History or Her Story (Part 12)

As Dad aged he tended to be grumpy and irritable with us kids, his shed was tidy and he pottered about in it a lot. Of course, as we got older we always had the house full in one way or another. Mum called his shed the “dog house”, I suppose it was his retreat. We hated it when Dad was up in his shed sawing and nailing timber, we’d all disappear as we hated being the one called to hold the timber, we could never do it right and the neighbours would soon know what a stupid bunch of kids he had. Mum would be in the house and would usually ask “What are you up too” with a grin on her face.

At mealtimes, we’d start to talk and Dad would glare and then we’d have a friendly disagreement about something and Dad would glare more, then we’d start to giggle. Mum would grab a couple of finished plates and head for the kitchen knowing Dad would soon explode, we’d be a stupid bunch once more and had Mum been caught giggling too – she’d have been told she was just as stupid. If she knew when Dad came home from work he was grumpy – we’d all be warned as he came in. She’d always excuse him and say “Now just behave, your Dad’s had a bad day, so no nonsense tonight”. When younger, I don’t remember any straps being used, there was an old razor strop hanging by the door and we were reminded why it was there. I can only remember being taken into the dining room and spoken to, that was shame enough.

In our teens Dad was always proud of our achievements, the boys’ woodwork and the girls’ needlework, embroidery and knitting. We were always asked to bring it to show his friends and Dad would stand proud. It was a different story when the boys used his tools and left his shed in a mess, or when I had the sewing machine out in the only room big enough to sew in. In his eyes “the damn house was never tidy”.

He usually wandered off on a Saturday afternoon to watch a local soccer game and for a bit of peace and quiet. I guess, on reflection, he would have been nearing fifty around the time I am writing about and he’d had a large family under his feet for a long time, enough to make anyone grumpy. He was still a good Dad.

We never saw the least sign of drink on Dad. I guess he had the occasional one but not to our knowledge. When we young marrieds, he decided he would have a drink available for the boys and have one with them, it was quite a joke. He would take to two quart bottles into Auburn to the hotel, in one he’d get draught beer, in the other he get bulk wine. He watered the wine down so it went further. When we started to bring home our friends, later girlfriends and boyfriends, and then wives and husbands and children for a Sunday evening meal, Mum would cook all afternoon. Many a time there would be up to twenty people around the table on a Sunday night. Mum and Dad seemed to like to have us all home with our friends. Those were the “good old days” people speak about, it was all hands on deck to set the table and put out the lovely food Mum had prepared which didn’t take long to disappear. Then a human chain would appear all the way from the dining room to the kitchen where a “washer-upper” and several “drier-uppers” would be working. No dishwashers in those days. Along the chain were passed dirty plates and cutlery and scraps, then the washer and drier- uppers would swing into action. The cleaned utensils were then passed back along the line to the “putter-awayers”. Finally the “sweeper-uppers” would have everything squeaky clean once more. Mum was barred from any of this and could usually be seen soaking her feet in a dish of warm salty water. She must have got great comfort from this as I only have to close my eyes to get an image of her sitting there.