The drive to Gippsland was a whole new experience, as if Pakenham had never existed. The bypass is open at last. Now you don't get thirteen sets of traffic lights, just a view of the town from the south - a sea of red orange roofs and a shopping centre tower rising out of the middle. Once it would have been a church steeple. The tower was painted with a red Coles logo that could have been seen fifty kilometres away if not for the occasional drifts of heavy rain.
It rained most of the way and the wind whipped. Clouds hung low and black. The boys dozed in the back seat. Music makes them sleep. A golden oldies station was doing a retrospective of 1972 and it went from a six-minute Argent progressive rock piece with a Hammond organ solo in the middle, to a Rod Stewart hit, to early Eagles, to the late Billy Thorpe, and then Led Zeppelin's signature song. When was that a top 40 hit? I wondered. It wasn't. Stairway to Heaven was an album track never released as a single; but remains, apparently, the most-played track on FM radio.
Sometimes when you are almost half asleep and hear a song from the past it can take you back, and you hear it like you heard it then. The middle section of the song, gently progressing electric guitar chords, became the brimming heartbeat of a fifteen-year-old teenager with a whole life of possibilities ahead. 'Oooh, it makes me wonder ...'. A guitar is a wonderful thing. It can make you believe anything.
I wasn't half asleep; I was driving under a leaden sky on a long freeway to the distant dark hills and that is thinking time.
It rained all afternoon. I left Tracy chatting with her mother and planning dinner, and drove with William in the car up the hill into town. We just looked around and picked up a few things from the store. Later, dinner was chicken gumbo with sides of potato mash and buttered zucchini and cauliflower. Amberley chenin blanc accompanied. This is a rare variety now, it used to be quite common. It's a refreshing change from chardonnay which, even I must admit, is sometimes just too woody or buttery or peachy.
Afterwards, there was a rich fruit cake, Tracy's mother's own. She's a baking expert, being Scottish. Then there was an excellent cheese platter - that wasabi-infused cheese sounds unlikely but it was fabulous - and the Scotch came out. We sat and drank Scotch and looked at Tracy's father's golf trophies on the sideboard and, alongside, his smiling face in the photo taken at the golf club in 2001. This will be the fourth Christmas without him. Time flies.