“Sometimes I wonder how normal normal people are, and I wonder that most in the grocery store” – Elizabeth Moon
I was talking to an old mate the other day about a number of things as we do. I asked him how his ANZAC Day was and had he enjoyed seeing his old diggers once again? He just stared at me with eyes of steel, raised his stick and I knew I was in for an ear-bashing! Before I had said another word, he had spurted forth a myriad of expletives and was not about to let up! He told me that he was not allowed to march in the dawn parade because he was too old and he would hold up the parade. He went on to tell me, in no uncertain terms, I might add, that the “Bastards can stick their ANZAC day fair where the sun don’t shine”.
He said it was his God give right to march! I didn’t disagree with him for one moment! Just when I thought he had settled down, he saw his bus coming and off he went again. It was his right to ride public transport for free. After all, he paid for the bloody bus service through all those years he worked and paid his taxes! He fought for this country he said, so we could enjoy living in a safe and free world. His kids and grandkids would never have to fight the likes of the Japanese and the Germans ever again! He was on a roll like a run-away train and nothing I could say or do was going to shut him up. I just had to sit and listen to his rumblings.
So, I got to thinking about some of the things he was peeved off with. Not that I was going to put his world right, but I hoped to perhaps get a better understanding of why he was so angry. I discovered a few interesting reasons and I guess it all started to make sense. Growing up as a child, he was never allowed to question his father – his father was always right! He was to be “seen and not heard” (yep, I can relate to that!) If he disobeyed him, he copped the sharp end of his old man’s buckle. I was starting to see a bit of a pattern emerging here! If he did not excel at school he got belted, if he never chopped enough wood to last a week, he felt the leather of his father’s shoe! And so on it went!
I started to feel sorry for my old mate, so I asked what he did to overcome this pain. “Simple,” he said. “I buried my head into a book and escaped the reality of my surroundings”. A lugubrious expression overcame him and he said, “I just wanted my father to like me… isn’t that my right?” Shortly after that, he left the family home and took a job as a grave digger. “No one but the dead and they tell no tales” he would often say.
Then it happened, the Army recruiter came to the small town where he lived; he signed up immediately. Met new people, helped them through their training. He used to say how ironic it was, because the army took away all their rights. He went off and fought in the Pacific and in the Middle East, obtained the rank of Captain and I believe won a medal or two for bravery. He doesn’t talk much about those days – ‘too many bad dreams’ he would say. He told me of a time he was, in his words ‘on the bones of his arse’. He had no food, no basics like bread or flour, so he decided to pop into the local corner store and help himself. I interjected, saying that he could be arrested for that. “Yeah, but those bloody foreigners come into this country and get everything handed to them on a plate” he said.
Look son, he continued, “I fought for this bloody country! I’ve got a god given right to a loaf of bread!” He told me how every day he and his wife would make it their mission to to walk down the hill to that store with fresh seasonal produce from their garden and once a week, his darling wife would bake the family a beautiful Rolly Polly Pudding.
After his wife passed, he continued with the veges until the son took over the store. He didn’t need the produce any more. “Kicked in the guts!” he’d say, choking to get the words out. “So yeah! I’ve got a right to walk in there and nick a loaf of bread.
I am reminded of Elizabeth Moon’s words – “Sometimes I wonder how normal normal people are, and I wonder that most in the grocery store”
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