Tuesday 19 May 2009

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Divine Intervention

© John Sawyer – May 2009

It can be hard being a twelve year old. Pre-teenager, no longer a child with an assumed innocence that allows you all sorts of concessions, not quite an adult and very unsure of what lies ahead and what might be expected of you.

It can be hard to be a twelve year old girl. A body that’s changing in frightening ways, just different enough from your schoolmates to make you worry that you might be some sort of freak.

It was particularly difficult for a twelve year old girl living in a house with my father. Its not that he wasn’t loving and caring, just the opposite. He spent a lot of time with us, arranged his work so that he took the whole school holidays off. No, it’s just that he was just a bit inconsistent on occasions, ever so briefly.

Suddenly he’d explode, demanding total silence in the whole house because he “… can’t think with you three wittering away out there. What I do is bloody hard you know. Twenty-five balls in the bloody air and I’m interrupted by you bloody laughing out there.” Mum would handle it with a stare or an ever so slightly sarcastic “… yes we know love, and we’re very grateful for what you do…”. Mum reckoned he was probably just upset that he had a deadline that stopped him messing around with us.

Or suddenly he’d take exception to the Channel 9 helicopter hovering over the MCG and “… disturbing my bloody enjoyment of my bloody house, just because that mug Packer wants to show some overhead shots of that stupid bloody pyjama game he calls cricket…”. He’d then spend an hour or so on the phone trying to find what “… arsehole in bloody air traffic control gave that prick permission to bloody thump, thump, thump over our back yard on a Sunday afternoon…”. In the process he’d completely disrupt the household and cause us to creep around or hide in our bedrooms reading.

One day he was so incensed by some now long forgotten Government decision, he rang every listed number at Parliament House during a Public Holiday. The duty fireman eventually answered a phone as he passed by on his rounds. It seemed to pacify Dad for a while and bring a frantic, but calm, letter writing episode to the household.

Dad has never been too good at choosing clothes, but I was pretty impressed one day when he appeared in his new stretchy stove pipes. “Gee I like your new jeans, Dad! Very modern.”

Dad was just a bit miffed that he’d fond himself in fashionable clothes: “Yeah, well you can fuck off too.” How does a twelve year old deal with that?

I did get revenge at times. When I was younger, I’d make him a coffee and put salt in it or even spit in it and sit quietly watching him drink it. Later when I’d matured a bit, I’d deflate his rants with my cutting wit. You know that viewer feedback show they used to have on the ABC where Tim someone used to present letters for about 10 minutes once a week. Dad often threatened to write. He’d compose the letter out loud and I’d add a PS like: “And PLEASE use the pompous voice!”

But as a twelve year old, trying to deal with a very un-cool hippy eccentric, I had no clues on how to behave. None of my school friends had a father like mine and I’d dare not embarrass myself by asking advice or admitting that I had “that” in my blood (now genes).

Dad was also arrogant enough that he reckoned he should be able to do anything and everything himself. Fix the car, build a house, run a government. One Spring Saturday afternoon, he was busy replacing the steel sheets on the roof with his father and brother-in-law helping – my gramps and my uncle. The anger, abuse and vilification were absolutely appalling and I wonder now why his helpers put up with it. Dad would usually be very gracious and a lot of fun and they’d probably look forward to lots of laughs over a few beers afterwards. I also suspect that my uncle dined out on the yarns at his local pub.

Half way through the job, at the critical point where a shower of spring rain would flood our bedrooms, I answered the door to a bloke with a briefcase and a hand full of brochures: “Hello young lady. Can I speak with one of your parents?”

“Well I’m sorry. They’re both pretty busy right now.”

“Well perhaps I should speak with you dear. I’m going round the neighbourhood today, spreading the word. Spreading the good news of God. Spreading the good news that Jesus is coming. Spreading the good news that Jesus is coming to Richmond.”

A voice floats down from the roof: “Who the bloody hell are you talking to Sue?”

“It’s some bloke talking about Jesus, Dad.”

Before anyone can say anymore, Dad’s off the roof, down the ladder and storming up the passage to the front door: “Fuck the hell off you prick. Who the fuck gave you the right to come here bloody indoctrinating my daughter. You can fuck the hell off my property or I’ll call the cops.” The bloke made a hurt looking exit out the front gate and made to move into our neighbour’s house. “And you can fuck off out of there too. He’s not at home to the likes of you. Come to think of it you can take your God bothering the fuck out of the street, NO, right the FUCK out of Richmond.

“And what the hell are you doing talking to that sort of prick, Sue? Get the hell inside away from that arsehole …”

I heard the front door slam as I went to my room, just a bit confused. I wasn’t crying but pretty miserable. Gramps came in and sat on my bed and I explained what the man had told me about some bloke named Jesus coming to visit.

Gramps sat there and thought a bit: “Do you reckon this Jesus would give us a hand with the roof before the rain comes?”


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