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Playing Possum And Other Strange Stories

This past days have been one of those periods in one’s existence when lots of things have happened… most of them everyday matters, like winning Lotto, the details of which I won’t bore you… (Only joking – no Lotto wins, no rich uncles or aunts appearing out of the woodwork or from anywhere, come to think of it. No wealthy benefactors/resses smiling fondly upon me – no.. just … other things that one could list as the good and the not so good, but mainly good, for which I thank our God each and every day in our morning devotions. There are showers of blessings and the odd corrections and disciplines, which we all need.

As you know, we have all been enduring exhausting heat, and our hope and prayer is that the very hot weather is on its way out. We’ve had the odd adventure that I’d like to record in this blog before my notorious memory wipes if off the slate forever… Thank heavens for daily journals!

Now lessee… we went to Glendale the other morning where we had morning tea with Ian Stewart and wife Robyn at Arobella caff , which was without incident, apart from my becoming temporarily lost in Kmart which is near the café. There are books for sale in Kmart. As I browsed among them, I picked up one by a Dr Xand Van Tulleken and upon flicking open the pages found a little comment that was almost enough for me to purchase the book. The line I found was a comment on cats: The only ones who look as good in real life as they do on the internet are cats. ‘Bravo!’ I exclaimed, noisily enough to start at least one small infant crying…

When I went to leave I couldn’t quite remember where I came in. I would have found it eventually you mind, for there is only one door in and out, but a helpful little old lady pointed to the exit.

 

OAM Lunch

We (Janet and I) went to the annual OAM luncheon at Cardiff RSL the other day.  The lunch was fine. I had been asked a couple of weeks ago to say grace, so instead of having your usual type grace, I astonished them all by writing my own to metre and singing it – and didn’t that take them by surprise! Unfortunately, I was a bit nervous to start with and started one octave too high, which ruined it a bit. Here it is, sung to a 9th century hymn. The tune is  Veni Creator which you will hear sung on our answering machine – not the grace of course but the same tune, which I love. Not only is it a lovely tune, but having it on my answering machine deters the tele-marketers, who usually give up during the fourth verse …

Here’s the grace:

Lord God our Father, all righteousness,
We ask you humbly this good food to bless;
Help us to remember, also we pray,
Those who go hungry every day.
Amen

(When sung, the metre is spot on) It left them rather open-mouthed I must say!

The guest speaker, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie was amazing – among the best I’ve ever heard. He and his wife came up from Sinney. (Wangi speak. Means Sydney). He introduced something I’ve never heard in a talk like that: the spiritual aspect. He’s been present when mass graves of soldiers of all nations have been found in various parts of Europe and when possible, identified by DNA and given a proper burial in a war cemetery somewhere. There’ve been German, Italian, French, English, American and soldiers of many other nations. In one, he was present when five Australians who had been identified by DNA were to be re-interred in a war cemetery at a fitting ceremony. He said the five coffins were arranged above the graves. One of the relatives came forward with five sprigs of Australian wattle and placed a sprig on each coffin before moving back to join the families. Just then, a blue butterfly appeared and landed briefly on each coffin, before flying away. All present saw it.  I tell you, ten thousand goose-bumps ran up and down my spine. He said on another occasion, on a funeral parade, with soldiers marching each side of the gun carriage on which a coffin rested, rain fell out of a clear sky. Amazingly, I too had that exact experience of a young soldier killed in Vietnam at whose funeral I officiated. It was sort of eerie, but yet comforting, in the strange, mysterious ways of our God. Who can describe it; when something like that happens? I firmly believe, from my own experience and those described here, that between us and heaven there is an unseen world all around us. We, who are finite, get only occasional glimpses of the in-finite.

Anyway, after the lunch finished I went forward to have a short word to the general. In fact, I was the first there, but ended up being more or less shouldered aside by others (male and female) who apparently had a greater need to speak to him. In the end I gave up, because I could see he was starting to tire of it all and he and his wife had a drive back to Sydney to face. I’ll never be able to have that brief chat. I’d love to tell him how I suspect God foiled the PM of the day at Gallipoli in 1990, at the75th anniversary of Anzac, at Anzac Cove, that I conducted !!

🦋🦋🦋🦋🦋

It was latish when we got home. We were both tired, but I had accepted an invitation to an old Leetonian’s 80th birthday party. Adrian Cooper is a week older than I am but settled on a later day for his birthday party at Valentine Bowling Club. If ever you get a chance, go to that club for a meal or a cuppa or a glass of sandwiches or something. It is situated right on the very shores of the lake, at Valentine, which if you don’t know it is half way between Warners Bay and Belmont. It’s on Valentine Crescent, in a beautifully picturesque location.

Anyway, Adrian and I and his brothers and sister all grew up together in Leeton – centre of the centre of the Riverina; heart of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.

Janet was exhausted and as she was invited but didn’t have to go, I went alone. Adrian’s brother Rex was there too. He was  the bloke who was riding my Norton ‘Dominator’ once, and crashed it. I was on the back as a pillion because I’d had my licence less than a year which means I was not permitted to have someone on the back. Anyway, Rex was chatting away, one hand on the throttle, as he half-turned toward me… very dangerous thing to do, up Pine Avenue Leeton, with cars angle parked front in. Sure enough, someone backed out in front of us. He didn’t see it and – bang! We hit. Next thing he and I are straight over the handle bars onto the bitumen. I can still see his feet pointing directly skywards during his  upward trajectory. I suppose mine were too, half-way through our loop. Amazingly, neither he nor I was injured; nor was the bike, nor was the car! Don’t know how that happened. I reminded Rex of it last night, and he laughed. He had a Dominator too…Ohhhhh – what lovely bikes they were! 500cc twin potters. How I’d love one today, for I’m still 18 from the neck up, ye mind.

There were lots of people at the party, ranging from the 80’s down to kids in strollers and lots in between. Adrian had hired the upstairs room. I found myself sitting next to a nice couple. I’d just finished my meal when some people walked in, bearing electric guitars, big amplifiers and other implements of utter torture, and my little heart sank. My worst fears were realised when the band sprang into action … THE NOISE!   “Ooh – is that really the time?” I screamed to the person beside me. I doubt he heard me but I pointed to my watch and he nodded. I farewelled Adrian and will catch up with him later.


I did my chaplaincy rounds on Thursday. No worries around the traps I am happy to say. They always seem happy to see me, as I them. One lady who bought a copy of my Space Ships book, told me her little two-and-a-half-year-old son absolutely loves it, and can now read it all by himself! I was amused and delighted. It’s quite a thrill to be able to bring that sort of pleasure to a little life which is also encouraging him to read.


The other day the old Stetson style hat I wear around the yard blew off the hat peg on the back verandah wall, unnoticed by me but not by Bert, Rolf’s and Heather’s dog, which we are presently minding …  Later, Janet discovered the mangled remains of the hat, chewed to shreds, which she deposited straight into the wheelie bin.

Later that same day my thoughts returned to my mangled hat as I ruefully examined my own mangled body. It happened thus: we were having morning tea when suddenly the Australian miner birds outside went crazy, squawking their little heads off. They were on the back verandah, and miner birds always hit the noise button when there’s an intruder in their territory.

We hurried outside to see what the trouble was – and there, seemingly caught between the slats, was a possum. The slats form a sort of wall on one end of the verandah but are far enough apart to let air through while offering privacy, and it seems the possum had misjudged the distance and was caught. The miners were giving it hell.

Janet got me a towel with which to hold over the possum and save my skin from being ripped by sharp claws. I tried it, but possums have fur like silk – it’s so slippery! It’s beautiful to touch, ye mind, but in normal situations to pat a possum is frequently followed by a visit to the hospital, so I was a tad wary. Finally, however, bit by bite (how apt!) I grabbed the nervous beastie and pulled – and pulled. I managed to free it – but then it grabbed the slats and wouldn’t let go! Without going into a painful blow by scream by scratch description, I finally freed it, and it disappeared up the mango tree. If it really wanted to harm me, I’d have been badly bitten; in fact it didn’t bite me at all, but clung to my arm with the same tenacity it had clung to the slat… all claws out and working.

I took my mangled and bleeding body in its torn shirt inside, where Janet patched me up and administered a Bex or two and lots of cotton wool soaked in Dettol. Later, while we were having cool drink on the verandah, Janet exclaimed ‘I can see the possum!’ They’re nocturnal creatures as ye know, and sure enough, there it was, asleep in a fork in the mango tree. It stayed there all day. After dark I took a torch out, but our little friend had gone.

I had to smile when I thought of an encounter my father had with a possum back in the days on the old farm in Leeton. Somehow a possum got into the house and into one of the bedrooms. My father was very nervous of possums, having been bitten before, as had his father, so went down to see one of our neighbours to enlist his help in removing it. I forget who it was but this bloke said “No worries Bill! There’s only one way to deal with a trapped possum – kill it!” This neighbour grabbed his (of all things) shotgun and back they came to get the possum. Thinking back, it was probably a .410 shotgun, but all the same, not made for indoor use! We kids and our mother were ordered outside while our brave farmer boys went in to deal with the man-eating possum…

A couple of minutes later there was an enormous crash… not of a firearm being discharged but the back screen door being violently thrown open. Our two brave  farmer lads came charging out of the house, faces white with terror… once out, one went flying off to the left, one to the right and immediately behind them the possum, which went flying off into the distance, and disappeared. It did what most animals do when cornered: it attacked.

How we laughed! (Later, out of sight and hearing). How we rolled about, holding our sides, remembering the comic scene of that day. In the old chap’s hearing, the matter never came up again…

Did I say  that to touch a possum can end up in a trip to the hospital? I was telling my old Army mate Stan, my possum story and was surprised when he told me he had a story too. A couple of weeks ago he found a possum that was trapped under his verandah roof. He managed to free it – then discovered it (she) had a baby!  His granddaughter made a lovely big box for the possum and baby, where they live to this day. Stan feeds the possum daily with fresh fruit, and has won her trust, and she allows him to stroke her. He said he is not brave enough at this stage to touch her child, but hopes to one day.

Stan’s Possum

Can you stand one more possum story? In my time in the Army we had an army married quarter with a lot of bush around it, which we shared with a lot of possums, short-tempered funnel web spiders and other creatures, ranging from shy to the insanely aggressive. The back door was never latched properly and we never worried, for no one in their right minds would wander around that area at night. The local possums found this arrangement entirely to their satisfaction. They lived in the walls, in the ceiling, under the floor… they lived everywhere. We had one cheeky regular called Percy. One night I was awakened by a loud banging sound, so rushed to investigate. In the kitchen was Percy. The banging was caused by the little thief’s attempts to remove the lid from the large bread tin which had stuck (with five children, we went through a lot of bread) and Percy’s strenuous efforts to remove it and plunder the contents were in vain. As I approached he scurried off outside. I took the lid off, took out a slice of bread, and called “Come on, Percy! You can have this one!” There was silence – then the back door was pushed open and a cheeky little face peered at me … Seeing the bread being proffered, and not sensing danger, Percy marched across the kitchen floor, impudently grabbed the bread out of my hand and made his way outside…

How I love the wonderful world of nature, and each beautiful creature in it, all of which can bring so much joy to any jaded soul!

Oh well, the hour of midnight approaches, but time for us to join in a lovely hymn:

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears, all nature sings and round me rings, the music of the spheres.

(Traditional English melody. Words by Maltbie D. Babcock). It’s beautiful.

Let us sing … Altogether now …

 

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On Becoming an Octogenarian

11_Tony aged 19Arriving  at the extreme old age of eighty summers was so easy – one second I was a septuagenarian, and next an octogenarian. It happened one midnight. Since then I’ve begun to take an interest in my age… well, actually, I have two ages. One is the overall age of my body, which is now eighty; the other is the age of my mind, which is eighteen. Yes – I still want a motorbike – a 1952 AJS, like the one I had sixty-odd years ago. (I had my licence one month and spent the following month in Leeton hospital. There’s not much ‘give’ in a bitumen road, when landed on at 70 mph, but I’d chance it all again!) We oldies are inclined to reminisce; and there’s one thing I can say about getting older: it’s a bit like being on a small boat in a storm. Once it starts, there’s nothing you can do about it but ride it out.

I was talking to one old turkey the other day who told me he knew he was getting old because what hadn’t dried up had started to leak …

We’re also inclined to reel off uninteresting stats: In the 1950’s the average age of men who departed this veil of tears was 58. Today, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the average age of males who fall before the scythe of the Grim Reaper is 78.4 years. It seems I’m on borrowed time by 1.6 years.

Since reading that somewhat sobering statistic, when I awaken each morning I take my pulse to see whether or not I’ve upped the count for the next official statistics.

Over the years I’ve noticed what happens to other aged men (not women – just men). They achieve invisibility. A common sight at a family gathering is to see Grandpa seated in a corner by himself, walking stick at his side, watching his happy family enjoying themselves. His spouse is the centre of attention. As mother, wife and centre of the family over the years, everyone is crowding around her – she’s doing all the organising – making sure everyone has a drink, a cup of tea and a sticky bun … lots of laughter, lots of chat, lots of fun, watched by Grandpa from his chair in the corner.

Grandma looks up and sees her hubby, looking down at his empty cup. She grabs one of the grandkids. “Tyson – see if Grandpa wants another cup of tea, or something to eat…’ So the kid wanders over to his grandfather. “Why yes, thanks, son,’ Grandpa quavers – ‘wouldn’t say no to another cuppa. How are you enjoying schoo – ?’ but Tyson has rushed back to Grandma and soon Grandpa, still sitting by himself, has a cuppa in one hand and a cupcake in the other, still looking at his excited family gathering as they celebrate his eightieth birthday.

Time passes. “Fred,’ says Grandma to Tyson’s father as she and the girls prepare yet more snacks, ‘ask your father if he needs to go to the loo – you know what his prostate’s like.’

Next scene is Grandpa being steered off to the ‘loo with Fred at his side: ‘Watch the step, dad… don’t want another broken hip, do we?’

‘No, son,’ quavers the old man, “don’t want another broken hip do we?’

I’ve been dwelling on those mental images since becoming an octogenarian, and wondering when it will be my turn to be Grandpa in the corner.

A few days before I achieved octogenarian status I glanced at the calendar on the wall and my eyes went automatically to 12 January: my birthday. I was surprised and delighted to see that Janet had affixed a little red ‘heart’ sticker to it. How romantic! How sweet, I thought. Maybe Grandpa’s fate was not to be mine just yet. A surge of relief washed over me. I’ve seen what happens to other grandpas and I wasn’t keen to join them. Maybe I still have time before I become invisible. It’s good for us ancients to be able to walk tall among our family members, and to be looked up to as the venerable head of the family – and I had a red heart on the calendar!

My septuagenarian status finished at midnight on 11 January, 2017 and I became an octogenarian less than a second later. The little red heart against my birthday stayed, and so I sang as I danced a joyful little octogenarian jig: I’m NOT invisible! I’m NOT invisible!”

It was just today that I noted that Janet had written something beside the heart that I hadn’t observed before… probably some expression of affection, I assumed, so took a closer look. It read, ‘Don’t forget the dog’s heartworm tablet, due today.” ❤️