Cats! A veritable lifetime of cats: Dim Sim, Muggins, Mao Tse Tung, Ten Sing Tung, Splinter, Amber, Lloyd, Kitten and others. Dogs! WACL, the black labrador, Choti the miniature dachshund and two Pepper dogs, (dalmations who were entirely different from one another) whose consecutive lives spanned more than 30 years.
Did I mention three children and their marriage partners, some stepchildren, lots of grandchildren, my parents and dozens of associated family members? There were cars, jeeps, tractors; a shade house, frogs and frog gardens. Two husbands, too.
Having never done it properly before, at the beginning of 2011 I decided to collate all my printed photos into a set of lovely albums. I bought a matching set of 10 photo albums at Things over the holiday break. These will hold 2,000 photos and postcards and I bought as many albums as I expected to need, so that they will make a beautiful display as well as keeping my precious pictures safe.
While I was at Warren and Lisa’s (cat sitting as usual), I started sorting those I had taken with me (mostly Bali) as best as my memory will allow. T-shirts are a good indication of photos taken at the same event, or the fact that one hotel had a swim up bar and the other did not. A good tip on sorting printed photos is to line them all up on one edge and sort them into groups of pictures of exactly the same size. Photo shops, especially in Bali, cut the pictures so they are just marginally different in size and it is quite easy to get all the photos from one film sorted from the others.
Once I started sorting them, three things became abundantly clear:
- Lots of photos I wanted and remembered were not amongst the ones I had taken with me to sort out while I was cat-sitting at Warren and Lisa’s house, although I could not imagine where they were – since we had recently moved houses. Some of them I really wanted for my stories, too.
- My idea of collating by topic was nowhere near as good as putting them into chronological order.
- I needed more photo albums.
I also needed my old passport!!! Immigration and customs stamps are invaluable when you are sorting old photos.
Over the years, there had been five trips to Bali, with funerals, weddings and visits to the homes of our Bali friends; not to mention my white water rafting and para-sailing while Robbie held the fort and the beachhead. We had regular visits to Sanur, the volcano and the black beach with Jimmy and Mickey from the Bali Bagia, where they would take a day off from work and play “tourist” with us.
My own seven or eight overseas trips – including Hawaii, New Zealand, Las Vegas, Mexico, London and Sabah meant that somewhere I still had loads of photos to find. While there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of pictures on disc, printed photos going back to around 1992 need a good chronology.
I have committed myself this year to also cataloguing many of my father’s photographs of his career in the mining industry of Western Australia and tunnelling in the Snowy Mountains because he has hundreds that need his explanations; his memory is excellent and he is a living treasure of history in this, his 94th year.
I have made the first start on his collection and we were lucky enough to espy a whole box of photographs from our earlier years exactly as I remembered them: stored in a bright gold gift bag – last seen in the shed at Stoneville when we had packed up one more time to flee a summer bushfire. This time, they are safely stored in a big plastic box in my little garden shed.
Last week, after spending about three hours with Dad, I chose the first ten photographs to begin creating a series of stories for this Nana to tell. I will keep bringing them out and putting them into their right order. I think I might need a few more albums, too.
I plan to write one story a week and trust that we will get them all done. To take notes while I interview him – even though the story may be written later – seems to be the way to go. Sorting our photos of family and work, my Dad and I, our lives spill out before us on the table – a patchwork quilt of memories. It is a good life. One that we can share with our families for many years to come.
About sharing this post: Lesley Dewar is a well known blogger and workshop facilitator who writes regularly on Social Media, marketing and customer service in the category of Business Tips
Her free eBook can be downloaded directly at Networking To a Plan Sharing this article is permitted providing this footnote is not deleted – all rights reserved. (c) Lesley Dewar 2012
By September, 2010, Sasha had just turned 16 and was as beautiful as ever. While she had gotten a little thin under her magnificent Persian fur coat, she had mellowed very little. You could scratch the top of her head, if you were very quick at withdrawing your hand before she swiped you. She liked to head butt you, too, but you stroked her at your peril. She was not above giving Mum’s leg a quick slash if she was displeased about something.
She shared Mum’s bed while Mum read and slept and sometimes insisted, as cats do, that she was more deserving of attention than the book. It’s very hard to read with a large, furry Persian sprawled across the pages of your book, hair tickling your nose and two huge blue eyes staring at you, daring you to move her while her tail twitched almost imperceptibly.
She liked her fresh green grass every day and both Mum and Dad prowled the fence line picking a handful for her, of which she ate a little. But, it had to be fresh. We potted up some cat grass bought especially for her. Would she eat that? No way! She liked the garden variety, thank you.
She had afternoon tea with us every day, licking a little butter from Mum’s finger before ensconcing herself in her armchair. She sat in the bay window in the morning sun every day, warming her old bones and contemplating life, as all cats do. She never shared those thoughts with me and I doubt that they were idle.
She was a great companion to Mum. They had been a pair of gypsies together for many years – from North Perth to Rockingham, from Pinjarra to Rivervale. Sasha was even taken in at Archbishop Goody Hostel in East Perth, where she captivated the residents and staff alike. That was such a funny day. We had warned everyone about how savage “Sasha The Slasher” could be; that she was not cuddly and should not be touched. We brought in her carry bag, put the bag on the bed in Mum’s new room in the midst of a small throng of staff and residents, and warned everyone to stand back.
Did Sasha live up to those dire warnings? Of course not! She nonchalantly lay in the bag, and then allowed herself to be lifted out and touched by absolute strangers. Damn cat! Made us all look so foolish and the whole time she and Mum lived at Archbishop Goody Hostel, she was the perfect guest. In no time at all, she had the run of the lovely enclosed garden and a couple of times, when Mum had to go to hospital, a willing team of volunteers cared for Sasha.
Once, after they moved to East Vic Park, she got out of the unit, ran down to the back fence and as quick as a flash, she leapt over the back fence into the laneway. She was so agile, in spite of being 15 years old, that Mum was completely astonished. Mum had to run down the driveway, up to the corner and down the side of the neighbouring houses to get to the laneway and then along the laneway to find her. Mum was horrified at what Sasha had done. Luckily, Sasha was equally horrified at her daring and had gone to ground by the fence. She was an inside cat – outside in a world she did not know. It was the work of a moment to pick her up and carry her home – Mum telling her off all the way back about how naughty she was to do such a thing.
One day when we were at afternoon tea with Mum, she bolted out the front door that Dad had left open. I saw just a flash of fur as she headed down the side of the unit, towards the back yard and I was out that door and after her equally as fast. I picked her up behind the shoulders, held her at arm’s length and brought her back inside. She sulked with me for several days after that.
We had to take Sasha to the vet, for the last time. She had a large mass on her tummy, most likely a cancer, and had had pain relief. The vet has been very helpful and Sasha has had the best of care. She will be going up to Lawnswood Pet Cemetery and will be in good company with many of our past family pets. We bought a beautiful blue box with a blue and silver lining for her journey. She has had a good life with Mum and it was Mum’s decision that Sasha be treated with dignity as she came to the end of her life. I am very proud of my Mum – that she had the strength and courage to make the decision to part from her closest companion of the last sixteen years.
They have been “two drifters, off to see the world, there’s such a lot of world to see.”
Two drifters off to see the world.
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end–
waiting ’round the bend,
my huckleberry friend,
Moon River and me.
As Frank Sinatra sings it, she has indeed been my Mum’s Huckleberry Friend You can hear this beautiful song song here:
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Mao Tse Tung was a scrawny, battered, stray Devon Rex cat who appeared one day on the roof of the carport while Robbie was washing his red van. We had never seen her before, in the six months or so since we had moved into Onslow Street – behind the Zoo in South Perth.
She had soft, dusky pink fur – that looked like she had had a bad perm. Curly and disheveled, she hung her head over the edge of the carport and meowed at Robbie. “Help, I can’t get down,” she said in a most plaintive voice, rubbing her chin against the edge of the guttering. “Well,” said Robbie, “and where did you come from, young lady?” He put down his chamois and moved the short ladder over towards the roof, stepping up to pick up the stray. She did not move away in that infuriating way that cats always do, when they ask for rescue, only to retreat backwards and out of reach. Robbie picked her up, stroked the back of her head and placed her on the ground by the ladder. “Off you go, then” he said. “Go home, wherever that is.” The scruffy little cat wandered off.
About ten minutes later, her cry came again from the roof of the carport. “Help, I can’t get down.” Robbie looked up, laughed and again reached to bring her back down to ground level. She rubbed herself against his boot and then walked away behind the fence, her tail aloft and stiff. We had no idea where she lived or whose cat she might be, but she certainly had a way of making her presence felt.
As he was finishing drying off the red van and putting away his cleaning bucket, a face appeared on the roof of the carport. “Help, I can’t get down,” the little cat called. “No way, Jose!” said Robbie. “If you can get up there, you can get down as well.” He finished up in the carport and came inside, leaving the back door open just a crack. In a few minutes, a little pinky brown face appeared peering through the opening he had left, but after a minute or so, she decided not to enter and wandered away.
At that time, we had Pepper 1 (our first Dalmation), Muggins, Colin’s cat who caught river rats and brought them home, and Burt, the pink and grey galah whose cage was on the patio, living with us in our ground floor apartment. We really did not need any more pets and we assumed that the little curly cat lived in one of the other units in the complex of eight. I laughed as Robbie told me how she had conned him twice but not the third time, into being lifted down from the roof.
Through the summer and autumn months, she wandered by every now and then, and I took to putting some dry cat food and milk out for her. She was very thin and unkempt and did not look at all well cared for. She kept her distance from me and she would not let me stroke her nor could I lure her inside with food or milk. Soft words would not bring her to my door. Yet, for Robbie, she would appear unbidden and she would sit and watch him working on his van anytime he was home from his country work. He would give her a rough rub on the back of the head and she would climb on the roof, hoping to be “rescued” again.
Winter came and one night, a fierce storm broke around us. The rain came down in sheets, lashing wildly against the windows. The front patio was awash and a river of leaves and debris ran under the side gate and down the driveway. The carport gutters overflowed and the back door rattled in the wind. When I opened it to check to see if it was likely that the water would overflow into the kitchen, a sodden little creature flew in the door and right past me, into the unit. I was so surprised I lost my grip on the door handle and the back door blew right open, letting the rain and wind drive me back into the kitchen. I quickly grabbed the door and shut it again, putting on the deadlock to secure it. I was wet from head to toe and the kitchen floor was a mess. Somewhere, there was a small, scruffy, sodden cat – hiding from the storm in our unit.
After I cleaned myself up, and the kitchen, I went looking for her. I suspected she would be under a bed or in a corner somewhere, perhaps behind the lounge or the TV. It took quite a while to find her, secreted away in the bottom of the walk-in wardrobe in the spare bedroom. We had always thought that she lived in one of the nearby units and the way that she had bolted straight to the spare bedroom and into the wardrobe made it clear that she knew her way about the units. She was busy cleaning herself, drying off her drenched fur and took no notice of me at all. I left her to her own devices, quietly smiling to myself and thinking that I finally had my new cat. I put food and milk in the room for her and let her be. I closed the bedroom door behind me. “Tomorrow,” I told myself, “she will be so happy to stay here.” Whether she, Muggins, and Pepper would get on together was not a consideration, because they had become very aware of each other over the past six months or more and had shown no signs of not accommodating one another in a very small territory.
The morning dawned fine and dry – the storm well past. The back door was hooked open on its latch and the rubbish bins retrieved. When I had swept up the small amount of rubbish lying about, I went to the bedroom, opened the door and looked into the wardrobe. The scruffy little cat, dry but still looking much disheveled, looked up at me. I started to crouch down, speaking softly to her, only to have her launch herself between my feet, bolt for the door and disappear out of view. She literally hit the floor running and did not stop until she was through the lounge room, down the length of the galley kitchen and out the back door. She had eaten well during the night and she had no intention of being caught inside. I had simply been “any port in a storm” and she didn’t give a fig that I wanted to adopt her.
When Robbie next came home, I told him the story and we started to make enquiries amongst the other people who lived in our complex. Gradually we pieced together a tale of an oriental lady (maybe Chinese) who had lived alone with her cat; who had moved; who had returned many times to try and find her cat; who no longer came looking. Our rough and ready lady was indeed a stray. One who seemed to have decided that she definitely liked life on the streets, apart from the occasional winter storm.
By the end of the winter and into spring, we came to terms with each other: she and I. My job was to leave food out for her and to stop trying to catch her or lure her inside. Her job was to turn up when she felt like it and when Robbie was home, to keep him company in the carport.
So it went, until we had to move. We were going to live in a caravan, to save money to build our own home. We packed up our belongings, put most of them into the railway wagons on the block on which we were to build our house and took the rest to the caravan. We had already moved Burt’s cage and put him in it. Pepper and Muggins were in the van. It was the very last day.
“Robbie,” I said. “I don’t want to go without the cat. She is a stray and no one is caring for her. But, what can I do? She will not come to me. She will not let me cuddle her or stroke her. What can I do?”
“Go and stand by the divider at the end of the kitchen and don’t move,” he said. “And be quiet!” I did.
He squatted down on his hunkers, about one third of the way up the kitchen. He waited. Within a minute or so, the little cat appeared at the back door. He clicked his fingers. She walked in. “My missus wants you, you know that,” he said. “So come on here and stop messing us about.” I watched her walk up to him and lie down at his feet. He picked her up, ruffled the fur on the back of her head and stood up as he turned around. “Here is your cat,” he said. I took her from him and she settled against my shoulder, purring into my neck. He lifted his hand from the back of her neck and smiled at us. “Can we go now?” he said.
She stayed with us for many years and gave me great joy. That was The Getting of Mao Tse Tung.
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Teng Sing Tung, the elegant Tonkinese, was my heart’s delight and his accidental death devastated me. At that time, in late March 2006, I was going away overseas and I could not leave my Dad (Nono) home, alone without a cat. So, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I put a cardboard box onto his lap and said “This is for you!”
Nono was gob-smacked to find the tiny, tabby kitten I picked out at the vets. He was very aloof, with big eyes and ears like a bat. I explained that this tiny creature (hardly bigger than the palm of Dad’s hand) was his own cat and that he would have to take care of him.
He climbed up onto my Dad’s chest, licked his face and neck and settled down on his shoulder. They bonded instantly. My Dad (who was just about to turn 88 ) had never had a cat of his own. I cannot remember our family being without a cat – but they had all belonged to someone else. Never Nono. He called him “Splinter” – being too small to be a chip (off the old block).
We were sitting outside and in a little while, Dad got up to start watering the garden and the pot plants. He put Splinter down near me, where he started to explore: the bricks, the sand, the gravel and then the garden bed on the outside right hand side of the shade house, in which there was a pond and water lilies. On the left hand side of the entry to the shade house was a big blackboy grass tree.
Splinter showed no fear of anything: not Pepper, the old Dalmatian nor Burt, our Pink and Grey Galah. He is part Bengal and he loves water, including the spray from the pond pump. I found two good sized logs of wood and put one into the water lily pond and the other into the second pond around the corner. He was investigating everything he could find and see (which meant it could be no more than three inches off the ground) and if he did fall into either pond, he would be able to climb onto the log and get out. I was taking no risks with this little adventurer.
Within half an hour, he was dragging himself out of the pond by the front of the shade house, bedraggled and sopping wet. He was soon dried off, Dad went back to watering and I was reading my book. As the afternoon shadows lengthened, we realised that Splinter was nowhere in sight – although he had last been seen trying to catch some little moths and insects hovering around the roses, growing in pots. We looked for him everywhere – in the garden, the bushes, the house, the shade house. Amongst the jungle of plants including the giant birds’ nest fern – with no success.
I searched under the big blackboy, with the old dead fronds sweeping on the ground and even broke them all off back to the point where the trunk was clear for up to a foot from the ground. Nothing. No kitten. No big eyes or white whiskers. Only a big motorbike frog!
Endless calls of “here, kitty, kitty” and “puss, puss” brought no response. We agreed that it was not likely he would have wandered too far away into the real bush – he hadn’t drowned – so we would try and flush him out of his hiding place with the hose: wherever it was. Dad started gently hosing every possible hiding place we could think of, in the garden and the shade house, and after an hour he decided that the only place Splinter could be was in the blackboy. That was where he was last seen and so Dad started letting the hose run down through the spines, saturating them until the trunk was running with water.
Blackboy spines grow very close together and curve back towards the trunk, so any water on them runs back down to the centre of the plant. There was a veritable waterfall coming down from above and running down on to the gravel bed.
Suddenly, there was a little flash of movement in the fast fading light. “Keep hosing,” I called and went down on my hands and knees under the dripping plant. Sure enough, a sodden, miserable scruff of a kitten was scrambling down the trunk of the blackboy. He had been there the whole time we had been looking for him. In less than half a day, he had already had lost two lives: one in the pond and one in the blackboy.
Inside, dried and cuddled, warm and safe, he purred and looked at us with his huge eyes and ears pricked and I could read his mind: “Well, now we know who the boss is!” Nearly five years on, my Dad is still besotted with the little terror and I idly wonder what life might have been like without him. Rather boring, I think.
As a footnote: blackboy has been a commonly used name for Australian grass trees – also known as Balga. The botanical name is Xanthorrhoea preissii
I believe the name “blackboys”originated from many years ago, when aboriginals were seen to stand on one leg in the bush, motionless for hours at a time, and it was very difficult to distinguish them from the surrounding bush. This is the story my grandmother told me; she was born in the 1890′s and lived many years in bush country. When we first went to Stoneville amongst the “grass trees” in the 80′s she was scared for me, of the aboriginals coming out of the bush and not being friendly.
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One of the people you will meet in Stories My Nana Tells is Nana’s Dad – variously referred to as Nono (from when her Mum was learning Italian), Bluey (his nickname all his life) and probably never by his real name, William James Nancarrow.
He is a huge part of fabric of Stories My Nana Tells – as you will learn. Nothing sums up his role in the lives of the people and pets in Stories My Nana Tells better than this letter sent to him in 2005 – from Canada – for his birthday. He is still just the same today – caring, helpful and totally in the thrall of the pets.
Thank you, Dad
Just a quick note before we go up to Montreal tomorrow, because we haven’t forgotten it’s your birthday. You won’t get to read this until well after the event – the pigeons are pretty slow between Canada and Australia at this time of the year. But before we go, I wanted to write and tell you how much you are appreciated and loved. When we phoned you tonight (March 26 for us – March 27 for you) to wish you happy birthday, Colin and Pauline were a bit teary because it has been so long since they have seen you except in photos. And Mum, too.
We are so pleased that Warren, Lisa, Gordon and the rest of the family took you out to Chapel Farm, in the Swan Valley, for dinner. And what a co-incidence that my Nana & Pop lived in that house so many years ago. I used to feel as though I knew that house but didn’t know why. Then, one day when Robbie and I were bringing Mum up to Stoneville for a visit, as we went past the old house, she remarked that Nana and Pop had lived there and when we came down from Big Bell we stayed there.
I knew that I could rely upon my excellent son and his lovely wife to make sure the event of your birthday was not missed. 87 years old, and an old Midland boy, at that. Bluey (William James) Nancarrow.
We are all very indebted to you for the way you help us take care of our families and homes, especially when we want to go away on holidays. Warren and Lisa at Christmas time were away around the world for six weeks. Every day, you watered the garden, through the heat of the summer. Morning and night you either let out or locked up the chooks and the cats.
Amber (she is a naughty girl, that cat) would often keep you waiting until nine or ten at night, before she would come sashaying home and throw herself on the dining room floor.
Neurotic “Kitten”, living behind the TV for six weeks and then coming out on the very last day to let you cuddle her.
You are a wonderful help to me – and have been for years now, even before Robbie died. It is so lovely to be able to plan to go away on holidays or just to stay out overnight at Mum’s and know that you are there to take care of Pepper and Tung. I suppose I will have to come clean at sometime in the future and admit that it is more you taking care of me, not me taking care of my old Dad. After all, it’s you who makes sure I have breakfast every morning at 7:00!
For me, personally, you are good company and a good friend. While we have our moments of disagreement, you have made my life so much easier than it might have been after Robbie died. You take excellent care of the garden and the yard; you are pretty good on getting down the cobwebs and we really do enjoy a good game of footy together on the TV. You fix vacuum cleaners and make excellent rice pudding. I really enjoy our walks around in the bush, while you show me all your new plantings.
Pepper II and Tung have you wrapped around their little toes and it’s so funny to see you pandering to that little, blind Tonkinese cat, who eats his dinner with no fuss at all, where I give it to him, when you are not here. No running about to put it in his sun lounge and all that stuff, when Tung and I are on our own. And Burt will always respond to “Where’s Bluey” with a whistle or two.
A drink or two in the Sawyers Valley Tavern is about your limit and you are always up to being the skipper, which is probably a good thing for me (and Warren, if Lisa is singing with WASO or the Opera Studio) on a Friday night. I might be on the other side of the world, Dad, with one of my excellent sons and his wife, but we all want you to know that you are an excellent father and grandfather and we appreciate and love you very much.
Happy Birthday, Dad (Nono) from your family away overseas,
Lesley, Colin and Pauline
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