Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Conversations with Da.
Last March my grandfather, Da, turned 90 and he looked well. This is a photo of him in 1953.
My mother's parents have always been known to us and Nandy and Da. I don't know why this is, although I think like most nicknames it came from a mispronunciation by a young child, probably my eldest cousin.
He had been sick a few months previously and my sister told me Da had cried when she last saw him, afraid that this was their last meeting. I am leaving the country shortly before his 91st birthday and returning I don't know when. For these, and other reasons which I may go into later, I decided to see if I could record some of his life stories.
Da seemed reluctant when I first put the idea to him, but two minutes later he started talking light-heartedly about his years at the bank, which was annoying as I hadn't bought the recorder yet. However, the next morning he rang Mum. He was worried, apprehensive, especially about 'the war'- World War Two- he just wanted to put it behind him, he said. But he would be alright to talk about some other things.
So, nervously, I turned up for our first recording. We started on the lighter stuff- amusing stories about butter, dogs and revolvers at the Bank of New South Wales, and about going to the 1938 national swimming championships and just missing out on going to the Empire Games. I like the way he chuckles as he approaches the punchlines of these stories, the way he tells all the important details.
Then, he just started talking about the war, just like that. Before I knew it he was onto the Battle of El Alamein, and telling me both the funny stories and the quite serious stuff. Two stories really reverberated for me, and I have thought about them often since. I hope to tell them later, as this post is getting long enough already.
Without noticing it, over an hour had passed, and when I stopped Da, he said, "But I haven't talked about Greece yet."
Two days later, at Christmas lunch, without any prompting, he looked up Greece in the atlas and started talking about the battles again, and I got another hour's recording.
Nandy told me that he'd slept all the following day, exhausted from the telling and the talking. Yet, he appeared to have found a purpose in doing it, he became determined to cover all the parts of his history and was annoyed when he couldn't remember the name of a person or detail.
He seemed grateful to me, and I certainly felt grateful to him.