My Grandfather was a tall impressive man but he walked with a lurching gait. My mother tells a story his stay in hospital during the depression when she was very young. She used to say, when asked what was wrong with him, “he’s got limping sickness”. What ever the sickness was he was left with a life long limp.
Papa McDonald, as we called him, read to us. He read Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson. He and Nan gave me my copies of A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. They also gave me a book about a hedgehog and I remember repeating from that book, the word ‘enthusiastic’ – my first big word – and committing it to memory, enthusiastic, enthusiastic, enthusiastic.
His humour was mischievous. He would offer to take my sisters and I to see some horses and he would take us to the knackery. He told us repeatedly that he would go to the Philippines and bring us back a monkey and we believed him, but he never went and we waited many years for the pet monkey he promised us.
Just before he died, I visited him in hospital. He had had a stroke and lay, foetus like in his cot like bed. I hate that memory of him. I prefer the memory I have of a day I spent with him about a month before that. I visited him at his home and we sat, he in his gentleman’s chair and me on a low chair drawn up beside it and we went through the documents about his apprenticeship and early career as a pattern maker in Geelong.
My mother inherited the gentleman’s chair, an antique Victorian period chair with curved tapering legs covered in a worn mustard coloured silk. She in turn gave it to me saying it was never a comfortable chair and she no longer had space for it in her living room. Papa’s chair. I could not believe it was now mine. I re-imagined it with new fabric, I was thinking something modern, striking, bold to offset its traditional bones.
I ended up with a very traditional but quirky fabric, not the bold modern striking I had in mind but the palest of yellows, almost the colour of butter, with tropical vines twisting through it. Perched in amongst the vines are roguish monkeys wearing pastel coloured waistcoats, matching striped pants and round knob hats with tassels hanging from them.