We planned lunch for my brother's birthday. I arrived at 12.30 complete with the usual 'contribution' - this time a large casserole of rigatoni bolognese.
- Lovely to see you so early, said Mum genially as we walked in the door, but the others won't be here until around 2.30.
- Oh, are they running late?
- No, the arrangement was for afternoon tea, not lunch, she said, laughing.
Son, partner and three girls arrived hot on our heels (having been incorrectly advised by me it was lunch). So we all sat down and had some of the rigatoni and afterwards helped Mum set out the afternoon tea. Fresh scones with jam and cream and chocolate crackles onto the table, mini pies and quiches into the oven, tray of glasses and small plates to the old sideboard and teacups set up near the kettle. All the usual things.
In between all this the phone rang. It was old Mrs Turner from a dozen or so houses up the street. It's a funny neighbourhood. Probably half of the old houses in the suburb have been razed for new developments, multiple townhouses and the like; while the other half don't seem to have changed a bit and have their original inhabitants from like fifty years ago! Mum moved in in 1951 when the street was unmade and you could walk to school as the crow flies through empty blocks.
So old Mrs Turner is on the phone. Seems she had offered her lawnmower to Mum, while Mum's was being repaired (Mum still mows her own lawn, refuses to let anyone else touch it - we're working on it but she's refusing to budge so far!) There's like this network of oldies, they help each other with all manner of things. I walk up the street and fetch the mower. Mrs Turner greets me with a huge hug, says she remembers me from childhood. Mum tells me later Mrs Turner had had no children of her own and remembered all the children in the street by name, of which there were dozens. I must say I was extremely touched. I mean, forty years down the track, and the old dear hugs me like a long lost nephew. I probably hadn't even seen her since grade six.
- Sadly, they'll all be gone one day, I'm thinkin' to myself as I trundle the Masport fourstroke back down the street.
By this time it was a quarter to three and everyone had arrived for afternoon tea.
So we're chowing into cakes and sandwiches, hot party pies and little quiches, cheese cubes and pickles, the full retro (without intending it to be retro!) deal, and then we get Bro No 1 on the phone in Alice Springs and everyone sings happy birthday to Bro No 3. (I'm Bro 2.).
A little later, niece 1 has arrived late (this numbering system isn't working, I'm going to start naming names) and she moves to the kitchen with her mum (my sister) and Mum (her grandmother) where they're suddenly a little louder than usual with a kind of semi-emotional twist to their voices. I had no idea (I'm sure female readers will already know exactly what's going on) and when I walk into the kitchen to get a coffee or something, Mum says - your sister's going to be a grandmother! So I turn to niece and give her a hug and say something stupid like 'How wonderful!' or similar and then qualify it meaningfully, as you do these days, with 'as long as you're really happy about it, of course' and then think how pathetically politically correct that sounds; and she laughs, 'Yes, but (boyfriend) is not so sure!' - 'Oh, don't worry about him, he'll get used to it in no time!' says me (father at 19, grandfather at 38), with an almost undetectable smirk.
Then we washed up. It was five o'clock.