Illustrated Adventures » by Alli Campbell

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MILESTONES AND UGLY TEARS

painting

Oil painting by my very talented Nan. It’s the colours of home.

It has been a huge few weeks. I got home last night just as the sun set, and immediately curled into bed. I was so grateful I didn’t have to be anywhere today, didn’t have to see anyone.

I’ve spent the last three weeks driving up and down the Calder to Bendigo, through the silhouettes of bushfire blackened eucalypts with the aircon struggling to keep up with the heat wave. I love the moment the long grass meets the lightest of blue skies over Mount Macedon, the sun dancing in the golden blades. I love driving on my own, listening to the music that makes my sinuses throb. And I love going home.

My beautiful Grandad has been unwell, so I’ve been relishing the opportunity to just sit with him and chat. He has a sharp mind and an acerbic wit, and conversations with him are full of depth and candour. From his hospital bed he has been directing how we should be dividing up his house, now that he can no longer go home – down to where we’ll find his great-grandfather’s letters and that someone should take the home made honey from the fridge.

And so we’ve slowly started to pack up his life with him still in it, and that of my Nan, who died nearly five years ago. It has been cathartic and heart warming, to reconnect with Nan, to find old pictures, discover hidden quirks and forgotten notes. But it wasn’t until my aunts and uncles drove their trailer loads away on Saturday that I realised: I’ll never see this home, this hub of my childhood, together ever again. The ancient glad wrap boxes in the cupboard. My great-great-grandparents’ armchairs. The Buddhas blue tacked to the air conditioner. The military precision of Grandad’s desk. And as I drove home over Mount Macedon, I cried fat and ugly tears, of finality and of gratitude.

The tears have remained close to the surface. They bubbled up again yesterday, celebrating my (other) Grandmother’s 80th – a beautiful afternoon tea in the garden, with four generations of our childhood favourites. Finger sandwiches, squashed fly biscuits, melting moments, currant cake, brandy snaps, lemon tarts, salmon toasts, fresh fruit, and wine and champagne made by Dad. And a large, complicated, loving extended family.

This week Dad and I wrap up a project that’s been three years in the making – we are daunted and excited in equal measures. It’s been a steep learning curve for both of us, but we make a good team. And today Rob sat his behemoth of an exam, which is more of a relief than either of us can quite say. It’s been a year of studying on trains, bikes and toilets, of choosing between exercise and study, of eating dinner in front of his laptop. On top of sleep deprivation and long hours. I am beyond proud of him, and a little proud of myself too. We got through it.

“Can we have a life, now?” we asked each other when he got home. Of sorts. There’s still practical exams and two to four years of specialty training in god-knows-where. Gah. But it’s a step. In a week of steps. And the heat wave has finally broken.

Excuse me while I have another ugly cry.