Through the Eyes of my Father
It’s a funny thing, visiting where your parents once lived. Before you were born or even desired, they had a life! Given this, everything before 1987 seems to me to be a bit fuzzy, as if a decade’s worth of life was squished into a year or so. I grew up hearing stories of Dad living in Wild Australia. He had seen kangaroos and drove down “highways” made out of gravel. My image of Australia so far had been Melbourne and sunny Queensland beaches. Dad, however, barely even made it to Melbourne. It was time to see Australia through the eyes of my father.
That’s not as poetic as it should be, really. Adelaide was merely my dad’s first port of call, he lived there only a few months I believe, before trekking from farm to farm the rest of the time. Let’s face it: I ain’t doing that. The friends he made in Adelaide, however, were the ones who pushed him to see more of the country, to not settle for $1.25/hour at the local Chrysler factory. They have kept in touch all these years, however jaggedly or sporadic it may have been.
So when I arrived in Australia, I Googled their daughter, who Dad and Mom met up with when she was touring the U.S. a number of years ago. I finally decided on a date to come and she was so generous as to let me stay with her in the city. On the second day in Adelaide, we went to visit her parents. Her and I both grew up highly anticipating “That letter from the other side of the world,” each of us wondering what gems or photos may be included.
On the second day, I went to visit these friends of my father. The evening went as expected. There was much fuss over the roast, I made them Skype each other, and they recalled some of the same stories my dad had told me. The real kicker came when they brought out a folder containing three of the letters Dad had sent throughout the years: one from 1980, another from 1997, and one from 2002. I was floored. I wanted to cry, but held them back as I didn’t want them to be mistaken for tears of sorrow. The letters were amusing and informative. I learned so much from those letters. Dad had included pictures of my brother, proud with a buck from a successful hunting season. Dad was proud of how well I did in school, and was concerned about that year’s crops (of course).
These letters brought back a wave of memories from the 1990’s. At dinnertime growing up, we would have place mats with atlases on them, and I’d always take my finger and circle Norway and Australia. There were also place mats with facts about Australia and some of its wacky animals. When Dad came back from a visit to Australia in 1995, he gave me an opal necklace with a kangaroo on it. He brought back memorabilia from Canberra, chocolate from South Australia, and a real hat from the outback! I’ll never forget that, the evidence of his travels pouring over the edge of his gigantic suitcase.
The trip to Adelaide was cold and wet, but I was the one who chose to go in winter. I’ll write more about the city another time, but those letters still wet my eyes a bit, as I uncovered a new side of my dad. Some of it was so very typical (“it’s 75F and dry; great for making hay”), whereas some of it was new (“Leah does well in school and I am proud”). Adelaide is often described by outsiders as “cute, but a bit boring if you don’t go in the summer.” To me, Adelaide was a bit like home. It felt like I had been away for too long, and too much had changed. Strange. One thing my dad miraculously remembered was where he lived: 8 Alice Street, or 8 Alison Street. I was determined to go there, until I quickly discovered that there are about eight different 8 Alice and Alison Streets throughout Adelaide and its suburbs. Maybe that will be the theme of the next trip to Adelaide. I’ll be sure to bring Dad along.