The “old bugger” meets the new babies

Father Frank and I on his 94th birthdayt

It is hard to determine who is the more fragile – my father Frank, who turned 94 a few weeks ago, or his new great-grand-daughter, Scarlett Rose Williams, who has been placed carefully into his frail arms.   He carries all the signs of a grand age -a face scrunched with wrinkles, balding grey hair and a body failing him and in contrast, the baby girl in his lap is lovely and new, with perfect complexion and the fuzz of new-born hair on her head.   Sixteen of us have come in a convoy of cars from Adelaide to celebrate his birthday at a renovated woolshed at Lyrup in the Riverland, a few kilometres from the residential care facility at Renmark where Frank is in high care. He is to meet the two new fourth generation babies to add his tally of great-grandchildren to six.

We hand Theo and Scarlett aged five months and three months respectively to the old man.  He gushes all the right platitudes, but he has not understood there are two, not just one.

“Tyson’s baby, I can’t believe it; how old are you now m’boy?’’ he says.  ‘We have little Theo, Jason’s little boy, here too,’’ we say, but the explanation is lost. “She is a beauty, isn’t she.  Just like your mother, Florrie,” he says of Theo, addressing no-one in particular. We don’t correct him, but let him slip into the familiar tale of how he met our mother when she was working in the Land Army at Renmark during the War.

We all know every word and it is as if his history is within a long tape-recorder in his brain and we will listen intently until he has said every single word of the story of their romance.

“Florrie was a real beauty,” he repeats and becomes emotional.

Dad is a living miracle for his age as he takes no medication other than pain-killers for his “dicky hip”, but my sister Anne and I can see that Frank, who lives in residential care at Renmark, has deteriorated in the past 12 months.

He had greeted us as he always does, bragging about his age. “I’m an old bugger,’’ he said. (He loves to repeat that phrase of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke minus the “silly’’).

“I’m 94 years old, you know, but I am still healthy and happy.’’ And he smiles up at us all from his deck chair. Dad has always been blessed with a happy disposition and although he is blind and cannot hear, he somehow recognises us all in his excitable modus operandi.

But his body is giving up and for the first time since he entered residential care three years ago, he now needs a walking frame. Always a wiry Englishman, no taller than five foot three inches in his youth, now he is as thin as a whippet and his tiny frame slumps into itself in the deck chair.

My heart skips a beat observing him and noticing the fact that after all these years with his nose in a newspaper, now he does not read anymore, even with his magnifying glass.

Scarlett and I at the woolshed

And despite all of the above, we sisters silently note that he is also illusionary at times and we suspect dad is beginning to suffer early stages of dementia.

Yet, there is no doubt there is longevity in our family. His aunt, my great-aunt Edith lived to 100 years and five months. And Frank’s only sister, Lilian turns 91 this month – and she is as bright as a button mentally, but also in a walking frame.

With these positive thoughts, we gather around the long refectory table for dad’s party, cocktail pies and pasties and a big cake I have cooked. Dad’s eyes. robbed of sight by glaucoma, light up like beacons as he pours tomato sauce over the top of a small pie.

It occurs to me that in his dotage, dad is still able to enjoy his place as head of his large extended family, four generations of children, 13 grand-children and six grand-children.


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1 Comment to “The “old bugger” meets the new babies”

  1. By Yvonne, 30/11/2012 @ 9:06 pm

    What a delightful description of your father’s birthday. I am in a similar position with my time divided between cherished and loved grandchildren and a cherished and loved widowed father, a little younger than yours. So lovely that so many of Frank’s family went to celebrate his birthday with him.

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