Gordon bought a rundown farmlet in the back hills of Foster (Vic) many years ago as a means of escaping from the bustle of Melbourne. His plan was to supplement his income as an electrician by raising beef cattle for market and sharing his venture with his wife and two children. However, as the years passed, his children became more and more reluctant to trade the excitement of the “bright lights” for the boredom of the bush and so their visits became more and more infrequent; eventually stopping altogether. Occasionally a grandchild would visit, but that too petered out. His wife’s visits to the farm ended suddenly with her death, and then it was only Gordon to battle the burrs, the fencing and the solitude.
I met Gordon when he contacted me to renovate his decrepit house. Rusted out gutters, rotten weatherboards and a myriad of other jobs to complete resulted in me spending many days with Gordon as my workmate. He came up to my shoulders, weighed about 40kg wringing wet, and was a little unsteady on his feet as a result of a tree landing on him and pinning him for nearly five hours. His calls for help were eventually heard by a distant neighbour and it took many months of rehabilitation to regain the use of two badly smashed ankles and toes.[pullquote]
Working with a limited budget of time and manpower, I initially begrudged Gordon for the amount of time that he wanted to spend in conversation over “a cuppa”. He would sometimes share experiences of work and family that brought laughter but often his countenance was tinged with obvious sadness. Life had changed for him in so many ways and the old times would not return; but that was life! Duty called and I was anxious to get back to work—until one day.
One day I had the thought that if Gordon was my dad, wouldn’t I want to sit around the table and listen to his yarns instead of being in a hurry to go? Wouldn’t he love to have his boy hear him share snapshots of his life so that he could benefit from his wisdom and become more resilient for his own journey? I thought of how it took me many years to understand my dad because I had never really considered the effects that life’s experiences have on people. Dad came through the Great Depression and was a staff sergeant in World War II, being stationed as an engineer during the bombing of Darwin. He lived his life as someone who knew what hardships were and demonstrated his resultant thriftiness by traditionally washing the dishes on Friday night in a few cupfuls of water. If we left the light on in the room he would come behind us and turn it off! But that was Dad—and we loved him.
I have two boys of my own now whom I would love to hang out with, but the tyranny of distance has its impact. I would love them to come home for Christmas occasionally, but… I can only dream. My dad left me a legacy of being “the hands and feet of Jesus” by his practical ministry, and I came to understand that I was ministering to Gordon by giving him time to share what was dear to his heart. He was being affirmed as a child of God who, while having a unique life experience, still struggled with that basic human need to be accepted for who they are. This is something that my heavenly Father does so beautifully and I was privileged to experience as I had a cuppa with Gordon. Gordon hadn’t changed, but I had! Thank you Father!
Stuart Barons lives in Victoria and writes in response to this piece.