plainly jane

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Jane Fraser

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.

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