IHAVE a granddaughter with tight, pure white curls and enormous blue eyes, which she flashes at everyone. She turned three a couple of weeks ago and it was the first birthday she will never forget. It was a huge celebration with at least 50 relatives and friends because not only was it a milestone for Charlotte — known as Cha Cha — but she is moving with her parents to Crescent Head on NSW’s mid-north coast, where they have bought a hotel, and the family wanted to say goodbye.
My three grandsons were there, too. The younger one, James, will not remember the birthday as he is only 15 months old and he spent the day climbing up carpeted stairs and then turning around and coming down on his backside, grinning his face off. He likes a good climb and then a relaxing abseiling.
Cha Cha, who is the baby of her family, wore a collection of party dresses and was mighty pleased with herself and her wardrobe, especially her ballet pumps. But nothing came close to her collection of magic wands. She was not even vaguely interested in dolls, prams, tricycles and so forth. What she wanted was to change things. ‘‘ Abracadabra!’’ she shouted with her mouth wide open.
Her favourite companion at the moment is the family cat whose name, for the usual reasons, is Chocolate. He has fur of soft brown so of course Cha Cha longs to zap him to make him look a bit snappier. She flung the many wands at the cat and shouted: ‘‘ Please change your colour to pink!’’
She repeated the incantation several times and then turned to her father, who was preoccupied with pouring drinks for rellies and guests. ‘‘ It’s just not working!’’ she yelled, frustrated and red in the face.
She repeated herself several times, speaking to her father’s back. In a slightly absent fashion he suggested that perhaps she had run short of batteries. Knowing exactly what batteries are she went on a recce and collected as many as she could, but the wands still didn’t work.
Chocolate wisely disappeared and climbed up a tree.
The real magic is how things have changed among families. Years ago it just wasn’t done to get divorced or to offend the older generation in any way or you’d be treated as the family pariah. A sister-in-law who is now deceased said she would never forget the smell and taste of sherry when she and my brother went to see her father and told him the bad news that she was pregnant. She threw up and was sent to Coventry.
My daughter is married into a large and friendly family of six or so adults, some of whom are on their second or even third marriages. There is only one rule: keep the peace. When I first arrived in Sydney in the early 1980s I went to a large cocktail party at which everyone seemed to be holding hands or squeezing people in various places where it was not appropriate. In other words, affairs were taking place. The atmosphere was rather difficult and an American filmmaker at the party said to me if you based a script on what was taking place it would be flung back at you for being too over the top.
I like things better now, particularly as Cha Cha, to her utter delight, saw that Chocolate’s whiskers had turned a strange shade of pink. Sitting up the tree to stay out of the range of the magic-making three-year-old, he had become bored stiff and idly munched on mulberries. And threw up. ‘‘ I zapped Chocolate,’’ shouted Cha Cha in delight. ‘‘ I aimed my wand at him so many times I am quite bored, but it worked. You just have to make it work. Don’t you think so, pussy cat?’’
The day had its various phases. There was morning tea for the early arrivals, then chicken sandwiches and a barbecue. Various children were driven to school friends’ parties and fetched later. Some adults, having eaten too much, had a little lie down and, thus refreshed, drove home. The party was over and everyone indeed did have a magic day.
My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter leave Sydney soon. I have been invited to visit them in Crescent Head, by train or plane. I like to sit and relax while reading a book or doing the cryptic crossword puzzle but have gone off flying a bit. So it will probably be the train. The one thing I must be careful of is overstaying my visit. Families, even very relaxed ones such as this, do have their limits. I don’t want Cha Cha waving her wand to make me disappear.