I write these blogs for many reasons, all outlined in previous articles. I get loads of feedback on the insight some get into FIFO life, including the challenges, the rewards and the unknowns. I guess readers of my blogs are split in to two groups.
Those who have worked away and can somewhat relate to what I write about. Sometimes it’s “Oh it’s not just me” or “I never looked at it like that” with some construction vs production / operations banter in their as well.
Then there are those who have not worked away. The family and friends of away workers. These readers seem to get an appreciation for what it is like when away from home to work and why we choose this path. Or some just seem to like the pictures of haunted houses, comics and toy cars.
This time, I’m choosing a different path. This time I want to share an experience that we can all relate to and have had to do at some stage in our lives. Some more than others, but it’s unfortunately is part of growing up.
This blog is about an opportunity I had to reflect and appreciate a special person. A couple of hours of my life that I will hold close for a long time and a nice little reminder for me to stop, put life on hold for a few moments and just remember every now and then.
Friday the 4th of December of my last R&R. It was a warm but overcast and drizzly day with a strong north easterly wind blowing across Morten Bay. Just after 10AM, I was sitting in the back of an 20 foot SharkCat; hot coffee in hand and nursing a slab of granite while chatting to my parents and sister about nothing specific.
My sister was clutching a small box of coloured flower petals while my Dad held a thick decorated paper bag with a small decorative box inside. We chin wagged and laughed on the 15 min trip out but we knew that this morning would be tough for us all.
As a family, we were off sea to set free the ashes of my Great Aunt who’d pasted away just over 3 years ago.
Eileen “Dig” Newton was a magnificent lady. Born in 1924, she was raised in a simple time and formed simple but strong values. Her early years spent in Papua New Guinea; she never married, never held a drivers licence or owned a VRC and had the same job for over 3 decades.
And although she had not an ounce of PC in her and never minced her words, she always spoke with respect and dignity.
Along with her older sister Caroline (my great Aunty Carrie) and her Husband
Les (my Great Pop), she spent 20 years raising my mum as a single working women in a small, modest but welcoming home.
When my sister and I came into the world, her attention turned to us and for the next 35 years. She nurtured us sternly, fairly, tolerantly and with as much love as her big heart could give.
The engine noise started to dim and the sharkcat slowly started to drift to a holt. The only movement was of the waves and the noise of the wind whistling across the ocean chop was almost haunting. As my Dad struggled to remove the cap from the tin that contained Dig’s ashes, I caught my sister in a gaze toward the horizon.
In these few seconds, I wondered if she was thinking of the night we watched Haley’s Comet from Dig’s back landing, or eating fresh mangos that had fallen from the tree in her yard. Or was she wondering what ever happened to the “Jones Express”…our home made go cart that lived under her house?
Mum and Dad bent over the side of the boat and slowly set her ashes free…free to roam the stretch of coast line the Dig held so dear her whole life. As my sister slowly started to sprinkle the beautiful yellow petals into the ocean, I held the custom made memorial just under the water line.
An 180x180cm of slab of black granite with a brief but special message engraved on a stainless steel plate attached to it. It was as simple and unique as the lady we were there to celebrate.
As I let it go and watched it sink out of view; I thought of Scampy (Dig’s 3 legged dog), Cocky (her pet galah), the plaster Frankenstein head we made and painted for her and drinking Pasito on school holidays at her Bribie Island caravan park home.
Even when she had her old Pianola and used to load the sheet music all day for my sister and I. The noise was horrendous but we just loved playing that thing so much.
Looking around at my family, there were few tears and big smiles all round so I knew they were all remembering Dig as I was. As we all watched the petals float into the distance, it was time to head back to shore and get out of the rain.
As the engines fired up and we started to move, I thought about something that I hadn’t thought about for quite some time.
I was sitting with Dig at her sister Caroline’s wake and we spoke about many things we hadn’t before. Stories about my Mum’s childhood, her time in Papua New Guinea and why she had left; about her childhood and how she got her nickname…Dig. This continued over the years to conversations about her memories of WW2 ending, the Kennedy assassination, and other major world events.
One day while I was sitting at work, around 4 years ago I had a brain storm…almost an epiphany! Calling her while rushing out of the office, she answered…
”Dig, it’s me!!”
“Oh! Elain.. oh I mean Warwi… I mean Reeg!! What are you calling me for??”
This was standard for everyone…at least 2 names before she got yours right and then asking why you called. To which the response was always; “because I want to have a chat.” And then came the frustratingly sweet…
“Dig. I’m going to buy a Dictaphone and come to chat with you. I’d love to hear all your stories again so I can record them!!”
She finally agreed, although reluctantly so that afternoon I bought a Dictaphone and went for a visit. We spoke for a couple of hours and I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had forgotten batteries!!
So on to the next time… Well, there was no next time. I never did take that Dictaphone up to chat with Dig again. In fact, it still sits in the centre console of my car. Every time I rummage through to find a pen, a receipt, a hair band for the girls; I come across that Dictaphone and wish somehow that it was full of stories from past generations.
A wish I know will never come true and stories I know we have just committed to the ocean.
The slowing of the boat broke my reflective trance and looking around I realized it probably had done the same for my family. Glassy eyes and sombre looks greeted my refocusing eyes and I wondered were they all pondering missed opportunities with Dig?
I hoped not as that’s not what she would want us thinking about as she watched over us from her final resting place. By the time we got onto dry land, we were all ready for a coffee and some food so we headed to a great little organic café on the waterfront.
It was open and welcoming; of vintage but not old fashion, modest with a youthful spirit and just made us feel warm and comfortable…just like the lady we were there to celebrate.
I was recently told by a very wise woman that the 3rd and final stage of passing is when no one is left to remember you. I am hoping by penning these reflections, along with the memorial now at the bottom of the ocean, Dig will live on in thought long after I am gone.
We all have people dear to our hearts; both past and present. Those special grandparents, family members, and close friends whose impact on us is really only tangible as we move further on with our own lives.
I think about Dig often, along with other family and friends who have passed over the years and every time I do, I like to smile and be thankful that I have been blessed with their time, no matter how short.
Anyways, back to the regular content next time and if this blog reminds just one person to stop, reflect and smile about some memories of a special person, then it was worth it!!
….keep safe and stay connected.