Sunday, September 02, 2007

A beach somewhere

When I was a kid, my dad and I were master beachcombers.

Dad always loved the sea and he loved fishing. We lived in the same beachside suburb where he grew up. When he was five and his little brother was three, the pair of them would walk to the jetty alone to fish. This was the 1930s, 30 years before the Beaumont Children disappeared. Little as they were, they didn't drown, they weren't kidnapped and more often than not, they came home with a bucket of tommy ruffs.

Dad and I used to fish for tommies and gar from the same jetty or for carp in the local creek. Sometimes I'd go out in the boat with him on the hunt for whiting, but it was usually just Dad and my brother or one of his fishing buddies, Frank, Dudley or one of the two Alfs. One of my favourite pictures of Dad shows him holding up two huge snapper. His legs are skinny and tanned from the glare off the water and he has a Christmas morning grin and a fag dangling from his bottom lip.

If Dad hadn't gone fishing on a Sunday morning, he'd make omelettes and then we'd grab a bucket and walk to the beach. Occasionally we'd bring home driftwood, but mostly it was shells. I was one of those kids who would collect anything: stamps, badges, stickers, you name it. Shells were always my favourite. Most of the booty we brought home from the beach was garden-variety and easily identifable: cockles, perwinkles, pheasant shells, scallops, abalone, turban shells, mussels, limpets, hammer oysters. There'd be the occasional volute or cowrie, bringing with them a whiff of the tropics.

Some of what we collected, we didn't have names for, so we made up our own. Chinese fingernails, frillies and pinkies were our favourites and I still don't know what they're called. I have a bowl full of the pinkies we found and others that I've picked up since I moved further down the coast. They look like tiny pieces of dawn.

The morning after a rough night was always the best time for shell collecting. Dad referred to a storm as "a big blow", maritime-fashion. Sadly, the expression has been ruined now. We'd poke through the seagrass that had been washed into bales and ridges by the waves, exclaiming over new finds.

Storm pickings were rich, but though the shells were clearly deceased estates, their residents were often still firmly lodged inside. We tried various ways of removing half-rotted shellfish: soaking, scrubbing and using little hooky bits of wire. If Mum hadn't drawn the line at boiling the rank shells in a saucepan, we wold probably have tried that too. "Not on my stove, you won't!" she said with a dangerous look in her eye. Defeated, we decided to leave those shells to the seagulls.

Some mornings we'd walk for miles, rugged against the wind and not talking much. Our eyes were on the sand at our feet rather than the sea. In winter, there would only be a few half-frozen dog-walkers and fluffed-up seagulls for company.

When I walk on the beach now, I think of him. I pick up a shell and carry it in my hand, gradually rubbing the sand from it with my thumb until it's clean. Dad died when I was 17 and I would rather think of him on a beach somewhere than in the cemetery we visited yesterday.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

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30 Comments:

At 6:47 pm, September 02, 2007, Blogger eleanor bloom said...

That's nice that you have such lovely memories. It's a shame you lost him early on.

My dad never did stuff like that with me. And wow, your dad cooked too!? When mum was sick once dad had to ask me how to boil rice. How do you get to your 60s and not know that?

 
At 7:09 pm, September 02, 2007, Blogger Rosanna said...

That was such a lovely post, miss Redcap.

 
At 8:30 pm, September 02, 2007, Blogger phishez_rule said...

Thats a gorgeous post.

You went beachcombing with your dad, I went tipping. I know what I'd prefer.

 
At 8:39 pm, September 02, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

eleanor, well, he could cook omelettes and fish. That was pretty much it. I don't think he knew how to boil rice either.

rosanna, thanks missy.

phishez, glad you liked it. Tipping? As in poking around in the dump or as in going to the races? Dumps are way underrated. Or the old style of dump, anyway. Now they're waste transfer stations and they've lost a little of that Steptoeness that made them fun.

 
At 9:24 pm, September 02, 2007, Blogger Jacob said...

That was really lovely, thanks for sharing that. It put me right there on the beach for a minute.

 
At 10:10 pm, September 02, 2007, Anonymous Teddy said...

Hey
While you are walking on that beach, say hi to my dad
I love the memories of my dad on the beach with his dogs.
His simple pleasures in life all revolved around the same beach that I now walk my dog
Tell me there is another place so peaceful---another place that you can be alone even in a crowd

 
At 11:53 pm, September 02, 2007, Blogger kiki said...

beatiful

 
At 12:41 am, September 03, 2007, Blogger Shane said...

You dont know me, but thanks for sharing. Beautiful post.

 
At 1:06 pm, September 03, 2007, Blogger Steph said...

what a heartwarming post. I'm sure your old man is right beside you when you walk on the beach. :)

 
At 1:09 pm, September 03, 2007, Blogger Nai said...

That was lovely, Red. I grew up at the beach too, and many of my memories are set at Brighton Beach, SA. The only memory I have of Pa at the beach was him having to carry me home in a fireman's lift because I had such bad growing pains in my shins. I was almost taller than him by then and by no means willowy. I'm sure he struggled but he didn't let me know.

 
At 1:19 pm, September 03, 2007, Blogger actonb said...

That was beautiful, Red. Thanks for taking us on that journey with you.

 
At 7:00 pm, September 03, 2007, Blogger killerrabbit said...

What a lovely post - I'm sure your dad would have appreciated it as well. Lovely memories.

 
At 7:16 pm, September 03, 2007, Blogger Lonie Polony said...

That was a great post. I was going to say it was lovely, but everyone else already has. I'm sorry your dad died when you were so young.

 
At 9:53 pm, September 03, 2007, Blogger Ariel said...

What a beautiful, evocative post.

 
At 9:41 am, September 04, 2007, Blogger susanna said...

i always live in fear that i will forget the quirks of loved ones after they die, and now that my dad is in his 80s (i was born late in his life) i find myself memorising every interaction i have with him.

this is such a vivid post, redcap. in the end words are the only really lasting tribute we have, and you've captured something timeless here.

 
At 11:55 am, September 04, 2007, Blogger Rita said...

I made the mistake of reading this at work - now I'm sitting at my desk trying in vain to hide my tears!

Like the rest of your readers, I was there with the two of you, on the beach, collecting shells and other interesting bits and pieces.

Beautiful post.

 
At 6:29 pm, September 04, 2007, Blogger Sakura said...

That was an absolutely beautiful piece Red. Thank you for sharing that with us, such a wonderful way to remember your Dad.

 
At 9:24 pm, September 04, 2007, Blogger The Blakkat said...

Shit, Redcap, that one got me in the sad place. A really nice FDs' tribute, though. Can you tell me what a tommy ruff is?

 
At 9:37 pm, September 04, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

Thanks all.

Blakkat, a tommy ruff is a very tasty little fish, usually about 15cm long. The flesh is white, but a little oily and some people like to smoke them.

 
At 9:49 pm, September 04, 2007, Anonymous ThirdCat said...

17. That sucks. But those fishing memories are beautiful.

Thank you, redcap.

 
At 5:30 pm, September 05, 2007, Blogger Milly Moo said...

As with everyone else, I just want to add my two bobs' worth - what a gorgeous post re your father. He'd be proud of you and then probably freak out when he finds out how much fish costs these days!

 
At 4:52 pm, September 06, 2007, Blogger raoul duke said...

Today's is exactly one year since I lost my beautiful mum so reading this touched me more than it might have yesterday or tomorrow. Beautiful post.

 
At 4:59 pm, September 06, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a gorgeous post Redcap. Thanks for sharing such beautiful memories.

 
At 9:30 pm, September 06, 2007, Blogger The Man at the Pub said...

It's great to find things in nature that connect you with someone dear. Native birds do it for me, because I learned all about them through my Nanna.

Lovely read.

I once had a pet pippy called Simon. He lived in an ice-cream bucket with some sand and seaweed.

 
At 9:32 pm, September 06, 2007, Blogger The Man at the Pub said...

It's great to find things in nature that connect you with someone dear. Native birds do it for me, because I learned all about them through my Nanna.

Lovely read.

I once had a pet pippy called Simon. He lived in an ice-cream bucket with some sand and seaweed.

 
At 9:34 pm, September 06, 2007, Blogger The Man at the Pub said...

oops.

stupid dial-up

 
At 9:37 pm, September 06, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

milly, never mind the price of fish - he'd be ready to commit murder over the new bag limits.

raoul, I can't believe it's already been a year. Hope you're taking care of yourself today mate.

mr pub, a pippy called Simon? I think that your pippy could possibly be the coolest pet ever. Of course, if he'd been called anything but Simon, it wouldn't have worked.

 
At 6:43 am, September 07, 2007, Blogger londongirl said...

You're absolutely right - better to remember the great times with your dad. And it's fab you have so many of them.

A really beautiful post.

 
At 5:22 pm, September 07, 2007, Blogger PetStarr said...

Oh bloody hell. There I go!

One of the best things I've read in ages. Why can't you have Phillip Adams' job?

 
At 7:28 pm, September 07, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

pet, because I stutter.

 

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