Who to be?

Posted 11 March 2007

My friend's house is a couple of kilometres from the main highway and lots of buses.  I walked through the dusk by dead reckoning on the straight, and found my way blocked by a cemetery.  Hoping for a gate on the other side I cut through, to discover an enormous angel, seeming to tower twenty feet over the other tombstones. It was the kind of monument you have when you are not quite having a mausoleum.  Fine words were engraved on the stone at its feet.  I remembered this man, he was Somebody, a Knight, and a figure of note when I was a boy.  Now, perhaps twelve years after his death, the angel was leaning, a victim of the shifting soils.  Its finery was cracked. Weeds grew around it, and indeed some sprouted from the fissures in its robes.  I looked upon an Ozymandias of my time.

I remembered him today, that old angel, because I was thinking of my grandfather.  I remembered sitting on his knee as a little child, playing that game where you slap your hand down, only to have it covered by his. So you slap your other hand over his, and he plants his second hand over yours. Then you pull your first hand out from the bottom of the pile and slap it on top of the heap. Grandpa laughs and pulls out his hand, (its on the bottom now,) and covers the top. And so you go, faster and faster, trying to keep his hand covered. Finally it all collapses into a splatter of hands and lots of laughter.  And then you play snap with cards.

Older now, I remember his constant games of Scrabble with Grandma, who must have suffered thousands of hours of his fascination with words.  He had Squatter, too. I was fascinated by the sheep and the money, and learned to love the game as I grew older. When I was turning 21, staying with them far from home, he and Grandma arranged at surprise 21st birthday party.  I caught on, because he was very old and didn't realise how loud his voice was, as he tried to warn Grandma I had come home while she was on the phone to my Auntie.

He lived far away for most of my life. We only met on rare interstate visits. Yet he is large in my memory.  A love of him permeated my upbringing, seeping in from everyone in the family. He was a patriarch in the best sense of that word.  He was well regarded. I gained standing where it was known I was Max's grandson.  Not the standing given on according to rank and class, but according to long memory of a grand man. A man people tell you stories about.  He had no knighthood; his only OBE was the peculiar Australian version known as Over Bloody Eighty.  He worked for a living well into his seventies.  I've never seen his grave; but there is no leaning angel above him. 

I would like to be remembered like Grandpa. There's no listing for him in Wikipedia or Government Gazettes.  You can Google his great granddaughter; she's among the best athletes in her school.  She never knew him.  His memory fades with my generation.  Yet he did enough.  I hope that old knight buried under the angel was loved by his family. It's the only kind of remembrance worth having.  Achievement and influence- being somebody- dies with us.


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