life forms a loose pattern, marked by regular milestones and activities, and the people around you. You’re hardly conscious of it at the time because it’s all so normal – this is your life. You only really understand it when it changes, or goes altogether – when the times shift.

So it was for me. I reckon for about a period of 16 very good years the structure of life around me was great. I lived well and had good friends, but, most importantly, I was a part of an extended family group. My mum had married again in 1990 and with it came another family.

I wasn’t sympatico with all in the other half, but then I wasn’t sympatico with all my in my half either. Never mind, because the rest made up for it.

I’d always been close to my mum, and now that she’s gone, I miss her dearly. I miss her most around times like Christmas when she was in her element. She took a child-like pleasure in the festivities and the joy of family around her that was infectious. This was a time of celebration, and no-one knew how to celebrate better than my mum.

I grew to adore her new husband too, my step-father, who accepted me as if I was born to him. In certain ways, we were different, but in so many other ways, we were in tune with each other. I had great times with him, and with the family in general, too numerous to recount now. I miss him also.

Also part of the package came a step-sister who I became very close to – much closer than I was with my own sister. She was modern and vivacious, and we were very much on the same wavelength.

One of the abiding features of our life as a family was the time we’d spend at Yarck. The property there nestled between the hills on the road to Mansfield. The house was cosy and comfortable. There was a pool out back and an in-ground spa and a tennis court as well. Later on, they built a log cabin, which is where I would sleep.

Mum always said that it was enough to turn into the driveway to feel totally relaxed. I’m generally sceptical of such remarks, but I felt this too. It was a place of comfort and tranquillity. It was somewhere were you dropped all pretence, and where many of the concerns that dogged you back in the city seemed irrelevant. It was a haven for all of us.

For probably a dozen years we all as an extended family would make our way there for Easter. It was a ritual we all craved. There we would eat well – we always ate well – and drink bubbles in the spa and drive up to Mansfield for the fete, or sit around the fire reading.

Otherwise, Mum and Fred would be there once a month probably, and I’d probably join them for the odd weekend two or three times a year. Then there was Christmas.

Generally, they spent a month there after Christmas. A few times, I joined them, but never for that long. I remember the sun blazing down in a perfect blue sky and swimming for hours on end in the kidney-shaped pool or reading on a banana lounge in the shade. We lived a civilised life, and there was always a G&T from about 4.30 in the afternoon, and a bottle of wine or two with dinner.

I always took a bag of books with me and would progressively work my way through it. We slept late most days. Sometimes we’d go for a drive, but mostly stayed at the property, and occasionally would drive the winding track up into the hills, were the kangaroos bounded and the smell of wattle was in the air.

There was work to be done as well – fixing a fence or mowing the lawn. Mum would work in the garden, and there was always firewood to be chopped. But then we’d break it up with a cold beer, and maybe fire up the BBQ.

The point I’m making is that it was a life away from life. The place wrapped itself around you, and you shared it with people you loved, and who loved you.

Somehow, this is what I crave this year. Fred died in 2007, and mum a few years later, and that time – which felt eternal – conclusively ended. Now, there’s nothing more I would rather than to pack up the car with Rigby beside me and spend 2-3 weeks doing fuck-all in that magical place.

Like I said, it’s sentimental. How I miss it. How I miss all of it, particularly now.

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