Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A wigwam for a goose's bridle

I remember two phrases from my childhood. Both phrases from another generation. One a description. The other a destination. Both brimming with gentle mystery . . .

When I’d ask my Nana Lizzie what this was, or what that was, she’d answer sagely that ‘it’ was a ‘wigwam for a goose’s bridle’ I used to spend hours as a very young child contemplating what this contraption could possibly look like, or why you’d want to put a bridle on a goose in the first place. My only conclusion was that those fairies at the top end of my grandparents’ yard – the ones adults couldn’t see because of some collective loss of innocence or concern with other, more pressing matters – would somehow saddle up geese, and ride them solemnly around secret, distant places . . . Places I fervently believed these large birds loved congregating.

Then there were the geese from the pages of children’s stories . . . all white, gentle and never angry. And none of them wore bridles either.

My Grandfather Ted used another phrase.

“Where are you going Grandfather? What are you doing now?”
“Oh . . . I’m just going to see a man about a dog . . .”

I knew grandfather liked greyhounds. He had fading sepia-tone pictures of some, standing to attention, sideways (always looking left), draped in multiple racing sashes. And I knew his association with greyhound racing in Wollongong must have meant he’d meet and deal with other men his age. Other men from a fast-disappearing era. Men in serge trousers held firmly aloft by grey button-up braces starkly contrasting their clean, collarless white cotton shirts with rolled sleeves. Men in high laced black-leather boots with metal toe and heel clips that ‘clacked’ when they walked along hard surfaces. Men topped by weather- and time-worn grey Akubra dress hats finished in wide bands of black.

I’d often rummage through Grandfather’s side table drawers out in the back sunroom – among their mysterious treasures of small note books, short graphite pencils, newspaper clippings relating to this race or that game of rugby league, rubber bands, ancient marbles in excellent condition and dog clips – looking for any possible reference to this man or his dog. Grandfather would smile and laugh gently when I told him what I was doing, and what I was looking for . . . whenever he caught me hunting.

Somehow I remained satisfied with both explanations. I associated them only with two ancient people, living in their neat but Spartan Edwardian weatherboard house close to Wollongong Harbour. The one painted mustard tan, with white window frames and Indian red corrugated iron roof. The one that seemed swathed in summer with the tang of soft Pacific Ocean brine breezes.

These phrases belonged to them, mingling gently with the cooing native pigeons congregating in the trees behind their house.


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