On Tuesday afternoon Mum and I drove into Ballina to have tea with my grandparents. My grandfather is 86 now and my grandmother 85. Every year that I say goodbye to them after visiting I wonder if it will be for the last time. I know they’re thinking about it too, because my Pa’s always making jokes about how he’s an old workhorse about ready to be put out to pasture to die (mind you, he’s usually making this joke right after he’s been out and about on the property up here mowing the lawn or fixing things or otherwise getting up to active mischief).
I often don’t know quite what to say when Pa makes these comments, but sometimes I remind him he’s been talking like this for about 15 years now. Maybe longer.
“Well then, one of these days soon it’s bound to be true, isn’t it,” Pa says. Then he grins a cheeky grin and his green eyes twinkle. “Would you like another bit of sponge cake with that tea, love?”
My Pa is a sunny soul.
So every time I come home I’m thrilled that they’re still around, not least because if they weren’t I wouldn’t get a front row seat to delightfully random welcome-home conversations like this one:
“Oh,” Nana said, hugging me to herself tightly after I stepped through the door. “Oh. You’re here. You never change. Have you lost weight, dear?”
“Well, well, well,” Pa said, hugging me next. “Look who the cat dragged in.”
“Speaking of cats,” I said, staring past Pa’s shoulder and out the window, entranced, at the giant cotton puff lurking in the bushes below, stalking the birds. “That is the most enormous white cat. You haven’t adopted a cat, have you?”
“Nah,” Pa said. “He gets around here sometimes, climbs up the brick and stares at us through the window. Generally makes a nuisance of himself.”
“Oh,” Nana said. “The cat’s nothing compared to the gigantic crocodile we saw up the tree yesterday. Tell her Alan.”
“Gigantic!” Nana said, not missing a beat. “Six feet long.”
“It was six feet long,” Pa agreed. “All the birds were going crazy, squawking and shrieking. Way worse than with that cat.”
“Did you take a photo?” I asked. “I’ll put it on the blog. I’ve got a snake-like animal sub theme going.”
“No,” Pa said, regretful.
“That reminds me,” my mother said to her parents. “I have to clarify something. Remember when I showed you that photo of the snake from Laos and told you that Lisa took it?”
“Mum,” I said, horrified, “you didn’t, did you? I said quite clearly in the post that I never saw that snake myself, only the photo of it.”
“Yes, well,” Mum waved her hand, “sometimes it doesn’t pay to read things too carefully, that only ruins a good story. And it was such a lovely story I was telling people, too, about how Mike had found this huge snake – practically in your backyard – and fetched you to see it, and you’d taken this amazing photo, and then they cut the snake open and there was a person inside. Until your father told me it wasn’t true and that you’d never actually seen the snake yourself.”
“How many people did you tell this to?” I asked.
“Not many,” Mum said. “Not more than a dozen, I’m sure.”
“What about the man inside?” Pa asked. “Was that part true?”
“That part was true,” I confirmed.
“Anyway,” Nana said, “back to the crocodile up the tree.”
“The goanna,” Pa said.
“The goanna,” Nana said. “I was lying in bed that night and I couldn’t sleep, and all of a sudden I started thinking about how if it could get up the tree like that, quick as anything,” (here Nana demonstrated just how quickly the goanna ascended the tree with a series of frantic scrabbling motions) “then it would probably get in the house next.”
Mum and Pa both dissolved in laughter.
“How, love?” Pa asked between snorts.
“Walk right up the front steps and in the door, I’d say,” Mum said.
“Or maybe up the brick to the second story and eat it’s way straight through the window,” Pa said, gnashing his teeth.
“Impossible to stop, really,” Mum said. “It’s probably lurking around here somewhere right now. Oh, wait, I think I might hear it in the kitchen!”
Nana folded her hands primly and completely ignored them. That couldn’t have been easy, with all the cackling they were still doing.
“You never know,” she said, darkly.