‘Kids! We’ve lost Grandpa: How these words became part of my family vernacular’

Jul 31, 2020
Julie remembers the day her grandfather went 'missing'. Source: Getty Images

Does your family have any old traditional family sayings? There’s one in my family, which nowadays brings a smile, many years later. It is: “Kids, we’ve lost Grandpa!”

Why is this? Well, many moons ago, old Grandpa Jack lived alone in his unit. Being a retired railway worker, he was one proud owner of a lifelong gold pass on the Australian railways, for free travel.

“Right,” thought Grandpa Jack one weekend. “I’ll visit my youngest sister on the farm in the bush.”

On Monday morning, off he set. Having booked a taxi, he travelled to his local train station, caught the 7:07am express to town. Then he changed trains to travel to the country hub. At the right time, he boarded the correct train to a distant country town. Alighting, walking stick blazing, he clambered aboard a bus, which set him down a short stroll to his sister’s old farmhouse.

She was now in her 70s, and rolled forth a big welcome, heaps of family food and fun. Grandpa Jack was a sprightly 80 years old.

Meanwhile, back in suburbia, Grandpa Jack had forgotten to inform his son, my uncle, or his daughter, my mother, about his plans for the week. My uncle called into his unit after work on Monday, as normal. He knocked, no usual cheery response.

Hmm … Where was Grandpa? Had he collapsed? Was he lying in a heap in the middle of his lounge room?

With the spare key, my uncle entered the unit. No Grandpa Jack anywhere. He phoned my mother on the landline (in the days before mobile phones). No, she did not know where Grandpa Jack was either.

Was he wandering the streets, confused? Had he tripped over, was he in the public hospital system? Should they call in the police to search for a lost Grandpa Jack?

“Leave it till the morning,” Mother decided.

The morning dawned, more phone calls, still no Grandpa. The day dragged by. Mother had to tell us the reason for all the dramatic discussions.

“Kids, we’ve lost Grandpa!” We’re all very upset.

We waited. My mother and my uncle searched old Grandpa’s neighbourhood, phoned hospitals, still no Grandpa Jack.

On Friday afternoon at 4pm my uncle was at Grandpa’s unit with his neighbours and the police, trying to coordinate another search. In came Grandpa Jack.

“What? What are you all doing here?” he asked, confused.

“We lost you!”

“Rubbish, I knew where I was!”

Grandpa Jack unpacked his bag, some jellied pig trotters, and practically half a side of mutton chops, his faves. Real bush tucker.

Family alert for lost Grandpa downgraded. Yes, we sort of lost Grandpa. Much foul language was heard to be said, as Grandpa Jack argued with his adult children about what he should be doing. Swearing is quite cathartic, supposedly.

You might say that effective communication in families is vital, especially for heaps of family fun. The family saying, “Kids, we’ve lost Grandpa!” still brings a laugh. Not so funny at the time.

Some years after Grandpa Jack was ‘lost’, my late-father was interred with other old diggers, to rest in eternal peace under a stately gum tree, near a beautiful memorial rose garden.

“Let’s visit Grandpa!” my grieving sister told her four young teenage children. “It’ll only take half an hour.”

Into the car with no air-conditioning on a scorching hot summer’s day, with one bottle of water they piled. Not much traffic. Holding a tribute bunch of flowers from her own garden, they meandered to Grandpa’s gum tree. No Grandpa! Yes, heard again.

“Kids, we’ve lost Grandpa!”

“Must be the wrong gum tree!”

“Scatter, kids. Check every gum tree. We’ve got to find Grandpa!” No, there was no Grandpa.

Once again, the family failure to communicate. For practicality, my mother had transplanted my father’s urn to another, more local, rose garden, closer to where she lived. My mother had not told anyone where Grandpa now was.

Swearing is, indeed, quite cathartic. You can imagine the irate mother-daughter phone conversations that ensued from losing another Grandpa.

“Kids, we’ve lost Grandpa!” is now part of our heritage, a family saying. Grandpas are the stars of our heaps of family fun. All I can say is, “Thanks, bog Irish, for teaching us all how to swear!”

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What sayings have become favourites in your family, and why?

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