Occasionally my grandfather would join the group. The room would hush. He would courteously nod to everyone and say something like "Margie, did I hear the teapot rattle?" She would pour him a cuppa and he would stand there, both hands wrapped around the warm cup. A short time later he would step out of the kitchen and the laughter would rev back up.
Grandad used to be in his study nearly all the time when he was at home. I used to sneak in there sometimes when he was out. I loved that room. There was a big wooden leather topped desk and a leather swivel chair. Behind where he sat, there was a fireplace and in winter it burned coal, so there was always that wintery smell and warmth in the room. Around the walls there were tall book cases of dark timber, filled with dark heavy books. Above the fireplace, between more book cases, there was a large Scottish landscape painting in a tarnished guilded frame. Grandad smoked a pipe and on his desk there was a tray always full of pipes, each stuffed with burned stale tobacco. The aroma of the room was just beautiful. Not until recently did I know more than that about both of them. They were certainly the odd couple.
Grandad's mum and dad had divorced in 1901 when he was 5, one of the first divorces in the new federation. His dad remained an artist and dreamer. His mum ran off with a gambler. She soon took her gambler off the pool tables and set him to work in a tailor shop. After winning the contracts to supply woollen uniforms to a number of countries preparing for war, she became fabulously wealthy. She told everyone grand dad was dead.
Grandad and Marmie had begun courting illicitly when Marmie was 12 and Grandad was about 15, soon after his dad died.
Grandad, it turned out, had his mum's tenacity and his dad's artistic mind. He won a scholarship to Sydney University when he was 14. In those days you needed more than a scholarship and he had no means. He joined the railways. After his father's death, in need of somewhere to live, he answered an advertisement for a lodger. It had been placed by Marmie's mother. During the months that followed, a lonely isolated boy fell in love with a bright animated child in a rollicking working class Scottish home. Marmie's dad perceived the danger and sent her to stay with relatives in the far north of the country. Grandad tracked her down through his railway network. She was moved again and again. Again and again he would appear. And so at length, though both were still so young, they were permitted to marry. They raised four children.
Because they were so different, as time went on, there were struggles. One of things I do not forget is my aged grandmother coming to the table where he was having lunch, her blouse loosely buttoned, her hair messy and her face sad. Shortly afterwards everything would be fine again. She never understood his love of learning and for her it was a barrier she could not pass. When he died she had all the symbols of the barrier destroyed or removed as if with fury. I think he never saw the barrier was there, he only saw her. For him though, the gaiety was something he could not be part of.
They lived a long time together, being their own natures, with a yawning gulf in the middle, just by Doin' What Comes Natur'lly.
© Bog O'Mullet 2010